SZA's Solange-directed video wasn't made to satisfy you

It's been criticised for its lack of narrative

SZA's video for “The Weekend”, her third single from her debut album Ctrl, came out on 21 December. Directed by Solange, it shows SZA dancing alone and flipping her hair on the balcony of a deserted building block, a chequer-floored car park and a couple of plastic-filled rooms.

Personally, I am not a huge fan of the video: I think it's a little boring and that a lot of the wide shots make it hard to engage fully with SZA's dancing.

But I also don't think all of the online backlash it has received is warranted; especially when so many terrible music videos are being made every single day which don't even try and do something a little different. Solange has been criticised for puting too much of her own aesthetic onto it, allegedly dampening SZA's.

People have also taken issue with the lack of narrative. The song itself is a self-confessional R&B ballad which talks about her feelings around being with a man who also has other girlfriends – she only sees him on the weekend. On the hook SZA sings, “My man is my man is your man / Heard it's her man too... I just keep him satisfied through the weekend”.

It was a huge hit, earning SZA her second platinum certification, and I understand why so many people were invested in it. Some of us have been in that situation before; caught up with someone we know we shouldn't love, but the temptation to keep seeing them and not challenge the issue, to be reckless and selfish, to know you're going to get hurt but to still want to sleep with them, keeps the thing going.

But even though I dislike the video and would even go as far as to say it doesn’t complement that song, what the video does do is subvert the R&B trope, which usually sees women who sing about similar topics sexualised in a more overt manner. It confuses me why people would want a return to noughties-style videos, where women were so often little more than eye candy – playing into oppressive forms of sexuality, a girl writhing around on the bed in underwear, dancing around a muscled singer/rapper. Those narratives were usually sickly sweet, cheesy, money-driven odes to wealth and sex with little nuance.

I take the point that it could have been more interesting to have seen the narrative played out. But how many times have we seen relationships and cheating in R&B in boring ass videos that do little to expand on the narratives of the songs either? Think Usher's “Confessions II”, Rihanna's “Unfaithful” and “I Should Have Cheated by Keyshia Cole. I don't need to see a play-by-play with a happy resolution like a Tyler Perry movie. There's a reason why we've moved on from that generation of music videos: they arguably have little artistic value and longevity. 

It is interesting what type of music videos we decide are worthy of artistic value and merit. Solange’s own 2016 album, A Seat At The Table, was widely regarded as being a critical and popular success. Her music videos were labelled “visually stunning” by Rolling Stone magazine. Are we affording SZA less praise for a video in the same vein because she sings more overtly about less ‘austere’ topics: i.e sex and love instead of cranes in the sky and black hair?

Instead of hating on it, if we unpick “The Weekend” music video, we could look at it as SZA as showing her independence – a vision of strength (and flexibility) who doesn't let the camera get too close because this isn't about using her sex appeal to sell the song; it's at least partially about her own sexual independence and vulnerability. As she sings in the track: “I don't care long as you're here by 10:30 / No later than, drop them drawers / Give me what I want”.

Either way, I think it's very unlikely that SZA was stripped of her agency while making it. We know Solange's still-shot, faded-colour, Julie Dash-tinged aesthetic, and SZA will have known it too – before she booked her for this job. We can hypothesise all we want about what happened behind the scenes but SZA hasn't released a statement on the video (though she did post on Instagram today “i miss when ppl were nicer”) and in past interviews has spoken about how important her creative process is to her: her album is literally called Ctrl – short for ‘control’ and it took her two years to release it because she wanted it to be perfect. I think it's doubtful she will have put this video out lightly, either.

The main point here of course is that SZA doesn't owe us anything as an artist. Some people didn't like video, others did. But in my opinion she should just keep doing what she's doing, and pay no mind to the people who say otherwise.

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