What exactly is bad about Tiwa Savage’s recently released music video for her song ‘Wanted’? Not a big follower of pop culture myself, I initially became aware of the “controversy” around it before settling down to watch the video. Upon watching ‘Wanted’ I am unsurprised to confirm that I was right in keeping in mind that Nigerians have the tendency to over-exaggerate when I came across reports of this “controversy”. I had seen comments insinuating that Tiwa Savage was naked in the video, she was not. I fail to see what the big deal is, and I am happy to say that no one in my immediate circle of family and friends see anything wrong in Tiwa Savage’s dressing choice either, but I had to get an idea of what the detractors’ issue(s) were.
A letter from a disapproving housewife
According to my understanding of this letter addressed to Tiwa Savage, written by a “Naija Housewife” and a self-proclaimed fan, the uproar against Tiwa Savage’s new video has to do with her being a role model. Apparently Tiwa Savage is “perceived to be an Ambassador of the Youth” among her Nigerian fan base, she is that sexy woman making music that sends a message to young people in Nigeria and beyond, teaching young women that it is okay to be “sexy without being trashy”. By appearing in a bodysuit coloured to match her skin, Tiwa Savage is sending a message that sex sells and is being a bad influence to young impressionable girls and women.
I really wonder if any of these fans actually listened to the lyrics of ‘Don’t Leave Without My Heart’, I mean: “I just want to rip this dress/so that you can see the rest/get my body screaming yes”. Where was the furore then? Tiwa Savage has always been sexually confident, even though I may not agree with the method in which she chooses to display this confidence and this is only because I believe that she has employed a coy roundabout manner. In this article I wrote for TIA, I found the lyrics of “Don’t Leave Without My Heart” to be lacklustre. I saw Tiwa Savage’s act as trying to be the sexy but good Nigerian lady and furthering the “lady in the streets, freak in the sheets” dichotomy. I want/ed Tiwa Savage to be unapologetically sexy, to sing about sex without having to mention her heart, after all what has love got to do with it? Perhaps that is what this housewife may have meant when she mentioned Tiwa Savage teaching the youth to be “sexy without being trashy”. Yet who defines trashy and where is the line drawn between sexy and trashy? It would seem that is drawn between singing about sex and wearing a skin-tone coloured bodysuit.
A proper married woman
Perhaps this backlash against Tiwa Savage is due to the fact that she recently tied the knot. If she released a song like “Don’t Leave Without My Heart” today, would there be controversy? After all, which husband would allow his wife to be so open and brazen about sex? In the letter, the Naija Housewife writes “Please, I didn’t want to say this but a husband who truly loves you, is supposed to protect his “wares” and not make you do whatever to stay relevant in the public eye!”. There are just so many things going on in that statement. First we see that a woman is her husband’s property, her body is his and only his, thus it is his duty to protect his “wares”. Secondly, we see the assumption that Tiwa Savage has no agency, that her husband, Tunji Balogun who is also her manager, made her to wear the revealing outfit. This is an exceptional example of how Nigerian society views women.
On her part, Tiwa Savage is not feeling bad at all, she hit the nail squarely on its head saying being sexual “is something we’re comfortable with behind closed doors but very uncomfortable with in public”. Wearing a skin-toned body suit does not equal promoting decadence. Clearly Tiwa Savage is someone who is confident in her skin and is not married to someone from the Victorian age who sees the need to control her sexuality. Her husband has stood beside her. However at the same time, while standing by her choices Tiwa Savage seems to be simultaneously distancing herself from the video, stating “it’s just a persona, I don’t think anyone can look at my life and see any scandal”. This further reinforces the dichotomy I mentioned earlier above, she is essentially saying: “it does not matter that I wore a revealing costume, I just wanted to try something new with my persona, I am still that good girl you all know and love”.
I would say Tiwa Savage is among the top echelons of the most sexually confident women entertainers in mainstream Nigerian industry. And she is successful, before we ask ourselves if Tiwa Savage is giving into the attitude that sex sells, we should ask does Tiwa Savage, who is already a huge established name in the Nigerian entertainment industry, really need sex to sell? What Tiwa Savage wore in her “Wanted” video is to be expected based on the kind of music she has released in the past. Tiwa Savage still kept it within those boundaries of her “persona”, now if she wore a dress like Rihanna’s imagine how many Nigerians would be foaming at the mouth.
Are Black women judged too harshly for wearing revealing clothes?
Tiwa Savage’s music video and the reaction to it, mirror reactions to Rihanna’s infamous dress. But why are these women being shamed for showing a bit of skin? There are indeed some brazen instances of using sex to sell but I find it hard to agree that Tiwa Savage on a local scale, or Rihanna on the global scale are using sex to sell. These are women who have already “made it” in their respective fields. Rihanna is one of most recognisable faces in the world. She wore that dress, a Swarovski-crystalled Adam Selman gown, to the Council of Fashion Designers of America awards, not in a music video or on her album art. Rihanna already had the attention of most of the world before she wore the dress, before she even appeared topless in fashion shoots for Lui magazine, Rihanna does not need to sex to sell.
Nevertheless a barrage of voices came out to shame Rihanna, including TLC which I found disappointing and hypocritical considering that they sang some raunchy lyrics back in the day. Like Tiwa Savage, Rihanna was undaunted and very much unapologetically so. Rihanna tweeted an image of herself in that amazing dress next to another image of the incomparable Josephine Baker reminding the world that it is not just recently that women have been brazenly sexual in ways that shocked and scandalised.
Born 1906, Josephine Baker was the first Black woman international star as well as a civil rights activist and a spy for the French, she also danced topless in front of a crowd wearing a banana skirt. Josephine Baker was revolutionary in the manner in which she used her body to exhibit freedom, according to Josie Pickens, and remains an inspiration to women till today.
A woman’s agency
When women are shamed for our dress, there is always someone else we should think of, our husbands, our boyfriends, or our parents. This sends a dangerous message that women never truly own our bodies. In Nigeria, some of my friends in their late-20s still feel nervous about cutting or dyeing their hair because of their parents. For those who are married it becomes “my husband will not like it”; if I object the swift reply is “when you are married you will understand”. Rather than moaning about a woman exposing her body, the question we should be asking ourselves is, “why the need to police?” If what a woman chooses to wear sends a bad message to children, why do you think children can’t decipher for themselves what is right or wrong? A society where a woman’s body is taken not to be her own and in which men feel entitled to a woman’s body but at the same time want to control it, is more dangerous a message for children than a woman wearing a suit that blends with her skin tone.
Even though my music tastes are more highlife, mourna and kizomba, I have only just started opening up to pop and hip-hop/rap because I admire these brazenly sexual Black women. I will buy their music to show my support of women like Tiwa Savage, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, even Junglepussy and Dai Burger, women who exercise their agency and wear what they like.