Not-So-Political Genius: What Have We Learned From Chrisette Michele?
When Chrisette Michele announced that she was performing at the Inauguration of America’s 45th President, the blowback was harsh and immediate. So much so, that it prompted Michele to defend her choice on social and broadcast media. What seems to be an attempt at an explanation of her explanation now looks like an image in need of damage control. Whether this is oblivious self-sabotage or career suicide is still unclear, but over the last two weeks, many teaching moments and lessons have emerged.
Below, are just a few lessons we have gleaned from this episode.
All Money Ain’t Good Money
Here was a black woman whose personal brand is all about #BlackGirlMagic, down to having a song with that same title, performing for a man who is a self-professed violator of women. A man whose first order of business once elected was to reinstate a broader iteration of the Global Gag Rule, dealing a crippling blow to reproductive choice for women around the planet. Her core audience is women of color, women whom Donald Trump continually denigrates with comments like “just grab them by the pussy”. If she were a card-carrying member of the Black Republicans, even fewer who care now would care that she performed. At least then, it would make sense from the standpoint of party allegiance. But she isn’t a Republican. And while she said on The Breakfast Club that she “didn’t do it for views”, that’s just one reason her performance was a questionable look.
The rumor is that she was paid $250,000 to perform—she debunked that. Whether she got more or less she did not confirm—and she need not. We all understand that she has a job to do, and people to support. No one is trying to get in the way of that… other than Spike Lee. But having just released her latest album Milestone in June of last year, it will be interesting to see how her base responds, and whether they take their upset to a commercial level when the next release hits the market. Chrissette made her choice, and Spike made his, by opting not to license her song “Black Girl Magic” for his Netflix series, She’s Gotta Have It. And while viewers in the millions may have seen her sing at inauguration, its ratings were down 18% versus President Barack Obama’s in 2012. The degree to which she can convert the people who learned of her from this performance, and the dropoff she will experience from her core fanbase have no tangible measurement yet. So far, between the word of mouth and unfortunate press, it’s not looking too good. While sales of John Lewis’ graphic novel March and George Orwell’s 1984 have gotten sales bumps in connection with the election of Trump, Milestone has yet to do the same.
Speak For Yourself And Let The Audience Decide
“I took a lot of heat to unify America, to show them what we look like,” intones Chrisette, as if we asked her to, or insisted that she set fire to her brand. She continually defended herself as an individual American artist, but was simultaneously invoking the “we” as in “all Black people” as a key reason she performed.
But wait. She did it for profit. In her Breakfast Club interview, she mentioned that she “sang for Barack for free.”
So… was the fee the revolutionary act? Do “we” get some of the check? Will there be a charitable donation for her “we” to the NAACP or Black Girls Rock!? Last time Chrisette made a political statement, she had a problem with “us” protesting police brutality! But now, she stands for “us”? Now, she catches a check to poem-sing in protest of being invisible to a KKK sympathizer, who swears “the Blacks” who, apparently, only get by in the inner cities, have nothing to lose? Now, we are supposed to roll with her singing a spiritual in a Basquiat-printed skirt and be grateful that she spoke for us? Black people, and certainly black women, are no monolith. Gathering “us” all up to defend a business decision from which none of “us” benefit is presumptive and frankly, insulting.
Chrisette’s career choices are her own. Wise artists speak for themselves and let the audience align themselves with their expression, instead of electing themselves as the voice of a mythical “we”.