“You see what happens when they show up for us?”
The question came from Erykah Badu toward the end of Apocalypse Two, the second performance the singer has offered as part of her Quarantine concert series. Directed at other artists and musicians watching, the question highlighted how important the relationship is between a creative and his or her fans is. Now, moreso than ever, there is a need for art as a means of escape, catharsis, and comfort; fans will come to experience that wherever an artist offers it — even if it is in the comfort of their own home.
Badu is one of many, many artists that have taken to transforming their home into a live music experience. On March 17, the singer announced her Quarantine series with Apocalypse One, which, despite an ambitious but convoluted rollout (to build anticipation for the performance Badu dropped “clues” regarding the time, date, and location throughout her social media accounts) was a success. For one dollar, fans not only gained entry into Badu’s live stream (via her online shopping store, Badu World Market) but also voted on the songs she performed. With the live stream set up in her bedroom, Badu’s concert felt intimate and communal, the singer speaking to her audience in real time, with fans responding to her and each other in the live stream’s comment section.
On Sunday, April 5, Badu followed up with Apocalypse Two. Now a two dollar event, the second concert served as a celebration for the 10-year anniversary of New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh). Initially, the concert followed similarly to the first one, with the set beginning in Badu’s bedroom. Then, it took an interesting turn — the singer informed fans that they would be voting for where she performed in her house, instead of what she performed. Initially, this seemed like a setback: why denote fans to just choosing where you perform when previously you allowed them to basically make your setlist? Little did viewers know just how well thought out this change was.
When fans voted for Badu to move to what she called the “mystery room,” they were greeted with a brief intermission from magician Ritchy Flo (who Badu called her brother-in-law), whose card trick incited countless jokes in the live stream comment section. Then, the feed cut to Badu in a new room. She was with her bandmates dressed differently from how they were in her bedroom.
“Welcome to the bossa nova room, where we will be performing ‘Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long,'” Badu told viewers as the live stream went from color to black and white. The moment was unexpected — not only were fans getting a performance of “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long,” they were getting a completely new interpretation of it. As the set ended, Badu asked fans to decide if her band would stay in the bossa nova room, or move to another mystery room. As she expected, they chose the latter, leading to another intermission with another magician named Dal Sanders, who spent his act juggling balls. Then, Badu reappeared in another room called the “experimental room.” Dressed in another outfit alongside another group of musicians she referred to as the Cannabinoids, the singer went into a chopped up, deep house rendition of the low-tempo ballad “Window Seat.” By now, fans understood what was happening. In choosing where Badu performed, not only were we greeted to a different room with different outfits and musicians, but different versions of her songs too. This added a level of friendly division among fans as they had to wonder what the next song Badu was going to do, and then choose between staying in a room or moving to the next one.
Through the voting system, viewers ended up watching bossa nova renditions of “Umm Hmm” and “Turn Me Away (Get MuNNY)”; experimental versions of “Incense” and “You Loving Me”; and soulful versions of “Fall In Love (Your Funeral)” and “Out My Mind, Just In Time,” the latter of which Badu ended her set with.
Badu’s show was just as much a testament to her creative legacy as it was an innovative blueprint for online concert experiences. The singer used her music, home, and fashion sense to build an immersive and interactive world that other artists could adopt and apply in their own way. Even the subtle change of moving from one room to another furthers the feeling of intimacy a fan already feels in watching a performer play in the comfort of their home.
Of course, Badu was adamant about acknowledging everyone who helped make the concert possible: the musicians, techs, engineers, and assistants that helped her change into her different wardrobes.
“Your two dollars supports an ecosystem,” Badu said. During her set, viewers saw that ecosystem work in real time: producers abuptly and smoothly cutting from intermissions to performances, and techs fixing the sound during the performances. Since Apocalypse One, Badu has stressed how the money earned from these shows is going toward the people in her orbit that bring her concerts to life. Without them, there is no live Badu experience, and it’s important to see Badu convey that while attempting to create such an innovative experience.
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