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Estelle’s “Freak” Blackface Backlash: Americans Are Too Sensitive

After her breakthough album “Shine,” U.K. songstress-rapper Estelle has returned with her new single “Freak” from her forthcoming album, “All of Me.” Unfortunately, the release of her single’s video did not impress some of her online fans. The singer adapted numerous funky, fashion-forward looks in the clip, including one where she’s covered in black paint. To many online viewers, this depiction leaned more toward questionable and possibly offensive rather than creative and the blowback got me thinking — are Americans too sensitive about blackface?
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“Those comments were the first thing I saw after we released the video trailer,” Estelle told Parlour earlier this week. “It’s like ‘are you joking?'”
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The “Freak” clip was directed by Kanye West-collaborator Nabil Elderkin and the song itself is a bouncy dance-track produced by David Guetta, featuring Canadian MC, Kardinal Offishall. The lyrics encourage listeners to release their individuality and the clip features Estelle in a multitude of looks including a shot with the controversial black paint. However, the director says it’s meant to be fun.

“We are making a video about Estelle acting freaky and we’re gonna do lots of things, turns, fingers, beauty looks freaky looks, speed fast dancers, it’s gonna be hot,” said Elderkin, during the clip’s promotional trailer. The director was unavailable for comment at press time.

Estelle says she and the director are longtime friends and he understands that her creative vision is “coming from a place of art versus just trying to be different.” Not to mention, she refuses to justify the online chatter by defending herself.

“I think they need to wait to see the clip, I could defend myself, but its just silly,” says Estelle of the claims. “I’m black so how do I do black face? Missy did the same thing [with her video] “She’s a Bitch.” I refuse to defend it, I didn’t put any white ring around my mouth, never that.”

Estelle was very clear that her appearance in “Freak” was about creativity, akin to Grace Jones’ famous pose which Amber Rose recently duplicated on KanyeWest.com. So why are people upset?

Going back through Twitter’s reaction to the clip, Little Brother MC Phonte seems to have ignited the blowback flame.

“Damn Estelle. Blackface? In 2010? Really tho?” he asked on February 26 via Twitter.

Not to say that Phonte started the rumblings, but his comment definitely sparked retweets and debate by people who agreed, disagreed and were plain confusion. Check out the comments below, but remember these are not the opinions or views of Parlour or its staff:

“HowTF is black face freaky?” @King_AzureNoir

“Drew notices that in Estelle’s new video, her makeup appears to be in a blackface.” @AMPlified89

“It’s not the typical blackface, where someone is perpetrating a Black person. But I’m sure you already knew that.” @Madame_Vain

Then Postracialist [@postracialist], a blog for young brown ubranites, said, “Countdown to a busted ass “I’m British. It doesn’t mean the same thing there” excuse…”

Hm…When I spoke to Estelle, she was very clear that Americans and Brits share a similar history regarding race and stereotypical images.

“In London we have the same issues with racism, so I would never…” Estelle told Parlour. “I just watched the final video and it’s like ‘wow, this is like the craziest thing in your head.’ [The clip is] paying homage to Jean Paul Goude and Grace Jones. It’s not all crazy, it’s beautiful sexy crazy. I just wanted to do something different and fresh that matched intensity of the song.”

In some respects, the singer is right. However, I must also add that the European culture is a bit more flexible when it comes to race. For example, after living in the UK for a little over one year, I would barely notice if I was the only black person present.

That never happens to me in America.

Still, European black and brown people do get upset about the use of derogatory stereotypes however black Americans want blood, immediately and often. African-Americans seem to find offense in images that aren’t really offensive and I think Estelle’s “Freak” is a great example of this concept. She’s painted black the same way Rihanna was painted silver in “Umbrella” — no one rang up Def Jam and demanded a recall.

This time, the hyper-sensitivity is in America’s corner.

Here’s my first piece that made me write this one…the pic they chose was pretty awful, to be fair, the video looks much better.

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Last 5 posts by Hillary aka Steely D

  • Calling that performance “blackface” is a reach. It’s not like Estelle was shucking and jiving and holding a watermelon in her hand while wearing the black paint. Then you might have an argument but that’s just not the case. People do have a right to be weary of those blackface like images since they are extremely hurtful and considering all this “post-racial” humbug going around they should be. But Estelle seemed very sincere with her explanations and it’s clear that she wasn’t mocking anyone, just making a video.

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