Do you remember that D’Angelo video?
It was 2000, and the 26-year-old soul singer was naked from the waist up, all six-pack and rippled arms, crooning into the camera and frequently licking his lips.
Untitled (How Does it Feel) would catapult D’Angelo to stardom. Unfortunately, it would also reduce the singer, who had earned comparisons to Stevie Wonder and Prince, to “the naked guy.”
Never mind that the director hired to make the video had reportedly instructed D’Angelo to envision his grandmother’s cooking – think yams and fried chicken – as the six-hour shoot unfolded around the singer’s smouldering body.
D’Angelo was officially a sex god – albeit a highly reluctant one.
Soon after Untitled, he would take an 11-year-hiatus, his absence marked by severe weight gain, a DUI and a Hummer crash that shattered all the ribs on his left side. The June issue of GQ spotlights the singer’s return with a new album and tour, but also explores his frustration with the way fans objectified that body, with women demanding he disrobe at every show, yelling “Take it off!” Questlove, the tour’s bandleader, tells GQ that D’Angelo struggled greatly with his image as a sex symbol – a struggle not usually foisted on men in pop culture, a struggle seen as feminine by most.
Sometimes, he’d delay shows to do stomach crunches: “He’d often give in, peeling off his shirt, but he resented being reduced to that. Wasn’t he an artist?” writes GQ’s Amy Wallace. Other times, he’d try to cancel gigs outright. When a woman threw money at him onstage, he threw it back, telling her, “I’m not a stripper.”
Although D’Angelo plays down the issue with GQ, he’s hitting the gym and subsisting on little more than fish and green apples ahead of his return. He’s also taken up guitar: His tour manager suggests it may be a tactic to divert attention from the Chippendales image, since the artist stands behind the instrument. D’Angelo’s lyrics also suggest body image may be on his mind: “I know you’re wondering where I've been / Wondering 'bout the shape I'm in / I hope it ain't my abdomen,” he sings in Back.
So just what do we make of a man tortured by his own sexual objectification?
At xojane.com, Lesley Kinzel argues that catcalling and objectification can be particularly destructive for men, who aren’t supposed to complain. (Questlove suggests in GQ that such conversations are typically reserved for the likes of Kate Moss – women, in other words.)
“Too often we assume that even while the compulsory sexualization of women is a problem, returning the favour to the opposite sex is totally A-OK,” Ms. Kinzel wrote. “A little taste of their own medicine, right?”
It’s not the first time a male celebrity has expressed angst over their labels as sex symbols: Evan Dando, Eddie Vedder and Robert Redford were all uncomfortable in their (beautiful) skin in their days.
“People have been so busy relating to how I look, it's a miracle I didn't become a self-conscious blob of protoplasm,” Mr. Redford once remarked.
Men, have you ever felt sexually objectified and not enjoyed it?