At the center of the current controversy is the video for Ciara’s current single “Ride” featuring Ludacris. Captured at various points in a revealing one piece swimsuit and a mink coat with heels on as well as on top of a mechanical bull in a wet t-shirt and super short jean shorts, Ciara looks far more sexually charged in “Ride” than at any point in her debut video “Goodies.” Back in 2004, she was crooning “lookin for the goodies/keep on lookin’ ‘cause they stay in the jar.” Now, she’s proclaiming “he love the way I ride it.”
But artistic evolution or devolution, depending on your perspective, is not the primary issue. Instead, Ciara fans are asking about BET’s double standard, going as far as launching a “twitition”. “We have been recently notified that Ciara’s new Music Video ‘Ride’ is not being showed on B.E.T because it’s too sexual,” it reads. “Note that they play Trey Songz ‘Invented Sex’ [where he is having sex with a woman in the video] and Trey Songz ‘Neighbors Know My Name’ [Having sex with DIFFERENT woman]. I think that B.E.T is over analyzing this, or is just being disrespectful to Ciara. MTV and VH1 is playing ‘Ride’ and so are other stations. What are you B.E.T going to do about this because as a fan and Representative of Ciara you are being UNFAIR!” [sic]
The twitition raises a valid question but the bigger picture is even more complex. Yes, it is indeed problematic that male artists such as Trey Songz and Usher, whose “Lil Freak” video with rapper Nicki Minaj (who certainly patterns herself after Lil Kim and Trina) where he anticipates a ménage a trois, are seen on BET. Usher even dropped by 106 and Park and premiered “Lil Freak” there in March. In April, internet rumors surfaced that Teiarra Mari’s “Sponsor” was not on BET because the network had unofficially banned it.
Visually, Teiarra Mari’s “Sponsor” is very tame sexually. Mari is just seen racking up a lot of goodies but is never seen doing anything explicitly sexual to get them, although there are allusions that such rewards are not free. How this video differs greatly from last year’s hit “Throw It in the Bag” by Fabolous and The-Dream escapes most people. That song essentially says “ignore the price tags, just throw it in the bag.” And then there’s T.I.’s “Whatever You Like,” which he even performed for the ladies on The View before going to jail, where he tells his girl “you can have whatever you like.”
All songs are drenched in materialism. The presumption is that getting with the right guy will get a girl every material possession she can envision. So, why is it okay for guys to promise that continually in their songs and, yet, not okay for girls to create songs also lauding that? In other words, if BET is going to be wrong, be all the way wrong. It can’t be okay for Usher to be in a club and have a woman solicit another woman for the both of them but not okay for Ciara to dance suggestively as she sings about “how I ride it.”
Now the solution to it all is for BET to back away from all these images regardless of who projects them. In March, BET actually gathered a group of women at the Mandarin Oriental in Washington DC for a two-day summit titled “Leading Women Defined.” Ebony’s Harriette Cole, Essence’s recently retired Miki Taylor and Brown University professor Tricia Rose were among those in attendance. According to the Washington Post, Debra Lee, who helms BET, now in its thirtieth year as a network, proclaimed that “I think black women really want to see themselves as professionals, as mothers, as daughters. We want the whole spectrum of our womanhood to be reflected.”
Presumably Lee, who says her actions were fueled by her own outrage with rappers Lil Wayne and Drake having underage girls, including Lil Wayne’s own daughter Reginae, who was ten at the time, as they performed a song stating “I wish I could [expletive] every girl in the world” during the BET Awards last year, is starting with Teairra Mari and Ciara, who are not only female but wield far less star power than Usher or Trey Songz. “I just still feel like, as much as we’ve tried, it’s still a heavily male dominated music genre,” Lee said, according to the Washington Post.
Is that why Lee’s team at BET has found it easier to regulate black women than men? If the goal is to tackle the problem and the problem is “the heavily male dominated music genre” then shouldn’t BET hit its target? Surely putting the brakes on Trey Songz or Usher will send a more powerful message to the powers that be than allegedly handcuffing Ciara or Teairra Mari. The really tragedy for BET is, even if the desire to create a more balanced portrait of black women is truly a goal, they have dug themselves into such a hole that it’s just easier to lay down in the grave than to try to climb their way out of it.