Why Are People Still So Worried About What D’Angelo Looks Like These Days?

October 24, 2014  |  

I don’t think I’ve heard anything from D’Angelo that I haven’t liked.

Brown Sugar, Voodoo and Live at the Jazz Cafe, London are all amazing records and I even like that short version of “Soulmate” by Funkadelic that he played during a GQ photoshoot in 2012. For reasons like this, you should know that I’m protective of Mr. Michael Eugene Archer. For years I’ve longed for new music from him, and because I haven’t been able to get it, I’ve let go of the disappointment and just embraced his classics. But when he stepped out of his sabbatical a couple of years ago and even started touring again, I was excited. D’Angelo was back in some form or fashion, and that was good enough for me. And while many of the people from the past who we said provided the neo-soul based soundtracks of our lives don’t even sound or act the same (sorry, Lauryn), D’Angelo still sounds perfect. He sounds exactly like he did when he stepped on the scene in a leather jacket with his keyboard and cornrows back in ’95.

I think I appreciate his artistry so much that I’m not concerned about when or if a new album will drop, I just want him to stick around. I just want to hear him sing. I want to hear him play his guitar riffs or hop back on the keyboard. To scream on the mic. That’s how good D’Angelo really is.

But sadly, how great he is as a musician seems to continuously be overshadowed by what he visually provides to the public. That sucks. But then again, I know that D brought that on himself…

The minute he stepped in front of a camera half-naked to ask “How Does It Feel?” and started touring with a buff new body and no shirt to show it off, the focus was no longer on the music. It became about the abs. The arms. The pecs. The sexual appeal of D’Angelo. I literally watched a performance of him singing “Send It On” during that VH1: Men Strike Back special and even though the women didn’t know that song from Adam, they screamed through the entire performance. And they did this not because D’Angelo was one of their favorite artists, but because his upper body was pumped up and looking good underneath his thin undershirt.

Yes, like many women in music, he was objectified (and objectified himself), and he didn’t like it so much. According to both D and Questlove, via that GQ profile on D’Angelo from 2012, that was one of the many things that tore him up in the long run:

“One time I got mad when a female threw money at me onstage, and that made me feel f**ked-up, and I threw the money back at her,” he says. “I was like, ‘I’m not a stripper.’ ” He was beginning to sense a darkness beckoning. He recalls a particular moment onstage at the North Sea Jazz festival in 2000. The band was in the middle of “Devil’s Pie,” his song about the spell fame casts upon the weak—Who am I to justify / All the evil in our eye / When I myself feel the high / From all that I despise—when he felt an ominous presence in the crowd. “That night I felt something that was like, whoa,” he tells me. E-vil.

On the last day of the eight-month tour, Questlove says D’Angelo told him, “Yo, man, I cannot wait until this f**king tour is over. I’m going to go in the woods, drink some hooch, grow a beard, and get fat.” Questlove thought he was joking. “I was like, ‘You’re a funny guy.’ And then it started to happen. That’s how much he wanted to distance himself.”

But he couldn’t…and he still hasn’t been able to distance himself from the gaze of both female and male fans who were and are expecting him to look something like he did in 2000, or at least a little bit like he did in ’95. But time and time again, D has come out looking how he wants, which is usually the opposite of what the ladies want.

During a show in Melbourne this week, D hopped on stage in a black tunic and twists that were covered in a bandanna, looking a little fluffier than what we’re used to. But he did what he went there to do: sing, and he sang damn well. But alas, the focus went back to his body. As a particular headline put it: “How Does It Feel? Try Fat & Happy”

And the comments on such articles didn’t help:

“He’s almost getting overweight. What just happened?”

“What happened to the body?”

“He still has the chops, no doubt about it, but he needs to get in shape.”

Does he though?

Are aesthetics that important when you’re an artist of D’Angelo’s caliber? Or are all bets off when you make the decision to change it up, drop the pounds and expose your flesh for the world to see, as he once did?

It’s a shame when you really think about it, because it seems that people want D’Angelo to stay stuck in a certain time. They want him to look like a Playgirl centerfold and when they see him perform, they don’t want him to do anything but “How Does It Feel.” If it’s not that, he better at least do “Brown Sugar” to keep folks from throwing tomatoes.

But I think the true measure of a gifted musician is the ability to show growth. To cultivate your talents. And despite how many abs D has, he’s done that. As GQ put it, he’s a “musician’s musician.” One who writes his own music, arranges it, sings without auto-tune and can play a variety of instruments. With such a gift, I guess I’m wondering why we still care so much about what D’Angelo looks like? It’s just interesting because people say they want “real” music back, less fake booties, exposed bodies and folks only singing about sex. But yet, we’re distracted by things that have nothing to do with the music. At this point, I think it’s time that we realize that D’Angelo is probably never going to look like what he did back in the day, and the sooner people realize that, the sooner they can either appreciate the man for his music or stop pretending to be a fake fan and go back to ogling Trey Songz and artists like him…just saying.

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