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“Cinnamon Girl” Video Controversy Caps Prince’s Outstanding Year

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2004 has been an amazing year for Prince. With a new major label contract and album, he set out early this year on a tour that has turned out to be one of the top tours of the year. His tour has been nominated for the first Billboard magazine award for tour of the year alongside Madonna and Shania Twain.

In addition, after getting SoundScan to agree to count the giveaway copies of the new album Musicology as legit sales, Prince has spent much of this year in the Top 10 of the album chart. Not bad for an artist who had not reached the Top 10 of the album chart since 1995’s The Gold Experience.

Finally, in a move that would make Madonna envious, Prince has ignited one of the biggest music video controversies in years. The video for his song “Cinnamon Girl,” the 3rd single from Musicology, features Whale Rider star and Academy Award nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes. She portrays an Arab-American girl who, following victimization in the aftermath of 9/11, dreams of blowing up an airport with a suicide bomb.

As would be expected, the video has prompted outcry from the right wing of the media. The New York Post screamed that it “might be the most tasteless video ever,” and Fox News complained that Prince was “causing trouble.” A voice from within the Arab-American community, Rana Abbas, a deputy director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, believes the video is “shocking but in a good way” as it portrays the issues and discrimination average Arab-Americans have faced in the aftermath of 9/11.

Beyond the controversy, the video is quite attractively filmed by director Phil Harder (past credits include videos for Incubus and Matchbox 20) with live action set against an impressionistic Minneapolis landscape at times menacingly washed in fiery orange, yellow and red. Keisha Castle-Hughes is as convincing as a teenage Arab-American as she was a pre-teen Maori. The controversy lies solely in personal concerns about the content, not anything connected with the way the video is filmed.

Is the video deserving of the controversy? Unfortunately, it seems that for some in the post-9/11 U.S. anything that suggests an ounce of American culpability for Arab hatred and violence is deserving of attack. The truth, as reported multiple times from the Middle East, is that American response to 9/11, particularly the war in Iraq, has bred greater hatred and most likely led to additional recruiting of violent suicide bombers. Prince’s video simply lays out the warning in the song…that impressionable individuals, in this case a teenager, can contemplate a violent response in the wake of unwarranted hatred and persecution. Is this unusual or difficult to understand?

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About Bill Lamb

  • Sean

    Has there really been a rash of anti-arab incidents since 9/11? That’s a rhetorical question. Of course, one incident is too many; but considering that nearly 3,000 Americans were murdered on that day and we live in a nation of almost 300 million people of all shapes and sizes and religions and mental dispositions I’d say we as a nation can show some pride in our restraint. And yes I have seen the video. Controversial? Yes, but only if one thinks that harassment by classmates is enough to send your average arab-American girl into fantasies of mass murder. Otherwise this video is as PC as it gets.

  • http://www.awddaily.com Bill Lamb

    As a note in an attempt to correct a mis-characterization in the above comment. The video does depict and allude to significantly more going on for the video’s protagonist than simply “harassment by classmates.” The protagonist’s family is forced to cover up Arabic writing on their family business’ sign…”Terrorist scum” graffiti is shown on a window…the protagonist is harassed at the airport for her passport with no explanation other than ethnicity. She also deals with an obviously difficult encounter with her own relatives, but we are left with our own guesses about the content of that altercation. Clearly it does add to the distress. Due to the impressionistic nature of the video and a running time of only 4 minutes…I believe a pattern is alluded to and it definitely is not about mere classmate harassment.

  • Sean

    I notice you didn’t challenge any of my primary assertions. But I don’t suppose it really matters because I seem to be the only person interested in your review.

  • http://www.awddaily.com Bill Lamb

    Why deal with assertions when they are based on you getting the facts about the video wrong?

  • Sean

    My main assertion is that the video is an inaccurate reflection of reality. This assertion does not rest on the extent of the harrassment portrayed in the video.

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    I tried to find the video at the iTunes Music Store, but didn’t see it in the first 100. (Didn’t have time to go through the rest.) Bill, where can the “Cinnamon Girl” video be viewed? (Needs to be a Mac compatible site.)

    Sean, just because people haven’t commented doesn’t mean an entry wasn’t read. It read this one Tuesday and Wednesday.

  • Sean

    Well obviously. Implicit in my remark was that the article had been read or at least seen.

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Bill, something beyond the explosive ending bothers me about this: I dont’ think the video really matches the song, which is not one of his stronger efforts anyway – kind of light, nondescript pop, and the theme of the video is certainly not that.

    Also, I never know if Prince actually means what he says or if he is just in provocateur mode – he is so eccentric it’s hard to tell.

  • http://www.awddaily.com Bill Lamb

    Mac Diva,

    The ‘Cinnamon Girl’ video can be seen at Yahoo’s Launch service for free. http://www.launch.yahoo.com I have no idea about Mac compatibility.

    It’s also available for pay at Prince’s own New Power Generation site. http://www.npgmusicclub.com

    Thanks for the supportive comment. This isn’t my prior outlet for music information I share on the web, and I know what my traffic is elsewhere – there are enough people paying attention to what I write to keep me busy. Obviously I touched a nerve and the response was a comment intended to be hurtful. It happens.

  • http://www.awddaily.com Bill Lamb

    Eric,

    Here’s what I wrote about ‘Cinnamon Girl’ in a review of the “Musicology” album way back in April:

    “‘Cinnamon Girl,’ the tale of a woman of cinnamon color in a post-9/11 world, possesses an irresistible syncopated dancefloor stomp. Rock guitars and unashamed Bubblegum melody will make you smile in spite of the serious words. That kick-drum on the 2 and 4 suits Prince just fine.”

    Some lyrical snippets from ‘Cinnamon Girl':

    “Cinnamon Girl of mixed heritage
    Never knew the meaning of color lines
    911 turned that all around
    When she got accused of this crime

    So began the mass illusion, war on terror alibi
    What’s the use when the god of confusion keeps on telling the same lie?…

    As war drums beat in Babylon
    And scorch the blood red sky
    Militants bomb the foreign gun
    Both sides truly die

    Cinnamon girl opens the book she knows will settle all the scores
    Then she prays after the war that there will not b anymore ”

    I do disagree with you both about the song being lyrically ‘light’ and about the subject matter not matching the video.

    As far as videos matching songs…I’m still in my Depeche Mode re-appreciation mode and eagerly awaiting their remix collection coming out Tuesday. The video for “Enjoy the Silence” remains one of the most powerful videos, in my mind, during that era…but the lyrics of the song certainly have nothing to do with a king on a throne in the snow-covered Alps, but who can forget the image attached to the soundtrack?

    As far as Prince just being in provocateur mode…I doubt it. Prince has been making political music since nearly the beginning. His three musical obsessions are politics, sex, and religion. ‘Ronnie Talk To Russia’ off “Controversy” is somewhat dated now, but was serious commentary in its time. The child voice asking “Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?” on the “1999” album is still a bit chilling, I think. Or there’s this bit of lyrics from “Sign O the Times”

    “Hurricane Annie ripped the ceiling of a church
    And killed everyone inside
    U turn on the telly and every other story
    Is tellin’ U somebody died
    Sister killed her baby cuz she couldn’t afford 2 feed it
    And we’re sending people 2 the moon”

    And Prince’s current state of mind is probably more directly stated on “Musicology” in ‘Dear Mr. Man’ My comments on it from April:

    “‘Dear Mr. Man’ plays like Marvin Gaye’s classic ‘What’s Goin’ On?’ filtered through Sly Stone’s “There’s a Riot Goin’ On.” Commentary on the social, political, and environmental state of the world set to a grinding Funk backbeat. Prince’s precedent for this type of overt commentary on the federal government lies clear back on “Controversy’s” ‘Ronnie Talk To Russia.’ This time Prince’s religious commitment invokes the property-sharing principle of the Jubilee alongside quotations from the 14th amendment. The closing statement ‘We wish to close this letter with three words – We tired ay’all’ speaks volumes for those alienated by the current U.S. political establishment.”

    I believe that artists are part of our collective conscience…they are not the problem solvers. That’s why we create government…to solve the problems that our conscience makes us aware of.

  • http://www.awddaily.com Bill Lamb

    Sean,

    Thanks for making your assertion more clear. Music videos rarely provide an objectively accurate version of reality. Art, by definition, is usually subjective.

    On a personal note…the comment the day after September 11th from an older ‘mild-mannered’ woman who I work with saying “I guess we’ll just have to start mowing ’em down” in reference to generalized Arab or Middle Eastern people makes me rather convinced being of Middle Eastern descent in the U.S. after 9/11 has not been easy, and that ‘admirable restraint’ is in the eye of the beholder. Many thought putting Japanese people in concentration camps during World War II was showing ‘admirable restraint’ as well.

    I will provide this link for anyone to read and make their own judgements. It’s the summary of a report by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee on the condition of Arab-Americans Post 9/11, published in March 2002.

    http://www.adc.org/terror_attack/9-11aftermath.PDF

  • Sean

    3,000 people murdered in one day by Arab-Muslim radicals. Cheering crowds–not wide-spread but enough to be noticed–in many parts of the Arab world.

    Retaliatory killing in the US: one man, a Sikh mistaken for a muslim by some ignorant bastard in Texas, murdered.

    Prince can make a video about anything he likes, but if he really wanted to be controversial he would have made a positive statement about his country. Not jingoistic pap, but a thoughtful statement about the state of our nation instead of the pandering that we got.

    Again, I repeat, a nation of almost 300,000,000–including many gun owners.

  • http://www.awddaily.com Bill Lamb

    Well, at least your point of view is much clearer.

    We as a country are to be congratulated because we only committed acts of violence and vandalism and one murder against residents of our own country that had nothing to do with 9/11. I prefer to, and I think Prince does as well, aim for a nation that’s better than that. And a nation that acts with thought and a conscience.

    I suppose Prince didn’t specifically set out to make a “positive statement about his country” because he didn’t set out to be controversial. He set out to be an artist and express his concerns. Besides, he’s presented the positive statement you speak about years ago on ‘America’ off the “Around the World In a Day” album and endured attacks from his ethnic community then.

  • Sean

    Apologies for my hurtful comment. I saw Prince at the San Fran Cow Palace second row center in 1984 (might have been early ’85, can’t recall). What a show!

  • James

    WOW!

    KEISHA CASTLE HUGHES IS JUST GREAT! She was so good in Whale rider, and she delivers again in this music video.

    I cant wait to see her in the new STARWARS III movie coming next year. She plays the “Queen of Naboo”. This girl has a face that can express emotions real well.

    Wonder what she thinks of her role in this video though. She’s also a real 14 year old school girl after all.

    Do you think it was okay to cast a child for this kind of role though? Prince could have selected a 17+ girl.

    Comments anyone?

  • http://www.hotmail.com Jim Slimmer

    It’s amazing how so many people can get upset about something such as a video when there are those in our country (U.S) living in sub-standard conditions. Just like Bush Sr. did with flag burning, instead of dealing with real problems it’s easier to focus on symbolism. The video is good, insightful, and entertaining, unlike most (rump-shaking) videos of today. Finally, to critics saying Prince is washed up and using controversy as a means of getting publicity….Wrong! Before Cinnamon Girl, Prince had already received as much publicity as any other artist this year, bar none. A nearly double platnum CD, which debut in the Top 10 in many countries, the Number 1 concert tour, and an R&B and Urban AC hit with Call My Name is far from washed up.

    He could have gone the safe route and avoided making a political statement, but he, instead, chose to do something to spark debate and thought. Personally, I respect that.

  • AAR

    what is a cinnamon girl? what does it mean

  • Eric Olsen

    a spicy, powdery brown girl?

  • Duane

    After deep ruminations, I think I could be happy the rest of my life with a cinnamon girl.

  • Bruce

    She’s Maori tho…