Details, left to right: Image from Diamonds are Forever, 1971; image from Atlantic is a Sea of Bones, 2017; album cover from D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, 2014; and Odell Beckham Jr. doing the Challenge, 2018.
Black One Shot is a series that stages brevity and precision in response to a single work of black art, contemporary and/or prescient. Using a 1000-word conceit, it references the pressures on scholars and curators to present complex discussions and formulations of blackness for public consumption, political action, and academic relevance. It disputes staid frameworks of interpretation that cannot or will not account for the speculative, ambivalent, and irreconcilable ways of black forms. It speaks to the ongoing case for black lives and art mattering. And it conjures up the necessary intimacy generated between a critic and their object.
As an assembly of strategies, impulses, and circuits, these pieces conduct an historiographic and aesthetic review of how blackness and the arts demand and distend. We circulate them as a new measure of art criticism, one keyed to the channels and frequencies of blackness, pleasure, and critical contemplation. Black visual and expressive culture and all to which it is connected is better for these queries.
With 30+ contributors, b.O.s. will run the course of summertime, when the living is (un)easy. We invite you to follow and share as new work is issued every two weeks. Thanks to all the contributors and special thanks to Abram Foley, editor of ASAP/J.
This sixth transmission (8.13.18) features Lisa Uddin on Thumper’s Descent in Diamonds are Forever, Tavia Nyong’o on Tourmaline’s Atlantic is a Sea of Bones, Tiffany E. Barber on D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, and Jasmine Elizabeth Johnson on the #inmyfeelings challenge.
– Michael Boyce Gillespie and Lisa Uddin (Editors)
To be in your feelings is to know you are available to exposure. To offer, in some ways, receipt of one’s interiority. On the other end of a spectrum of quips that speak to emotional apathy (e.g. “do you,” “it’s cool,” “I’m not even trippin”), “in my feelings” accedes that you mind. One may or may not privilege much less act on that avowal, but there is recognition of a specific pulse of feeling inside your body. “In my feelings” is both vulnerable and vague. It belongs to a genre of sayings that obscure even while they disclose (i.e. “feeling some type of way”).
There is a crevice between having feelings, declaring feelings, and being inside them. To be inside feelings means you pitch a tent in their world, not theirs in yours. A mapping, a geography. “In my feelings” signals desire, a thirst for the space to care for others or permission to be cared for.
Drake has become synonymous with being in feelings. His music consistently and unambiguously speaks to the fact that he cares, feels, and emotes. Drake’s “In My Feelings,” the 21st track on his fifth studio album Scorpion (2018), offers yet another coordinate on his sentimental map. Coproduced by New Orleans native BlaqNmilD and Cleveland producer TrapMoneyBenny, the song hails a New Orleans bounce cadence. The late Magnolia Shorty’s “Smoking Gun” is sampled. In its layers of sign and stacking of pace we can hear quickened footwork, or the repetitious bouncing of backside. Lyrically, Drake wonders-out-loud if the women he presumably rides for ride for him; are they committed?; will they “never ever leave [him]?” The world of the song indexes the experience of being in one’s feels: emo and excited; insecure and desiring security.
Internet personality Shiggy turned Drakes ‘feels’ anthem into a meme; the meme shuttled the track to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In a blush colored sweat suit and navy cap, Shiggy dances to “In My Feelings” at dusk. The joy of watching comes from the precision of Shiggy’s wop-like moves, bolstered by a choir of friends inside the car who are outside the camera’s frame but whose presence is loudly registered. Each of Shiggy’s steps are punctuated by enthusiastic heys. They mark the beat and Shiggy’s actions, reminding us that in black social dance the novelty of individual movement is generated from the energy of the group.
Odell Beckham Jr. performed the choreography less than a week after Shiggy’s post. “Happy 4th!!! This how I’m Pullin up to bop-bop-barbecues all day! […] Everybody get crazy wit it and hashtag #DoTheShiggy leggoo.”1
Choreographed challenges ask listeners to both learn movement and give it new fleshly meaning. The original choreography is both mimetic and of a broader social dance repertoire. “Keke, do you love me?” is embodied by two hands bent into heart shape. “Say you’ll never ever leave me” is paired with a wagging finger. In some ways the challenge is a game of lyrical charades. MPH is also collaborator: in many submissions the challenge is performed next to and against the momentum of a moving car. With the song playing, the passenger cracks open the door, leaves it ajar, and moves at the pace of the song and the speed of the moving vehicle. An unrealistically fast velocity disturbs the coherence of the choreography and forces the dancer to chase rhythm; a sedated pace clips the dancer’s capacity to display individual flair and athleticism. One is hailing a performative past while inventing new patterns inside of that repertoire of recognition.2
Thus, a meme is content, copied. Shiggy’s hitching choreography to the song (one cannot do the Challenge to another track) confers its dynamism. But becoming viral — the wide circulation and saturation of a particular frame — does not mean all characters know the meanings of a meme’s symbols. In the absence of skill, a seemingly straightforward string of movements can become dangerous. The wealth of videos of dancers attempting to spring out of a moving vehicle only to flapjack toward pavement, suggests that seeing the meme does not mean one is literate in its embodied demand or cool.
The gift and complication of black popular culture is its aversion to neat origin stories. Through circuitous arrangement black social life travels, is riffed upon, and moves across senses through both the fact of a challenge and the lack of permission required to accept it. In some ways embodied memes are invitations cast out with infinite plus ones. In this way it is not clear which is the subject of the #inmyfeelingschallenge: Drake’s “In My Feelings,” Shiggy’s Instagram post, the physical parroting of and challenge issued by Odell Beckham Jr., or the fervid transmission of the meme? Without a clear bottom, the Challenge is a study on black dance innovation as a web of social life, choreographic influence, and pop capital.
There is a crevice between having feelings, declaring feelings, and being inside them. The #inmyfeelingschallenge literalizes the fact that sentience is motion. It is an anthem for open care and example of the jeopardy of physical and emotional vulnerability. The Challenge indexes this: black social dance coheres expansively. Its potential for capacious relation rests on exposure, sentiment, and ultimately, “feels”.
This is one of four essays from the sixth transmission of b.O.s. (Black One Shot). Read the other essays here:
b.O.s. 6.1/Thumper’s Descent/Lisa Uddin
b.O.s. 6.2/Atlantic is a Sea of Bones/Tavia Nyong’o
b.O.s. 6.3/Black Messiah/Tiffany E. Barber
About the editors:
Michael Boyce Gillespie is Associate Professor of Film at The City College of New York, CUNY. He has published on film theory, black visual and expressive culture, and contemporary art. Recent work includes co-editing (w/ Racquel Gates) the “Dimensions in Black: Perspectives on Black Film and Media” dossier for Film Quarterly 71.2 (Winter 2017). He is the author of Film Blackness: American Cinema and the Idea of Black Film (Duke University Press, 2016). He is currently working on his next book tentatively titled Death Grips: Film Blackness and Cinema in the Wake. He would rather live in Oakland than Wakanda.
Lisa Uddin is Associate Professor of Art History and Visual Culture Studies and Paul Garrett Fellow at Whitman College. She has published widely on race, space, and human/nonhuman entanglements in modern and contemporary visual culture, and is the author of Zoo Renewal: White Flight and the Animal Ghetto (University of Minnesota Press, 2015). Her current book project, Sunspots: Black Cosmologies of California Design, considers black expressive practices in formations of California architecture and urbanism since the 1960s. She is mid-tone beige.
- I am reminded here of dance scholar Jacqui Malone’s language: “Through rituals involving dance, music, song, and language, African Americans continue to find celebratory ways to ‘evoke the spirit’ and at the same time perpetuate common values, reaffirm community, and reorder society.” A hashtag is a social rearrangement. Jacqui Malone, Stepping on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance (University of Illinois Press, 1996), 5.
- Capturing the size of this viral reordering is impossible. But to gesture toward scope I’ll share that, at the publication of this piece #dotheshiggy has over 96k posts on Instagram; #kekchallenge, 82k; #inmyfeelingschallenge, 276k. Will Smith, Sterling Brown and Susan Kelechi Watson, and Riley Curry are just a few notable submissions that show both the range and riff characteristic of this Challenge.