Tell Me Chris: Is it "Nappy AND Pretty?" or "Nappy OR Pretty?"

It's almost midnight and for the past hour, I've been busy writing and listening to an online radio station. They just played Chris Brown's "Kiss Kiss" song and hearing it again got me thinking again about something that started bugging me a week ago.

First off, I tend to like Chris Brown. I think he a very talented dancer and an alright singer. But, despite the comparisons, and his own imitation, he's no Michael Jackson. I was watching when Michael Jackson performed "Billie Jean" on Motown 25 and Michael's dancing was effortless. Michael debuted the "Moonwalk" on that show and it was just fantastic. It looked deceptively simple but it was hard to do.

Chris Brown is not effortless in his performance. His dance moves scream out, "I am hard to do and your old ass ain't cuttin' it." But, Chris has had a string of hits and "Kiss Kiss" is just the latest one. I think it was the number one song in the United States a couple of weeks ago so it's very popular. The song is catchy, danceable and it features flavor-of-the-year, T-Pain. If you haven't heard it, here it is:

Yes, the video has a few of the usual idiotic depictions of women (what's with ogling women's behinds like that?), but indeed, there's some great dancing in it as well.

So, what's my problem? Well, last week I was jumping rope to "Kiss Kiss" and it hit me that I was sort of bothered by the lyrics at the end of the song. Not that any of the lyrics offer anything profound, but the final lines really made me pause.

Chris sings the following a few times: "nappy boy and pretty boy". In the video, it's pretty clear that T-Pain is the "nappy" boy and Chris Brown is the "pretty" boy.

The way they sing it, the listener could infer that you are either nappy OR pretty. To me, nappy, natural African hair is a beautiful thing. But Chris Brown has his hair cut so low he might as well be bald. So is that why he's the pretty boy? Or is Chris Brown the pretty boy because he's lighter skinned than T-Pain?

I thought I might be reading too much into this so I called my sister and she agreed that she was also bothered by the nappy/pretty juxtaposition. Again though, maybe I'm just reading into this. Maybe Chris Brown really means that he is both nappy and pretty, and so, cough, is T-Pain.

What do you think?

And, by the way, who the heck calls themselves "pretty boy"? Michael Jackson has done some off the wall things over the years. But at the height of his female fan girl insanity, back when folks had posters of him on their walls and buttons with his face pinned on their jean jackets, Michael surely never called himself "pretty boy".


Tami said…
Chris Brown isn't my cup of tea, but I have heard this song and thought the same thing. Heavy sigh...I hope he doesn't mean what we think he means. Some black folks' disdain for natural black features makes me weary.

I have been proudly nappy for little more than a year now. I'm trying really hard not to go all natural militant, but I just don't understand why people think that black hair, apart from everyone else's hair, needs to be "fixed" to be beautiful.
West said…
Those "comparison" songs come out once in a while and usually, I think, each person's label comes from the other person.

When da Brat and J.D. did a comparison song, she talked about the behavior of "niggaz" and he talked about that of "bitches."

That said, I've never heard the song (and can't listen, at this moment) and don't know the context, for sure.
I am not a fan. I think he is over rated and most of the stuff on the radio is crap (I know I sound old. maybe I am and I don't care).

This music is shallow and disposable and nobody will be listening to it 10-20 years from now. I'm sure El Debarge who was also light "skineded" and good looking never refered to himself as pretty. I'm going to listen to some Marvin Gaye now. "Mercy Me" could have been written today.

signed natural, nappy and proud.
I don't think you're overreacting. The good hair/bad hair, light/dark thing is a shameful element of our culture that isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

It's hard to believe that (Black) people still think like that, but every now and then, you get a wake-up call. This is one of them.

Oh, and by the way, NO ONE touches Michael when it comes to raw talent. I just saw a youtube video not too long ago of him as a teenager with the Jackson Five and he literally lit up the stage even then!! Long before the moonwalk.

The boy had a (rare) gift. Plain and simple. Mind-bogglingly good!!
Mes Deux Cents said…
Hi Liz,

After 500 years of hate being directed toward us it is now something that many of us have embraced as part of African American culture.

Hair weaves, skin lightening cream, plastic surgery, use of the N word, calling Black women female dogs, all these things are the result of self-hatred.

The song or rap lyric that sums it up is when Biggie Smalls calls himself "Black and ugly as ever".

You are defiantly not making too much of it.
Anonymous said…
I think the "pretty boy" reference does apply to those young men who are lighter-skinned AND alarmingly handsome. I went to an HBCU (FAMU) and back in the day (80's) the Kappas (as in Kappa Alpha Psi) were considered the "pretty boys" because about 95% of them were lighter-skinned and quite handsome. That's not to say the Alphas or the Ques were not cute as hell either BUT...when I look back at pictures, most were brown to darker-skinned. They didn't call themselves pretty boys. Chris Brown is from the south (Virginia), as is T-Pain (Tallahassee, FL). The "nappy boy and pretty boy" thing is a residual of that.

As recently as the mid to late 80's there were still paper bags hanging by doors in and around New Orleans clubs and after hours joints for Dillard, Xavier and Southern University students.

Ask Janie about that, she'll tell you. She was there.
Jen said…
FWIW, I think one of the differences is that Chris DOES look like a pretty boy... young, young, young and T-pain looks like a handsome man - as in old enough to actually be sexy, but they're probably the same age and that's just me. And yes, that would suck if that's the way it was meant.
Jameil said…
i like chris brown. i didn't look that deep into it. here are the reasons 1) he's a child lol 2) tpain is so gross to me 3) i like my nappy hair! happy to be nappy!
I haven't heard the song, but it sounds as if he is making a distinction between nappy and pretty, as if they are mutually exclusive.

This issue is much bigger than one stupid song, though, because it seems to present a concept which should be outdated, that whiteness is somehow more attractive than blackness, and that's WRONG. It always was.

What kind of message is that sending to black children? When are we going to get over this kind of hurtful stupidity and focus on things that actually matter, like what's inside a person's head or heart?

And how does one explain this to a child when the assault comes from within the black community so it can't be written off as honkey shit? At least, not directly, even if those value judgments did originate with white people.

No artistic expression is worth causing so much pain.
Eb the Celeb said…
Well, Michael never thought he was pretty. I think a sort of arrogance comes with admitting your a pretty boy and michael didnt have that. This whole thing needs to be put to rest. There will neva... eva eva eva, be another Michael Jackson. Jacko cant even bring Michael Jackson back and he was birthed that person. I think its okay for the up and comers or those that have already made it like chris brown, ne-yo, usher, to idolize michael... but there will never be another.

as far as the pretty versus ugly... i dont think its that deep to say he's calling himself pretty because he's lightskinned and t-pain nappy because he's darkskinned... T-pain is just flat out nappy and ugly.
Anonymous said…
I think you may be overreacting but not because you are 100% wrong. Nappy and pretty definitely coexist in my world and can be one in the same. I think it's more because T-Pain and Chris Brown are both well liked in urban and pop circles. Girls (and guys too I would guess) fall over both of these guys, not just Chris. It may actually be a good thing that "nappy" and "pretty" are being used in the same context.

I don't believe there is self hate in those lyrics, but I would argue that there may be a hint of pride. Had they sang "pretty boy" and "ugly nappy headed synthesizer boy" then I may have to rethink my argument.
none said…
To me the crotch grabbing is totally ridiculous. When I see young thugs in the mall constantly holding on to their junk I can't help but blame these idiotic performers.
Lydia said…
What a timely post!

I just spent a buncha money to buy tickets to a Chris Brown concert for the holidays for ALL of my teenagers + Joy!

However, I think we are talking about two different things.

1. Black people ARE still color struck. Hundreds of years of history is still trying to be undone. We were taught to believe (again for 100's of years) that the closer you were to white, the closer you were to right. But it is hard to undo history when we can't honestly talk about the past and it's impact on who we are today.
2. If someone is "FINE" they are "FINE". They look good! My 14 year old daughter thinks that Chris Brown is fine AND she thinks that Lil Wayne is FINE!
Chris Brown is light skinned and clean cut, Lil Wayne is Dark with Locks. But BOTH are "OH MY GOD! Fine as far as she is concerned.

Being pretty has to do with "what you will do to look good" How clean you get lined up at the barber shop?! How many waves are in your head? Is there a perfect 1/8 inch line between your top lip and moustache? Will your manicure put mine to shame?l Do ya'll remember Keith Washington?) ? He was soooo pretty! And he was dark. Mario and Omarion are dark and pretty, because they spend as much time in the mirror as their girlfriends. Lil' Wayne is FINE, but not pretty.

According to my 14 year old daughter, T-Pain is named that for a reason. He is not attractive. Light skin don't have nothin' to do with it!

So, nappy and pretty don't go together, but that is not a negative thing. Nappy AND Pretty can both equal FINE!!

On Michael Jackson...I loved him when he was still black and ????sane???? He seems arthritic and extremely strange now so I choose to keep my memories of him circa 1982.
Liz Dwyer said…
Sorry to be so tardy replying to your comments, but my day was crazy and I just got back from the wedding reception. Whew! I'm tired!

Yes, sadly, many of us do have a
disdain for black features. Black hair, etc. - we are so confused with the way we apply labels to skin color.

I vaguely remember that song. It might have come out during the height of my hardcore techno phase, so I might have missed it. Anyway, take a listen and tell me what you think. The more I watch that video, the more annoyed I get. I keep checking how they stare at the black woman's behind but the love interest is white? Latino?

Yes, in ten years, that song is not going to get played at wedding receptions like the one I went to tonight. It's popular for now, but it's staying power remains to be seen.

Gosh, El DeBarge...smokin' hot back in the day. Lots of folks I knew thought him, Al B. Sure! and Christopher Williams were all hot and the light skinned thing definitely came into play with that. I wonder what happened to El.

Preach on about Michael and his raw talent. He really was just something else. And he didn't have that pre-manufactured vibe that so many of these young cats have these days.

The good/bad, light/dark drama needs to end. We have internalized so much and miss out on recognizing our inherent nobility that has nothing to do with skin or hair.

I always hated that Biggie line.

What we have now is some sort of post-modern internalized oppression. It reminds me of what Malik over at Solar Souls wrote a few months ago, talking about how people forget about the psychological warfare that was waged on people of African descent. We are sick in so many ways. We probably don't even recognize the half of it.

Exactly what you described is why I did not pledge a sorority. Freshman year of college, I was really bothered by how folks would come up and say, "You're probably gonna pledge AKA, aren't you? You look like one." It was such a turn off to see the color division stuff still being played out on my campus.

That paper bag mess is sickening. I remember some guys I knew in high school had a "yellow boys club". They all thought they were so fine...delusional thoughts but that 500 years of opression has that mess drilled into our heads.

I think T-Pain is in his early 20's. Chris Brown is like 18ish. Chris is alright looking. T-Pain doesn't do it for me in the looks department. I wouldn't be surprised if they might just think it sounded catchy and cool while making the song, and gone from there.

Oh you crack me up! Keeping it real and honest as always. T-Pain is not the most attractive, but NPR did a story about him today and interviewed him. They talked about how he's got seven songs in the top ten and is so talented.

It is an outdated concept, definitely. We are all beautiful in our own right, even if we don't all look like Claudia Schiffer.

Oh wow, I know it's too late at night if I'm thinking about Claudia Schiffer!?!

My mom schooled me on internalized racism a long time ago. She would tell me how we all believe the negativity that's been spread about black people. It's just that black people usually do it without the power structure behind them. And it was a good lesson that someone wasn't going to be my friend just because they were black, and they might be my friend, even if they were white.

Welcome! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Isn't it the truth when you say, Jacko cant even bring Michael Jackson back and he was birthed that person. He was just sooo good! I wonder if he still has it in him?

I don't think lighter = pretty though. I think it's problematic given the historical legacy of skin color politics. I don't think T-Pain is attractive at all, but not because of his skin or hair. It's his whole vibe. Chris Brown wouldn't have been my type either though. All that dancing = sweaty boy, not pretty boy. Someone give him some Right Guard for Christmas.

You're right that girls will fall all over themselves for a chance with either one...or a chance with a member of their entourage. Such is the burden of star power.

I definitely think nappy=pretty but I just think in my gut that that's not what this song is saying, even though the two of them may not even realize it.

I blame it on Madonna and her "Express Yourself" video. She did a whole lot of crotch grabbing in that one and made it really mainstream... ;0

Your kids are gonna give you a trophy for that one! Gosh, that's going to be fun.

I see what you're saying about the way looks are regarded. I am in 100% agreement about L'il Wayne. I actually think he's hotter than Chris Brown, even if he isn't pretty/metrosexual. So, basically Chris needs to sing "metrosexual" and T-pain needs to sing "roughneck".

Michael + "Off the Wall" = music heaven
The skin color/hair texture thing is incredible tenacious and belies all the black is beautiful rhetoric of a supposedly proud community. There is some serious healing that needs to happen to get us permanently off the plantation.

I never heard of Chris Brown but these lyrics seem like the typical knuckle-head stuff that otherwise talented young blacks spit out uncritically. Has consumer culture completely numbed the thinking of this generation, like narcotics set to a fancy beat?
I agree with Jameil1922. I like Chris Brown and T-Pain grosses me out.

Chris Brown is at a stage in his career where every single thing is picked for him. His songs? His clothing? His movements? Everything is passed down by the music industry.

That said, what is corporate music trying to tell America?

But then you know me. Hair is hair. Beauty shins from within.
Liz Dwyer said…
I love you saying you've never heard of Chris Brown...further proof that he's no Michael Jackson. Everybody knew who Michael Jackson was back in the day.

These days, it's all about doing what will sell because these artists aren't necessarily thinking they're going to be around long term. They're trying to make as much cash as they can as fast as they can. So if that means perpetuating the oppressive mentalities that have plagued our community for so long, then so be it. I used to wonder what the "prostitution of art and literature" meant. Now I know.

One of my big issues with T-Pain is that he CAN'T SING! Take away the voice box thing and it's all nails on a chalkboard.

Yes, CB is just as manufactured as Britney Spears' image was. Folks behind him think they know what will sell so they put it together and spit it out to us. I wish whatever talent he had could just shine without all the b.s.
Ha, I haven't heard the song, but it would be so ME to notice that, too, and begin reading into it. It does seem to imply that T-Pain is the nappy (ugly) boy, while Chris is the pretty one. We have a long way to go in accepting the beauty of our GOD given texture. Thank GOD for sites such as where natural hair is revered.

LOL at your description of his dance moves. Being way out of the loop on what's on the radio, I hadn't heard of Chris Brown until I saw him in the movie, 'This Christmas.' I loved, loved, LOVED his sweet voice, while the teenagers around me loved his body(?).

Always love reading your blogs. I should come by more often.
Tafari said…
I was almost tempted to watch the video & listen to the song but I just could not bring myself to it. These "performers" now a days are clueless & aint shit with out a hot beat behind them.

Anyway, I know Chris could not be calling tpain a pretty bot because that is one crack head looking nigga with or without locks.

Brianna said…
I am an undercover Chris Brown fan. I don't know why I feel the need to be undercover--I think it has more to do with the fact that I don't necessarily like the fact that I like the same music as 14 year old screaming girls. Whatever...

On this particular song--it never actually made me stop and think. That's probably my bad. If I find something catchy I just go with it, and I really don't take too much time to pay attention to what's being said. I think that's a lot of people though, hence the reason the Superman song is so popular. Just because the radio version doesn't say "ho", doesn't mean that's not what the original song says. Plus, the whole little dance has something to do with waving or pointing a gun or something. But I digress....

I'm sure T-pain has no desire to be a pretty boy. That would ruin his street cred. These performers today are most definitely "created"...I'm sure that line was probably written by someone else who just thought it was clever and I'm not even sure it's a good/bad thing. "Pretty Boys" aren't my type but for someone who caters to screaming, ecstatic young girls, it might be helpful to dub yourself that.
Liz Dwyer said…
I am SO sorry! I thought I'd replied to your comment a couple of days ago. I must have never hit publish and then shut my computer down.

We do have a really long way to go, sadly enough. I really like nappturality. I haven't participated in the forums too much. I'm more of a lurker. One of these days though!

CB does have an alright voice but seriously, the fangirl hysteria is a little out of control. He's not that fine. Even if I was 14 I don't think I'd be all geeked like these girls nowadays seem to be.

And the music industry wonders why they aren't making tons of money. These pre-fab performers really are laughable. There's a lot of good music out there but if you turn on the average radio station, you aren't going to hear it.

T-Pain needs a makeover. I'm not even sure that could help him though. He's talented but seriously, do something else other than, "I'm In Love With a Stripper" type stuff!

LOL about being an undercover fan! Believe me, I've been to a couple of shows where I felt ancient, like the only people the same age as me were on stage. But I think that's just all the workings of marketers. Marketers "sell" a certain artist as appealing to a teen demographic, when in all actuality, good music can be loved by all ages.

I had NO idea that Superman song was about all that. I can't even understand what the guy is talking about And here's everybody making their own versions of it like it's some innocent thing. SMH!
Know what's funny. I remember hearing those same lines, at the end of the song, one day on my way to work. My mine went to a whole other place. I wondered why in the world Chris Brown would even consider himself a pretty boy in the first place. Does he even fit the criteria? I mean, I don't think light skin and "good" hair fits the bill. I'll have to check with one of my shallow nieces....You only dates what I would consider pretty boys (they are light skinned with good hair (processed. Not the sharpest tacks in the box.)
Anonymous said…
T-Pain identifies himself as "Nappy Boy." I don't think Chris Brown is ... sophisiticated enough to make such a heavy-handed implication.

That said, I think it needs to be clarified that "natural African" hair isn't necessarily nappy, coarse or kinky.

I surfed onto your blog from 1969's page. I'm a huge DM fan myself.

Liz Dwyer said…
One Man's Opinion,
Yes, that look's been considered "pretty" for a long time. Al B. Sure!, El DeBarge, etc. Sometimes the guys look good, sometimes not but folks only see color and think someone looks good.

Lord Hannibal,
Glad you came over and paid a visit. Any fellow Depeche Mode fan is a friend indeed.

You're absolutely right about natural hair not necessarily being any of those for Chris Brown, he might not be sophisticated enough to think of it, but maybe to pick it up and repeat what he's heard.
Anonymous said…
Nappy Boy is the name of T-Pain's record label. He also refers to himself as such.

I'm mad at Chris for bragging about his Lambo and talking about going to McDonald's. Cheap ass mofo!

LOL :)

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