Maxwell’s New Single ‘Shame’ is Changing the Conversation about Personal Shame
Singer/songwriter Maxwell has emerged a second time this year with new music after a two year hiatus (the singer has toured extensively during this time). In June, he released the socially conscious stand alone, The Glass House (We Never Saw it Coming) and just last week he released Shame as a single that will be packaged for the conclusion of the blacksummers’NIGHT trilogy.
The music video in support of the single, which was written by the famed writer/director duo Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, is steadily gaining the attention of the masses.
In the musical visual, several women appear adorned with black veils over their faces. Maxwell himself is enduring mental torture by a veiled male figure. By video end, each subject removes their veil revealing beautiful black models sporting gorgeous African features and mostly natural hairstyles.
Maxwell’s Personal Shame
In an interview with Billboard, Maxwell dishes about the video, “I just feel that the veils represent the shame that I think a lot of black women feel about their beauty- about their features and their place in society.” As for the male figure, Maxwell explains, “Yeah, you know, interestingly enough, there’s this veiled character that’s always following me and it’s almost like my doppelganger person.”
The singer goes on to explain that the video is a celebration of all people feeling marginalized in society and he tells a little about his own experience. “I guess my marginalized experience sometimes comes from many things: being from a multi-heritage experience with Haiti and Puerto Rico, doing soul music, coming from Brooklyn, being a Caribbean second generation immigrant, not necessarily being embraced by the music industry initially because I didn’t grow up in the church in the South singing gospel music, you know what I mean?” The singer went on to express mixed religious views that also seem like a masked shame filled confession.
Shaming in Pop Culture
As I’ve written before, African Americans do suffer from an unprecedented amount of sorrow and shame ( Understanding the Black Woman and Aretha Franklin- The Voice of The Black Woman in Love), however Maxwell’s confession of his personal shame really brought forward an eye opening conversation.
Shame has become a buzz word in popular culture lately
- Model Chrissy Teigen was “mom-shamed” for going out on a date with her husband shortly after the birth of their child.
- Victoria Secret Model, Candice Swanepoel, was “body-shamed” for not losing the post baby weight only twelve days after the birth of her son.
- I’ve expressed enduring shame for being childless and single (#TeamNoKids)
- Former Cosby show actor Geoffrey Owens was “job-shamed” after being photographed working at Trader Joe’s.
- Actress Angela Bassett admits to feeling “age-shamed” when people express she looks good “for her age”.
- Fun Fact: Singer Prince, who Maxwell credits as his top musical inspiration, is rumored to have ‘face-shamed’ actress Monique Mannen. Legend has it that Mannen, who appeared in his 1986 Kiss video, sported a black veil in the visual because Prince believed she was too unattractive to appear unmasked. Even after the video, he gifted her with the veil for her day to day interactions to hide her countenance.
To add to the list of shame, there is fat-shaming, skinny-shaming, victim-shaming…. Basically name any adjective and place shame behind it and there are people who have had to endure the guilt and judgment of being that particular type of shamed.
The #FeelNoShameChallenge and Sissi Johnson’s Vision
Creative director and executive producer of the Shame video, Sissi Johnson, has taken to social media to create the #FeelNoShameChallenge. The challenge gives social media users the outlet to discuss their own shame and reveal how they released it. Already people are pouring in with confessionals for the challenge.
Johnson also appears as a model in the visual and personally I felt her scene was one of the most moving. Unlike (almost) everyone else in the visual, her veil is white, not black and she unveils in the night and not the day. White has historically been a symbol of purity, but also surrender. Day has the connotation of safety and protection while night is thought of as mysterious and dangerous. Johnson discarding her white veil at night is almost like surrendering to the mysteries that lie ahead when one removes shame. Like a bride stepping into forever as her groom lifts her veil; the only difference is Johnson required no Prince Charming, she is her own hero. A beautiful nod to female liberation and a sensual step in Maxwell’s forthcoming Night project.
Johnson spoke with Elle South Africa and expressed that her scene was cathartic as she released her wounds and stepped into nurturing and loving herself fully. Johnson also revealed that this visual helped her take a step out of the background and into the positive space of receiving the credit she deserves for her creative content. (Checkout this article to learn how to reclaim your time like Sissi).
Feelings of Shame
Maxwell’s Shame, seems to have struck a chord with so many people, because shame has become a part of our culture. Most people appear to be living their lives enshroud in their own black veils of shame.
During one shot of the musical visual, Maxwell walks along a narrow corridor which almost resembles a passageway through hell. He is hunched back and dragging as his veiled personification of shame lurks behind him full of energy and scorn. His shame is a nagging and cumbersome weight. This scene not only elicits feelings of sympathy for the singer, but for yourself if you have ever endured the perils of secret shame.
Shame is a weighty and paralyzing force that can spiral into feelings of fear, loneliness, and depression- locking people into an earthbound hell.
There is another scene where Maxwell is fully immersed in a bathtub nearly drowning- this too is what shame feels like, as if one is drowning under the treacherous emotions of embarrassment and self-hatred.
This video brings to mind the famed Nathaniel Hawthorne short story, The Minister’s Black Veil. Within the story, the town’s minister takes to wearing a black veil which symbolizes secret sin. Eventually, the veil separates him from his young fiancé and all the townsmen. In one fit of despair, the minister cries, “Oh, you know not how lonely I am and how frightened to be alone behind my black veil. Do not leave me in this miserable obscurity forever!” As Hawthorne’s mister implied, shame is a divisive force that separates people from their dreams, goals, and loved ones.
Why Shame Exists
Shame exists because humans are social animals. Biblically, God created Eve for Adam because it was not suitable for man to be alone ( Genesis 2:18). Throughout the ages, humans have relied on each other for a variety of reasons: help though infancy, aid in hunting and gathering, protection, reciprocity, and mating. That tribal need for camaraderie has kept the species alive, but in some aspects it is damning. Our incessant needed for companionship, has caused humans to become ‘people-pleasers’ and fear of rejection from the group often produces shame.
Psychologist argue that there are no more that eight base emotions and fear is one of those base feelings. Shame is merely an extension of fear. In other words, we are ashamed of aspects of ourselves because we fear that the group will reject us and we will be driven into isolation. Isolation is so punishing to humans that solitary confinement exists as a punishment within the prison system.
How to Unveil Shame
Knowing all of these things, how can we eradicate shame? The answer is very simple. Know that there are those who will reject you because of your afflictions, but understand that those who truly love you will encourage you to live without shame. What attracted me to Maxwell’s single Shame is not just the video, but the lyrics. Over and over again the singer pleads for his lover to ‘feel no shame’. Those who love you will do what they can to help you overcome your shame and they will accept your flaws without isolating you.
Often we unnecessarily hold on to shame, but it is our personal responsibility to evaluate our shame and understand that it has no place in our lives. Sometimes we use shame as a crutch, but over time we must realize that holding on to shame only farther obscures us behind our black veil of sorrow, taking us away from those who care and darkening our vision of ourselves and our futures. Don’t be like Hawthorne’s minister who carried the weight of the black veil to the grave, “Still veiled, they laid him in his coffin, and a veiled corpse they bore him to the grave.” In the words of Maxwell unveil yourself and live, “Shamelessly.”
“Shame” is now available on all music steaming outlets. Look for the conclusion of the blacksummers’NIGHT trilogy in the coming year. Also, get social by adding your #FeelNoShameChallenge to social media or search the hashtag to see what others are contributing to this positive and uplifting conversation.