If you haven’t seen it yet, Leon Bridges’ new video for “River” dropped earlier today and it’s deep….It’s a hard look at different walks of life of Black America, and some of the images are the stirring reality of life for the people of Baltimore.
When I watched it, I couldn’t help but think back to just last September, when NPR’s Eric Drucker, in his A Rational Conversation column, picked apart Bridges’ soul revival and video for “Coming Home,” along with UMass-Amherst assistant English professor Emily Lordi. Lordi claimed that Bridges’ “…vision of soul kind of turns the clock back on soul’s more radically political moment.”
Lordi, who admitted that “I haven’t listened to the whole album yet,” sorta put Bridges and the “Coming Home” video on blast, and assigned some strange socio-political weight on the 26-year old singer-songwriter’s shoulders, dropping bombshells like:
When I first saw that video, I just felt sad. There are no people in the video. There’s him and there’s the white lover and there’s the barber, but it seems like the only way that his feel-good vintage nostalgia can work is by absenting all the people from this urban landscape of the Jim Crow South. The video literally absents the social component from the music by depopulating that landscape.
My impression of the back and forth NPR piece, was that it assigned far too much responsibility to Bridges. A young man who last August told SF Weekly that “I felt as a young black man and as a singer that I needed to go back to the roots, to where it started.” On his debut album, Coming Home, Bridges wrote songs that channeled the soul and gospel that he felt when working as a dishwasher (and other odd jobs) to support himself and his mother in Ft. Worth, Texas. Why was he all of a sudden some sort of torch bearer for a social movement?
Bridges made the video he wanted to make. Yes, Lordi is accurate in her observations that it’s devoid of “people” (Let alone black people.) But show me the rubric on what the music video of a 26-year old emerging artist is supposed to look like? I’ll spare you the further commentary on what I think of Lordi’s (*cough* “Haven’t listened to the whole album yet” *cough*) assessment. And say that Bridges just silenced the heck out of her and any other critics of his efforts, on the “River” video:
In “River,” Bridges paints the picture of some harsh realities, but corresponding beauty — and most importantly, love — that exists in life for much of Black America. Is this aware enough of the black condition in America for you Emily Lordi, Eric Drucker and NPR? Is Leon Bridges furthering whatever agenda you had him assigned to address now? Whatever it is, I just hope you’ve found time to listen to his whole album by now.
I’ll leave you with a statement from Leon Bridges on the “River” video:
“A river has historically been used in gospel music as symbolism for change and redemption. My goal was to write a song about my personal spiritual experience. It was written during a time of real depression in my life and I recall sitting in my garage trying to write a song which reflected this struggle. I felt stuck working multiple jobs to support myself and my mother. I had little hope and couldn’t see a road out of my reality. The only thing I could cling to in the midst of all that was my faith in God and my only path towards baptism was by way of the river.
When thinking about how to best visually represent this universal battle, I reflected on the depiction of black communities in our media and particular experiences within my own life. This video showcases the unique struggle many black men and women face across this country. However, unlike the captured images which tend to represent only part of the story, I wanted to showcase that through all the injustice, there’s real hope in the world.
I want this video to be a message of light. I believe it has the power to change and heal those that are hurting.”