What I Learned About Style From Missy Elliott’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”
Where is Missy? Apparently she's releasing a new LP this year! In hopeful celebration, let's take a closer look at her career-defining video, plus find out why white leather beachwear is highly recommended.
Missy. What’s up? We miss you. But we hear that 2013 could be the year of your return. Missy actually started working on her seventh album—Block Party—back in 2007. We assumed she was happy songwriting, producing, and guesting on other musician’s tracks and taking her sweet, sweet time finishing her own record. But in 2011 Missy admitted that she had been dealing with autoimmune disorder Graves' disease, which causes side effects including muscle spasms, mood swings, and hair loss. At one point she couldn’t even hold a pen to write music.
Although she hasn’t talked about the disorder since speaking out about it back in 2011, three new tunes in the past eight months and a rough release date for Block Party suggests she’s got it under control. Just the other week she performed in Vegas with a newly snipped mullet which communicated volumes. It wasn’t just any old mullet: it was a faux-hawk combined with a near-waist length shock of hair down the back. In terms of business at the front, party at the back, Missy’s new coif is 360 degrees of business + party. Missy’s back to bring the smackdown in 2013, just like she did in the mid-90s.
After years spent bashing out earworm tunes with Timbaland, for Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, and Total, Missy signed to Elektra and stepped in front of the camera. She released her debut solo album, Supa Dupa Fly in 1996 and immediately put all other R&B hip-hop hybrid girls in the shade. “Beep Me 911,” “Sock It To Me,” and the album’s lead single, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”—which features the persistent sound of crickets, no joke, listen close— set the bar for the genre’s flinty future sonics. Not to mention solidifying Timbaland’s trademark production tourettes: the frequent “Wiki, wiki / icky, icky” refrains and a metric butt ton of “Uh, uh, uhs” all over any given track.
In the essay, Supa Dupa Fly: Black Women as Cyborgs in Hiphop videos, Steven Shaviro asserts that in Missy’s vid for “The Rain” and Lil Kim’s promo for “How Many Licks,” “both tell stories of black female empowerment, in the face of deeply engrained racism and sexism. And they both do this, not by resisting postmodern transformations, and not putting forth inspirational fables; but by fully embracing, and plumbing the depths of cyborg-becoming.”
He kinda had me until he started talking about robots. It’s a pretty interesting essay about how Missy and Kim being “invaded by, and fused with, machines… raises questions about identity and otherness, and about power and control.” You should totally read it, but I have my own conclusions to draw from this Hype Williams-directed video for Missy's first real solo hit.
Missy sets out her stall immediately. This may be the boldest fashion statement in music video history. While all other female artists the world over—from the dawn of MTV till now—use pop promos as platforms to advertise how their sexiness/ their banging bod/ their fashion forward-ness/ their too-hot-to-handle-ness, Missy trounced them all in this. She was like, "You know what, gimme a trash bag. I'm gonna go down the gas station to get inflated and you're gonna lap up my rework of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man." And we did.
Not to get all gooey and right-on about embracing your curves, but Missy's latex blimp outfit, coupled with Hype's fish-eye lens fetish, and his habit of blowing up her lips for a hot minute in post-production, all comes together to create a singular message: you're in this body—own it.
Moving on, why would you have rose-colored sunglasses when you can have rose-colored sunglasses that are attached to an iced out bicycle helmet. That's form and function! UV protection + cranial protection + safety first = I don't know why this didn't catch on.
The entire track is hung on an Anne Peebles sample from her 1974 song "I Can't Stand The Rain". Peebles sings, "I can't stand the rain/ Against my window." What Missy means in this song is she can't stand the rain on her head. Rain messes with this. And when I say this, I mean her hair sculpture. It might look immovable, but water screw's with a lady's hair mojo, it will dislodge it from Missy's forehead. The lesson here is move to the desert. Also, berry lipstick is a timeless shade and plain white t-shirts work really well with gold accessories. Style statements are all about pitch perfect juxtaposition. Dress part up a bit here, dress down a bit there.
In this next scene, Missy rolls to the ocean in a Hummer and takes in the seaside scenery in all white, right down to the gloves, which are this outfit's pièce de résistance. Here she is telling us two things: skin cancer and sun damage are real and I'm insanely money. Not only is wearing all white a sign that you're so swank you never get dirty, but the all white she's wearing is all leather. That's next level.
Momentary digression: Chris Isaak's 1989 video for "Wicked Game" taught us that women in men's y-fronts is kinda sexy. But then I noticed this trend did not catch on and I wondered if in fact Helena Christensen was the only woman who can work tighty whities because she is a goddess. INCORRECT! Lookie here: these girls brought it back in 1996. They made wearing dude underwear more accessible to women by accessorizing with white t-shirts, yellow raincoats, scrunched down socks and Timberland boots. When wearing this outfit, it's best to travel in a pack, like wolves, especially when entering a room. First impressions are everything.
While we're investigating the dancers in "The Rain," let's look at these stills too. Sometimes pop videos can serve as reminders for trends that must never occur again. Ever. Nude gloss and brown lined lips should remain consigned to the 90s. Additionally, when you can see triangles of white creeping over your boob tube, you know you didn't apply enough sunscreen. This lady on the right is trying to distract the viewer by taking a fabric belt and wrapping it round her neck and then using it as a dance prop. Listen lady, it's not working, it's making things worse. Either wear factor 50 on the beach or sunbathe topless. The choice is yours.
If at all possible, co-ordinate your loungewear with the scenery. Feeling comfortable is important. If you want to sit up on a hill with your legs spread, that's your prerogative. Just make sure your attire is leg-spread appropriate. Unwarranted undercarriage exposure is nasty and uncouth. Also, any variation on a Cleopatra haircut looks hot on everyone.
As noted in our breakdown of TLC's video for "Creep," color coordination was big in the 90s in general. This level of matchy-matchy takes real balls. I'd like to bring your attention to her overalls. In case you hadn't noticed, overalls are in this year. Again. This is yet another example of fashion's cyclical nature. Be wary of what you throw away, but be wary of what you hoard too. You don't want to be that lady whose cat ate her face because she died in a closet, suffocated by a pile of 70s nylon tops which she was holding onto in the vain hope that perspirational shirts with overly pointy lapels would one day rise again. It's a fine line, tread it carefully.
Women rule. Look at how Puff Daddy (or whatever he's called) is cowering behind Missy. Where's Timbaland at? He's just hanging out behind Missy and Lil' Kim, where he belongs. If you love and respect your woman, let her take center-stage once in a while (all the time).
I'm going to leave you with Timbaland. He doesn't teach us anything about style in this video, but he does demonstrate some dance moves last utilized by Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally.
Kim saved a pair of floral overalls she used to wear in 1991 thinking that one day they would be back in fashion and she could wear them once more. She did not take into account growing. So now those overalls cause an unfortunate camel toe situation. ANYWAY, she's on Twitter - @theKTB.
Style Stage is an ongoing partnership between Noisey & Garnier Fructis celebrating music, hair, and style.