The most revealing part of the GQ D’Angelo piece
I thoroughly enjoyed Amy Wallace’s lengthy profile of D’Angelo in GQ and its larger themes of being a “black genius” (Chris Rock’s insights are worth reading the profile even if you’ve never heard “Voodoo” in full, which you should because that’s crazy and it’s awesome).
And while D’Angelo was wonderfully candid about his struggles, what really struck me about this piece was one of causes of his eventual nosedive into the rabbit hole of addiction.
Even the most casual of pop music consumers has seen D’Angelo’s video for “Untitled (How Does it Feel),” where a shirtless D’Angelo sweats and flexes his way through his biggest hit. But then he became Naked Guy and that did not sit well with Our Hero.
Questlove, the tour’s bandleader, was alarmed. “We thought, okay, we’re going to build the perfect art machine, and people are going to love and appreciate it,” he says. “And then by mid-tour it just became, what can we do to stop the ‘Take it off’ stuff?”
D’Angelo felt tortured, Questlove says, by the pressure to give the audience what it wanted. Worried that he didn’t look as cut as he did in the video, he’d delay shows to do stomach crunches. He’d often give in, peeling off his shirt, but he resented being reduced to that. Wasn’t he an artist? Couldn’t the audience hear the power of his music and value him for that? He would explode, Questlove recalls, and throw things. Sometimes he’d have to be coaxed not to cancel shows altogether.
When I ask D about this, he downplays his suffering. Watching him pull hard on another Newport, I realize that he finds it far easier to confess his addictions than his insecurities about his corporeal self. Self-destructing with a coke spoon—while ill-advised—has a badass edge. Fretting over what Questlove has called “some Kate Moss shit” seems anything but manly. If given the chance, he tells me, he would absolutely shoot the video again. But he does admit to feeling angry during the Voodoo tour.
“One time I got mad when a female threw money at me onstage, and that made me feel fucked-up, and I threw the money back at her,” he says. “I was like, ‘I’m not a stripper.’
And then all I could think was, “Welcome to being a female artist.”