D’Angelo took the stage at Essence Music Festival over the weekend for his highly anticipated return to the spotlight. After his critically acclaimed shows overseas and his two-song stint at the 2012 BET Awards, fans looked to his headlining Friday concert at Essence as a comeback of sorts. And many left disappointed.

I was at New Orleans’ famed Superdome this weekend. I booked a last-minute flight to the city, and even waited an hour outside the arena after a ticket snafu, just to see D’Angelo perform 12 years after he disappeared from the music industry.


More than a decade earlier, when D’Angelo came on the scene at a mere 21 years of age, his soulful tenor and syrupy-sweet falsetto captivated a generation of women, me among them. It didn’t hurt that he had full lips, chiseled features, and a set of washboard abs unlike any I had ever seen.

His mainstream success seemed imminent. He had the sex appeal, mystery, and street edge that black women’s fantasies are made of. But it wasn’t until I put on my headphones and got lost in his music, with its infectious melodies and brilliant instrumentation, that I realized his true genius. Yeah, he is fooine, but first and foremost, he is an artist.

That distinction was lost on the audience at this year’s Essence Music Festival. Despite an hour-long performance in which D’Angelo crooned, played the piano, and danced (yes, danced!) ’til he was covered in sweat, the crowd was glaringly unresponsive. There were valid critiques that D’Angelo didn’t perform most of his classics. (“Untitled (How Does It Feel)” and “Lady” came later in his set.) But for the most part, folks were in an uproar about his appearance: his teeth, his “unkempt” hair, and his stomach. A woman behind me even remarked that he had a “pouch” and needed a “Clarisonic” cleansing tool for his skin.

In his first interview in more than a decade with GQ, D’Angelo lamented how his image as a sex symbol came to overshadow his music. He spoke of painful, embarrassing moments when he would take the stage with his band in tow and hear cries of “Take it off” from the audience. He was being regarded and treated as a “piece of meat,” and in many ways, it was dehumanizing to him. To be sure, D’Angelo’s legendary “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” video set the precedent by portraying him as a sex symbol. But in our celebration of skin, abs, and muscles, we forgot about the music.

Sadly, that pattern was perpetuated Friday night. The man poured out his heart onstage. His voice was flawless. His band, which included The Time’s Jesse Johnson on guitar, sounded better than ever. But the question on everyone’s minds was: “Where are his abs?”

If D’Angelo stepped away from the mic at any point during the show, and tugged at his black motorcycle vest to reveal a toned stomach underneath, the audience may have erupted in applause. But late Friday night, as he walked offstage after his first extended concert in the U.S. in 12 years, the Superdome fell silent, with his once-celebrated career hanging in the balance.

What are your thoughts, Clutchettes? Do you think D’Angelo is being judged too harshly by his appearance? Should he put more effort into his look since that’s what he’s known for? Discuss.

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  • francais

    okay, i read the article and i agreed wholeheartedly at first. but then i watched d’angelo’s BET performance and i got where the EMF audience was coming from.

    his capacity for artistry was sooo evident in his BET performance where he gave us a mix of jazz & soul with his new music. but there was a little oomph missing from that performance, and that oomph was the sensuality he’s so well known for.

    d’angelo or his team doesn’t seem to recognize that high profile musicians are brands, and a huge part of d’angelo’s brand is sex appeal. the washboard abs are what grab you, but the flawless falsetto and musical genius are what keeps you.

    through doing the untitled (how does it feel) video years ago, d’angelo and his management set an expectation of sensuality-infused performer for fans.

    when somebody tells you d’angelo is performing, you’re envisioning a “fooine” sweat-covered chocolate man with his shirt off crooning to you. Not a black hipster in some combat boots with a questionable twist out crooning to you.

    folks were stone-faced b/c he didn’t live up to the expectation he set for them.

  • Nay Nayla

    Ok and this is from somehow who actually attended the concert last Friday. When D’Angelo came out everyone was all ears. But, I do not remember D’Angelo having a long line of hits. True, he gave an hour’s worth of performance. However, he only had 9 minutes worth of hits so what was he singing for the the duration of the concert. The audience was unable to relate to the performer or his music. And yea, they wanted to see some abs or hear something familiar but that was saved untl the final minutes of his performance during which I’d fallen asleep, my friend next to me had fallen asleep. I mean there was so many negative comments made about him, but the performance sucked to me.If Essence was going to book someone, they should have taken the time to book someone who had a multitude of hits, not just three songs. People were getting up and going into the halls to converse, use the restroom, eat, and take pictures doing his performance. And, I’ll admit that I was one of them. I was totally bored and was praying for him to get off the stage. He lost the crowd. You can’t get mad at the concert goers for being non-responsive. The selected performers should be able to bring it. If it wasn’t for a pity, I would demand part of my money back. Because that was absolutely ridiculous. I’m just glad that Charlie Wilson came out afterwards. and brought the crowd to their feet. Now, that man knows how to perform!! Fault the performer, the performance, the hosts, but not me–that was paid entertainment and to be quite frank, i was not.

  • Nay

    Awww. my comment disappeared

  • Nay

    My comment was that he should not have been on the stage for 60 minutes if he only had 9 minutes worth of hits. Sing those songs and get off the stage. I fell asleep. My friend fell asleep. The person next to me fell asleep. She was clowning. I was clowning. I mean we were disappointed. In passing, I heard someone say that he needed his ass whooped and also if he was in fact singing or crying. Judging by how many people got up, including myself, and left our seats to mingle, take pictures, buy food, use the restroom, etc., I don’t feel like I took his performance the wrong way. I feel like he delivered it the wrong way. It’s no way that the masses were disappointed because had a little flab on him. It was a train wreck in the making. That is Essence’s fault not mine, not his, or anyone else’s. They should’ve known better. We were unable to relate to his music for the remaining 51 minutes because what he was singing weren’t radio hits. I paid to be entertained and in all actuality, I was not. The 3 hits he had, were sung during the final moments of his performance but by the time he’d sung those, he’d lost me and everyone else!!! I speak the truth!!

    • onmycreez

      So you’re saying you need to hear a “hit” song played 40 times a day before you can relate to it? You need the radio to tell you what you like. You need other people to like something before you do. Fuck a “hit”..real musicians don’t try to make hits just to make a hit…they do what the fuck they want and the fans follow. Get off the radios dick. D’angelo’s music just isn’t for you then, or the dumbed down washed up essence fest audience. You can keep the trey songz and the neyos…real music heads will rock with D’angelo. Todays “R&B” should really be called P&S…….pop&sex…doing gay ass electronic dance music (hello neyo and usher). People didn’t understand voodoo when it came out and it seems they still don’t. Ay nay you saying he sounding like he was crying not singing. Trey songz sounds like F***king horse when he sings…can’t play any instruments write sex jingles and won’t be remembered as a great musician but he’s a top 40 guy. You know how stupid he’ll sound trying to sing his “hits” when he’s old and his career is done? All i know is that “black” music is/has been at an all time low. D’angelo is a breath of fresh air. There’s a reason why the baddest musicians want to play with him. Chris daddy dave pino palladino jessie johnson?!? Those are the some best of the best. Some of ya’ll are some simple minded pop tart surface ass people…couldn’t recognize real talent and soul if it was preforming right in front of you….oh wait…