“Watch Jhene Aiko‘s Insanely Sexy ‘Maniac’ Video.” “Jhene Aiko Heads To The Asylum In New ‘Maniac’ Video. ” “Watch Jhene Aiko’s Darkly Sexual ‘Maniac’ Video.” All three headlines focused on the visual aspects of Aiko’s latest music video. She does act out scenes in which her “character”, in coal-toned rooms, is seen in a hospital chair bed, running down the hall (in a hospital gown), and in a cage, all while wearing the most stylish patient gear and straitjacket any of us will ever see. Same for the bound and gag tools featured to “tame” her.
What the headlines and accompanying articles skidded on appreciating, following “Maniac”‘s video release, was its potential as a paean to the nation of introverts and their undisclosed ownership of their sexuality and skintight desires.
If you’ve ever seen Jhene Aiko, even in pictures, a petite, slender woman with porcelain doll features stands before you. Her singing voice equally as delicate, whether vocalizing lyrics as naughty as “But you got to eat the booty like groceries”, wistful as “I love me, I love me enough for the both of us. That’s why you trust me, I know you been through more than most of us. So what are you? What are you, what are you so afraid of?” and inimical as “Don’t take this personal. But you ain’t shit. And you weren’t special til I made you so. You better act like you know.” In “Maniac” all three sides collide for a menacing track that has Aiko at her most artistically explicit.
When the audio was released in November, the track hadn’t registered. It simply elicited flashbacks of the 1983 Michael Sembello song for Flashdance. When the Californian began issuing promotion for it on her Instagram, selfies blazoned in perfectly smoked eyes, progressive fashion, and cascading black hair, curiosity ignited. One Insta pic (actually a video) described in paragraph detail the inspiration behind the video for “Maniac”:
What inspired the asylum imagery of the music video? When I start putting together the concept for the “Maniac” visual, I wanted to explore what it meant to be manic. That idea led me to research old asylums and the bizarre techniques that were used back in the day to treat mental patients. I watched a few movies that explore the topic including Stonehearst Asylum and Shutter Island. I even visited a Psychiatry museum in Hollywood. I learned that lots of women were admitted for absurd reasons, including being “nymphomaniacs” and were basically tortured in the name of treatment. Ironically, I released “Maniac” at a time where I had recently been diagnosed with Bi-Polar disorder, so my interest in the research was genuine. I think we all have some sort of imbalance, but I also believe that we can overcome it. I find my balance through creating art. The “Maniac” visual is the story of a mental patient who finds her own cure. Watch “Maniac” directed by Jhené Aiko & TopShelf Junior
A thorough angle that no one captured from the single artwork back in November (though it makes sense now). In interviews published the week of the video’s premiere, Aiko also revealed that the intimate Japanese bondage of Shibari played a major role in her “Maniac” exploration. To Rolling Stone: “One of the things I love about creating visuals is that I get to act out my fantasies. Shibari was something I’ve always found interesting and wanted to try. Being tied up, in general, is something I’ve always found exciting. I’ve always liked a little pain with my pleasure. Most of the props that I used in the ‘Maniac’ visual are actual sex toys that I bought myself, including the gag and restraints. Being tied up, gagged and caged were all treatment techniques used in asylums back in the day. Being tied up, gagged and caged are also forms of pleasure for some people … who some may call crazy … maniacs even.”
It’s often self-congratulatory when young artists uncloak the fact that they enjoy or seek wild sex lives in the press. While Aiko bestowed a bit of “Look at me”, her unfeigned reconnaissance of the archaic notion that women who engage, luxuriate, or inquire about sex and sexual activities are lepers, is a revolution for her as an artist and fellow supposed shrinking violets. “Maniac” is a layered journey that encompasses mental aberrance and sexually infused self-expression from the mindset of an artist that has otherwise described herself as “shy.”
“Maniac” joins the short list of women in mainstream music that have released songs, sometimes as singles, that are insolent and at its core, rejuvenated female empowerment.
Take Beyonce‘s “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” The Led Zeppelin sampled, Jack White-co-signed rock track that has one of music’s and contemporary R&B’s most treasured superstars deliver a rousing rage against a real piece of work man. Lyrics, please: “Who the fuck do you think I is? You ain’t married to no average bitch, boy. You can watch my fat ass twist, boy. As I bounce to the next dick, boy.” Then there’s Rihanna‘s “Needed Me.” Described as the ultimate “kiss-off” by critics, it is a blistering confirmation of a woman that’s been so scorned by men, she feels most are no good and has acquiesced to playing the game that formerly left her brokenhearted. “But baby, don’t get it twisted. You was just another nigga on the hit list. Tryna fix your inner issues with a bad bitch. Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage? Fuck ya white horse and ya carriage. Bet you never could imagine. Never told you, you could have it.”
Neither Beyonce or Rihanna had as intensely demure images as Aiko, but nonetheless, the movement was clear in 2016. Women artists were no longer unabashed about their insistence on sexual freedom and making complete pasquinades of a male’s manhood. Payback time was for the taking in the land of women. The lyrical content of Aiko’s “Maniac” are no less shocking and seductive: “Hop on that dick like a maniac. Head like a brainiac. Gotta read the sign like a zodiac. I’m a lowkey freak, you don’t know me yet.”
Oh why, oh why I wait too long? Oh his **** is way too long. I think I can take it all. Oh why, oh why you actin’ scared? Pull that pull up like a chair. Know you see me over here.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Aiko’s been frank. It may be safe to assume it was all shamelessly downhill after her famous line in Omarion’s “Post To Be” (aka “groceries”) and later her collaborative album and duo set with Big Sean, Twenty88. She gave fans a deeper look at her many sides in the sweet video for “Spotless Mind.” But she’s never been this wanton.
“Don’t Hurt Yourself”, “Needed Me”, and “Maniac” are collective successors of pop music’s flirtation with lasciviousness. Aiko’s “Maniac” trajectory minorly mirrors the explosive announcement of Janet Jackson‘s sexuality taking center stage during her 1993 janet. era. (Who could forget her infamous Rolling Stone cover, with her bare breasts cupped by then-husband Rene Elizondo). Jackson went from fully clothed in Control to janet. and then a continuation of sexual themes on albums The Velvet Rope, All For You, and Damita Jo.
Aiko is carrying the torch in not feeling ashamed or embarrassed to convey sexual fantasies or thoughts. This will extend to fans of her music that may have also felt the expectation to keep their sexuality in check and paper-bagged. It is an overbearing catch-22.
If one has always exhibited sex on their sleeve, it is dealt with accordingly as far it being accepted as their nature. For those that formerly concealed theirs and from time to time unveil their intimate side, it ricochets as blindsiding. This may be the case until viewers and listeners alike acknowledge that succession can absolutely include sexual veracity. Winsome Jhene Aiko’s admission of low-key freakiness is just as worthy of saluting and divulging as Prince‘s “Darling Nikki” and Madonna‘s “Justify My Love”, two other pop culture totems of kinky freedom in their day. Only, decades later, thanks to Aiko, this time is for the quiet ones.