• 4 minute Read

Anatomy Of A Twitter War: Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne Speaks On Feud With Erykah Badu

After collaborating on a song together and filming a subsequent music video, The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne and Erykah Badu had some choice words for each other. But how much of it was real?

Anatomy Of A Twitter War: Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne Speaks On Feud With Erykah Badu

One of the more continually fascinating musicians out there (and by out there, we also mean “out there”) is Wayne Coyne, frontman for The Flaming Lips. Recently, Co.Create spoke to him about his latest creative endeavor, involving a whole mess of artists in a massive caravan through Mississippi, part of an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for Most Live Concerts In 24 Hours (Multiple Cities). The title is currently held by Jay-Z. It’s part of the O Music Awards. More on all of that here shortly.

In the meantime, we got to the bottom of a more recent Flaming Lips flare-up–the Twitter war that erupted between Coyne and Erykah Badu after the video for her cover with the Lips of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” appeared online (Video in link is NSFW). If you followed her Twitter feed, you know Badu claimed to be blindsided by the butt nekkid nature of the piece, in which Badu (or, maybe her sister as her body double) can be seen writhing bare-skinned in gold glitter, fake blood, and something that looks like … let’s say … heavy whipping cream. Reached for this story, a Badu rep said only that she had provided all she wanted to say on her Twitter feed @fatbellybella and added, “Wayne knows exactly what happened and why this became a problem. The video was unfinished and unapproved.” On that Twitter feed, Badu told Coyne to “KISS MY glittery ASS” and worse. If you didn’t follow the whole thing, it’s summed up here.

Coyne has apologized publicly to Badu for any confusion and partially explained his version. But the whole thing got worse before it got better, with both sides accusing the other of seeking publicity with the now-notorious video. With a little more time to mull it all over, Coyne offered Co.Create even more perspective on what it’s like to find himself a player in such a modern drama involving personal brands, guerrilla PR, and technology that fanned the whole flame war.

Wayne says:

“I think part of it, this Twitter war, a lot of it I thought was just entertaining, but part of it, I think, plays into Erykah has a side to her audience that isn’t aware at all of who the Flaming Lips are and what we’re about, and I can say almost certainly that just about everybody in the Flaming Lips audience knows who Erykah Badu is. It gets to be a little bit of Erykah playing into this very conservative portion of her audience and sort of defending herself against what they thought about the video, which I thought was kind of funny and kind of absurd after a while. But I didn’t want to and I would never tell people what really happened. There’s a little bit of a sacred obligation to working with people. I knew going into working with Erykah Badu that she’s a freak—that’s why I wanted to work with her. You know. Usually it’s a freak in a good way, but it can be a bad way, and I accept that. I would say she’s inherently interesting, she’s unpredictable. A lot of it to me is funny. But I know to a lot of her audience, that she is important; what she thinks about something like this, it’s important to them that she say something about it. So I kind of let that go, and I would just chime in on the things I thought were entertaining and funny and not really try to stop the things that were mean and vicious and racist or whatever. That’s just the nature of Twitter, and I think that’s what’s cool about Twitter. There’s no referee and there’s no restrictions. As far as the video, I can’t imagine anybody who knows how videos are made, if we really do believe that Erykah Badu is her own woman and she is a presence and she’s in control and she’s powerful and she’s important, that she could really allow her, or her sister, and her manager, and her lawyer to be in a room for two days straight with us and not know what kind of a video we were making. It’s absurd. I could show you exactly the footage of us all laughing and laughing and laughing and going, “This is crazy, this is funny.” Of course, I mean, how am I going to get her and her sister to do a video like that if they didn’t want to do it? I’m just a dude making a video; I think it would be great. So if we really think about what’s happening, it would seem like ‘Really? You didn’t know we were making this video?’ So, I mean part of it to me is I just play along with whatever Erykah says is the story. I play along and say I’m sorry if that’s the way it’s perceived. I mean, I’m not going to tell everybody exactly the blow-by-blow truth of it. But I mean, it’s a Flaming Lips video: I made it, we paid for it, we arranged it, we did all the editing, everything about it. Erykah and her sister literally showed up to do the thing and said ‘Good luck, see ya later, sounds like fun.’ That’s the way that we approached everything that we’ve done. And I thought, yeah, Erykah might make it into something. She gave me a little bit of a warning like ‘Get ready this thing’s gonna blow up.’ And I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ And then ‘All right, here we go.’ So I’m a little bit at the mercy of her machine like everybody else is. I’m playing shows in Europe and she’s doing all this stuff. I try to just laugh at the things I think are funny and try to ignore the things that I think are mean and stuff like that. But that’s my take on it.”

About the author

Joe Berkowitz is a writer and staff editor at Fast Company. He has also written for The Awl, Rolling Stone, McSweeney's, and Salon.