It's been a good four years since we heard from Ashanti. And like any artist hoping to get their career back on track after a poorly selling album — in her case, 2004's Concrete Rose — the Grammy-winning Inc. star needed to make some serious noise to announce her return with the recently released album, The Declaration.
But the blood-splattered video for her single "The Way That I Love You," and a related e-card that features fake news reports about a crime spree allegedly inspired by the revenge-minded clip, sparked a protest on Tuesday (June 10) in Los Angeles that called for the promotional stunt to be taken down.
The music video for the song implies that a spurned lover, played by Ashanti, exacts revenge on her cheating boyfriend by stabbing him to death, and the clip features images of blood-spattered walls, images that are repeated in an e-card promotion linked to from the official Ashanti homepage.
Visitors to the controversial site are greeted by a fake news headline from the UCN, the Universal Crime Network, which reports that, "police are investigating a recent wave of violence in New Jersey. The police commissioner has hinted that there may be a tie between the recent attacks and the music video for Universal/Motown recording artist Ashanti's single 'The Way That I Love You.' "
A fake news story on the site ends with the warning that police fear the prime suspect in the alleged string of killings, Victoria Jackson, "may be planning to open a big can of whoop-ass. Authorities have already expressed apprehension at the pending release of Ashanti's album, The Declaration, on June 3rd, fearful that the power of the album will lead to more violence. Only time will tell."
Less than 30 seconds after the site loads, a large knife, dripping with blood, carves out a box at the top of the page, and a menu pops up that lets users send a "Gotchagram" e-card/video to a friend or enemy. After putting in your name, the name of your friend and their "crime," a menu titled "Your Victim's Crime" drops down with such options as "sleeping around," "suspected sleeping around," "playing you like a fool" and "breaking your heart." The next drop-down menu, for "Weapon of Choice," features options such as "boot," "knife," "can," "sledgehammer," "rolling pin" and "guillotine." A glamorous shot of Ashanti in a tight gold mini-dress accompanies the "Gotchagram" box.
Once the information is input, users can click on a box to the left that launches a customized UCN news report featuring their information, including the victim's name splattered in blood on a wall, the weapon of choice, the sender's name in a fake newspaper headline and a reference to their home state. The clip ends with a plug for the album and a cartoonish voice reading the caveat, "Ashanti and Universal Music Group do not encourage or condone violence of any kind. This is for parody purposes only."
More than two dozen concerned parents and religious leaders gathered outside the Universal/Motown offices Tuesday afternoon in Los Angeles to mount a protest against the promotion, according to organizer Najee Ali. Led by civil-rights organization Project Islamic Hope and its leader, Ali, the group condemned the video and its message of using violence to settle disputes.
"There are a lot of outraged parents who feel that the type of message and imagery that promotes violence as a tool for solving domestic relation problems is inappropriate," Ali said. "Universal should recognize that they have corporate responsibility for promoting their artists and material that they want us to purchase."
Ali said he blames Ashanti and her label for the video and added that he felt it was a "career mistake" to attach herself to this type of imagery.
One of the other organizers of the protest, former radio veteran and BET staffer Paul Porter of the nonpartisan media justice think tank Industry Ears, said the video came to his attention on Monday, and he immediately called Ali. "I questioned not only the content of the video, but also why Universal/Motown would support this effort," Porter said. "The real shock is that Ashanti is squeaky-clean ... and the song has nothing to do with murdering someone, so the video is definitely constructed for shock value, and we feel there's enough violence in our inner cities without you picking your weapon of choice."
A statement released Tuesday through Ashanti's personal publicist, Michelle Huff, explained that "the Web site that Mr. Porter is referring to is not controlled by Ashanti nor is it her creative work. We respect what Mr. Porter is working to accomplish with his organization. But it is important to point out that Ashanti's history of creative expression does not glorify violence at all."
Huff said Ashanti did not come up with the Gotchagram concept — which debuted online more than two months ago — but that the singer supported the label's marketing concept. The video was intended to be a "Saturday Night Live"-style parody, Huff said, and while she reported that "95 percent" of the comments Ashanti has gotten so far have been positive, the singer plans to speak to her label in light of the controversy about possibly taking it down.
Porter said he sees the Gotchagram video as a blatant attention-grabbing stunt meant to shock and boost Ashanti's first-week sales numbers, a tactic he called "creative laziness" on the part of the artist and her label and one he predicted would not work. Porter and Ali are calling for Universal/Motown to pull down the video and the UNC site and issue an apology. The pair are planning another protest next week in New York.
In an interview with SOHH.com in February, Ashanti endorsed the violent imagery in the video. "It matches incredibly with the record," she told the site. "It's very cinematic as opposed to a regular music video. I found out my man is cheating on me, and cut to the story, you find him in a bloody tub." The message is simple, Ashanti told the site: "Don't cheat."