Alright, stop what you’re doing because I’m about to ruin the image and the style that you’re used to.
If you haven’t seen the video of Mary Halsey’s viral video performance, then put aside whatever you’re working on and allow Halsey to brighten your day with her rendition of Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliot’s seminal classic, “Work It”:
The original Facebook video has garnered over 7 million views and one letter from me to the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences nominating Mary for a Grammy in the category of Best Performance at a cookout or fish fry. I know this is a long shot considering the stiff competition from my Uncle Junior’s annual performance of Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” at the benediction of our Labor Day festivities.
Not to mention the fact that the Robinson family has been shut out every year for their rendition of the “Oh, oh, oh, oh ...” part of Lenny Williams’ “Cause I Love You.”
But Mary’s version drew praise from Missy Elliot herself:
Although Halsey is now an internet celebrity, I still have questions:
1. How did Mary learn the words?
Mary knows all the lyrics. There are songs that I genuinely love but I haven’t taken the time to learn all of the words to those musical selections. And this song is difficult!
My only guess is that Halsey listened to the song at least 54,744 times before she could memorize the complete set of lyrics, which leads to my second question:
2. Why did Mary learn all the words?
Did she prepare for years for this performance? Is this an audition tape for the role of Missy Elliot in a biopic for the Hallmark channel? (After watching the Aaliyah movie, a white Missy Elliot couldn’t be any worse.)
My theory is that Mary learned this as part of her probation requirements when she was arrested for participating in a Black Lives Matter rally. Maybe her friends called her “Miss Misdemeanor,” she Googled that, and the rest is history.
I know that sounds far-fetched, but what else could explain a scenario that includes her belting out a hip-hop dance classic in front of a minivan while onlookers joyously watched?
3. Why is she wearing scrubs?
Either Mary is some sort of medical professional or she cleans rooms at the Holiday Inn. I’ve always been jealous of people who wear scrubs to work because, while they are not flattering, they look comfortable as fuck. I think scrubs should be the default uniform for all jobs including stockbrokers and NBA players. In my extensive research watching science fiction movies, I believe all clothing will eventually evolve into two distinct categories:
- Skin-tight latex full body suits.
- Pajama-adjacent wear such as scrubs and jogging pants.
And why does the scrubs industry restrict its color palette and designs? According to Pew Research data that I’m making up, 93 percent of all scrubs are either light blue or festooned with flowers that don’t exist in real life. I know you’re thinking that petunias and daffodils do exist in reality but get the fuck out of here with that bullshit. Petunias are a myth like unicorns and non-racist Trump supporters.
4. What’s up with the snake?
Why is Mary waving around what appears to be an embalmed snake during the entire video? Did she kill this snake with her bare hands just as it was about to bite a baby she found in the woods? Is it some kind of taxidermy trophy she won at a 4-H competition?
I think it’s symbolic. In the Bible, when God spoke to Moses and instructed him to free the Children of Israel from slavery, God told Moses to throw down his walking stick. The Lord turned the staff into a snake and back into a staff. God then told Moses to show the “Staff of God” to Pharoah as proof that he was down with the real God.
And then Moses went down to Egyptland and told old Pharoah to let his people go. When Pharoah refused, Moses threw the staff on the ground and turned it into a snake. He later used the staff to part the Red Sea for the escaped slaves and reverse the tide, swallowing Pharoah’s army.
That’s right. Mary and Missy were making a biblical reference when she rapped: “I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it.”
5. Who is the dancing lady and what is she eating?
Every few minutes a woman wearing jean shorts and either a pair of white WalMart tennis shoes or Steph Curry’s signature sneakers comes through the frame. Whoever she is, she so excited that she’s doing a tiptoe high step that is a mix of Baptist usher holding up one finger during the sermon and an HBCU drum major. I just want a friend as supportive as this.
I’m not sure, but I bet she helped Mary practice the booty-shake move and texted Mary before she left the house reminding Mary not to forget her freedom snake. Even if she’s eating cranberry kale potato salad, I still like Susan the backup dancer.
6. Where is she?
USA Today reports that this was recorded at a barbecue in a Rhode Island park. The fact that this happened at a cookout makes it even better because I was worried that this was part of an escape attempt from an armed compound. But who brought the microphone? How did they get such good sound quality?
Say what you will about white people, but their sound-mixing abilities are above reproach. Every time I see rappers in the studio there is always a white dude at the mixing board. I never imagined that oak trees fostered such good acoustics.
Also, I can’t help but notice that no one called the police on this barbecue.
7. Whose minivan is that in the background?
If there isn’t a car commercial with Mary loading her fugitive slave snake in the back with her speakers, microphone and grill as she talks about looking like a “Halle Berry poster,” it will be a travesty. And they better include Susie Tippytoes or I’ll never buy another Dodge Caravan.
I’ve actually never purchased a Dodge Caravan, but still.
8. Seriously, what the fuck is up with the snake?
Oh, wait. USA Today says it’s a is a shofar, an ancient instrument made from a ram’s horn. Strike what I said before.
Wait. why the fuck does she have a ram’s horn trumpet?
In the Bible, Moses blew a shofar when God told him ...
9. Is this cultural appropriation?
As I explained before:
There is no universally accepted definition of the term, but it generally relates to the use of the art, artifacts, symbology or anything of cultural significance to a minority or nondominant group of people by a person who is not in that group.
What separates cultural appropriation from a cultural exchange or paying homage is when someone “borrows” an item or symbol of cultural significance without acknowledgment, attribution or permission. One of the other hallmarks of appropriation is using someone’s culture to demean, make fun of or diminish it.
Mary isn’t using Missy Elliot’s song to demean or diminish a culture. She’s simply performing a song that happens to be by a black artist.
And, if you look at Mary’s expression, you can tell that she’s serious about her shit. It seems Mary would genuinely like to know if it is worth it. She is authentic in her desperate attempt to convince her cohorts to allow her to work it and, if at all possible, to reverse it.
10. Where can I find these kinds of white people?
I don’t see this as a karaoke video. I view it as I would footage from National Geographic. Apparently, there are entire undiscovered pockets of white people who have karaoke cookout talent shows complete with backup singers and sound crews.
Where can we find more of this undiscovered tribe of freedom ram-wielding nursing assistants? I thought black people were the only ones who had Aunt Marys who show up at every cookout in their scrubs ready to drop it low? Where are these backup dancing cousins? I didn’t even know white people had cousins!
Can I buy a Black Lives Matter shofar on Etsy? Can I just have the number of the sound guy? I know she’s famous now with her Honda Odyssey endorsement deal, but I need Mary to point out where I can find more of these Rhode Island BBQ rap-offs.
After watching her video, I can only explain my feelings using the words made famous by Missy Elliot and white Aunt Mary:
“It’s wuegioqG3if okwuhseugiohoewitbg kuhkwuhre yuh.”