Worldbuilding in Sade’s Music Videos

Sade (woman and band) is a fantasy artist. I wouldn’t be the person or writer I am today without their music videos, which were among my first lessons in worldbuilding. Every Sade video is a terrarium — a romantic microcosm with its own textures, climates, and histories. I’ll provide a few examples, arranged by altitude rather than year: 

“No Ordinary Love,” from the Love Deluxe album (1992)

Let’s start with the sea. 

Image of Sade Adu in a white gown and veil, holding a wire door

No Ordinary Love” casts Sade Adu as a melancholic mermaid, a scorned lover who (literally) rises from the depths of her depression to marry herself. She’s the first and last mermaid I ever emulated — delicate, but not quite little. Passionate. Extravagant. Broody. Black. Each adjective hinging on the others. Despite a disappointment so thick it felt eternal, this mermaid fashioned romance for herself — pulling needle, thread and crinoline into a dress that rivaled the beauty of sea foam. An afropessimist vision, she made haute couture while sitting at the bottom of the world. 

And what is this mermaid’s world? One divided into upper and lower halves. The upper is dry, pale, gothic. The lower is wet, colorful, gentle. It’s our world. The Global North and South. The people on top come to the bottom for fun and return to their lives without concern for consequences. The people in the bottom stay put, ever available for entertainment and erotic tourism. In this world, Sade Adu is our hero, a Black mermaid who refuses that social order. She walks the land, the upper world, in attire that could be none but the sea’s, and shows humans that they might’ve beat her once, but they’ll never beat her outfit. She has her wedding on the streets and the docks, alone but witnessed. In her public ceremony, one-part orchestration, one-part surprise, everyone and no one was invited. Even the bride was trespassing. 

If there’s any doubt that this is a fairytale, Sade left a trail of rice for us to follow.

“By Your Side,” from the Lovers Rock album (2000)

Let’s move to the wild.

Image of Sade Adu's hand plucking forbidden fruit

By Your Side” is a study of seasonal change. Nothing is stable here — neither the people nor the scenery. The only constant is care. In this world, Sade Adu is a primordial woman — an Eve who strays from Eden. Time and precarity set in motion when she picks her forbidden fruit, which might represent love given freely and generously. Many women are Eve’s descendants in the sense that our curiosity kills us (in the sense of social death). When the primordial woman commits herself to generous love (a slutty ethic), she’s cast out from her home/land, triggering a lifelong intimacy with loneliness. Though, she isn’t always alone. Adam is gone, but she rejoices in other people’s joy and thus multiplies it. She’s an epic wayfarer who traverses time and space, but her sky is always the color of love. Her love is so thick it exceeds her body, affecting an atmosphere wherever she goes — even in concrete jungles. 

“Cherish The Day,” from the Love Deluxe album (1992)

I’ll end in the clouds.

Layered image of Sade Adu's face and the New York City skyline

Cherish The Day” features a woman with advanced sight. Her eyes seem to travel on the wind, taking in New York City with fluid motion. Her world is made of layered images and sounds, embodying the complexity and wonder the city deserves.

We don’t know exactly what her origins are, but she could be a muse who lands on skyscrapers surreptitiously, jamming with her loyal band. Their songs are the city’s natural cacophony — gorgeous and unseen, certain and ephemeral. When Sade sings, the people sing with her.  

Closing

The classic Sade video asks itself: If love were a place, what would it contain? I ask myself the same question everyday. I thank Sade, woman and band, for their contributions to my romantic interior. Their videos live in my mind rent-free. There’s more to discuss than I’ve shared here, but I’ll save those considerations for another day. I look forward to writing more blog posts that indulge Black(-feminist) approaches to fantasy.

I offer a parting quote from Suzanne Césaire, famed Martinican, Black-woman surrealist: 

…the domain of the strange, the marvelous and the fantastic… Here is the freed image, dazzling and beautiful, with a beauty that could not be more unexpected and overwhelming. Here are the poet, the painter, and the artist, presiding over the metamorphoses and the inversions of the world under the sign of hallucination and madness.

May we keep dreaming our way into more loving circumstances.

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