Jessie Reyez Channels Salem Witch Trials for Empowering ‘Body Count’ Video
Jessie Reyez examines how women through the eras have paid the price for injustice and gender inequality in the empowering new video for “Body Count.”
In the Peter Huang-directed video – filmed in Reyez’s Toronto hometown – Reyez has apparently violated some puritanical societal standard and is dragged across a field to be burned at the stake. As officials pass judgment on her through steely gazes, Reyez writhes against her captors and is hauled towards her fate, defiantly singing about freedom, love, self-love and independence. “We don’t need no one trying to take our freedom,” Reyez sings. “Time won’t let you stay young/ So we don’t care what they say/ We gon’ love who we wanna love.”
Co-produced by Reyez, Babyface and Khristopher Riddick-Tynes, the sweet, acoustic musical vibe of “Body Count” is juxtaposed against that dark backdrop and belies the song’s deeper context. The lyrics challenge double standards of sexual freedom, with Reyez singing to her unmoved captor, “I dodge dick on the daily/ I know it’s funny, but it’s true.” It’s provocative, confrontational and things inevitably don’t end well for the woman. But there’s also a heartbeat of hope at the clip’s conclusion.
“I’m a fan of contrast and I feel like the song, despite the fact that it has that inspiration, it’s about a real-life topic,” Reyez tells Rolling Stone. “So it’s like it sounds happy and fun and shit, but when you get down to it, you’re talking about the differences between male and female. So the video, I wanted to make sure it had that contrast with the song with something like that.”
Reyez says as she, her managers and Huang explored ideas for the video, the initial concepts were missing the “yin and yang” aspects of the song’s sentiments. But then after a five-hour brainstorming session, Huang said, “Witch trials,” and it clicked.
“One of the reasons it felt like we finally hit home was, because if you really look at it, the Salem Witch Trials are one of the many times where women have been persecuted in history, it’s like a bookmark in history,” she says. “If it wasn’t allegations of magic – but sometimes that was just a cover-up – it could’ve been sexual selectiveness. If they were just saying no, they didn’t want to sleep with someone, or no, they didn’t want to marry someone. Whereas other women were being pressured into it and going through with it. Or with sexual promiscuity and that was a punishment or a judgment, or a judgment and then the punishment. But it seemed really appropriate to use it.”
This isn’t Reyez’s first song confronting sexism, misogyny and abuse of power. In 2017, she released the intensely personal “Gatekeeper” along with a heartbreaking accompanying short film. The song and film candidly detail an encounter she says she had with a well-known male producer whom, as the film unflinchingly depicts, forcefully tried to coerce her into having sex in exchange for her advancing her nascent career. “I was young and I was chasing music and chasing that dream,” she explains. “And at that time I wasn’t in college, out of high school, no college and pushing mixtapes and sending spam messages to people at like different publications and to managers, and everybody that I could.”
The film is a traumatic watch. “If you’re not using your pussy, you ain’t serious about your fucking dreams,” the then-unnamed producer screams at Reyez in the film. “You’re fucking up your chance.” The song’s lyrics are equally jarring. “We are the gatekeepers/ spread your legs, open up/ You could be famous, girl. On your knees.”
“Everything in that song is a quote. Everything in that song is something that he said,” Reyez tells Rolling Stone. When she released “Gatekeeper” last year, she didn’t reveal the name of its alleged inspiration because, as she wrote in an open letter to him, “I don’t want to give you any sort of light.”
Then, earlier this month, artists Kristina Buch and Peyton Ackley accused Noel “Detail” Fisher of rape and Reyez stepped forward about the man she claims was behind the terror she captured on “Gatekeeper.” She linked to TMZ’s report about the women, who were granted a restraining order against the producer, and Reyez revealed via Twitter, “One night over 6 years ago, Noel ‘Detail’ Fisher tried this on me. I was lucky and I got out before it got to this. I didn’t know what to say or who to tell. I was scared. Fear is a real thing. The girls that came out are brave as hell.”
Speaking about it now, her raw emotion remains palpable some six years after the incident. “You know what’s fucked up is even when I talk about it, it fucks me up,” she says tearfully. “I didn’t meet the worst fate of it, you know? Those two girls that came forward are fucking heroes. They’re heroes. They’re heroes, they made me feel less fear.”
“It takes some people to speak up and talk [for there] to actually be any sort of change and follow-through.”
She says her encounter with Fisher almost made her abandon her childhood dream. “I was like, ‘Fuck, maybe I’m not made out for this industry,” she says. “Maybe I don’t have as thick of a skin as I’m going to need, whereas much as I’m not willing to sacrifice this.’ And if he’s saying that’s what every girl has to sacrifice in order to get into the music industry, maybe I should quit.” Reyez says she hasn’t seen him since. (A rep for Fisher did not immediately reply to a request for comment.)
Since coming forward, she has received an outpouring of support, as evident in the numerous positive responses to her post.
“It’s great to have people to talk to; it’s great that people are pushing to make a change [and] make it something that’s more apparent, like a problem that we have to fix in the industry,” she says. “But one of the messages I got from women that have been affected by it, and saying, ‘I’m so scared to come forward’ and ‘it happened to me before’ and ‘I’m a wife and a mom’ or ‘I have a husband’ – it’s just fucked. It’s just fucked up how many women have gone through it and still feel that fear.
“Because sometimes when women come forward, people’s arguments will always come back to, ‘Oh, it’s extortion’ or ‘Oh, she took too long to say anything,’ or ‘Oh, these girls want to move their career forward.’ That’s why women take so long; that’s the reason women are scared,” she continues. “‘Cause they speak up and then what? What happens? What happens if there’s no proof? What happens? What happens? And if the guy they’re accusing has money and power – why am I gonna come forward then?”
To those who have been in similar situations, Reyez offers empathy and a message. “I’m sorry for anyone who has been through it,” she says. “I’m sorry for anyone carrying that burden. But there’s power in numbers and God willing, if people lead with love and people lead with empathy, that shit will change. But it takes some people to speak up and talk [for there] to actually be any sort of change and follow-through.”