I once said that Sweetness sounds like the past and the future—you know, the sound from the 1980s that people in afros and bootcuts swung their waists to.
But it is also nothing you have ever heard because Sarz is not your mate and Obongjayar is audacious. Labels and sponsors must be more open to artist freedom these days. Since Rema banged with bangers (that did not sound like another banger) in 2019, the new Nigerian Movies artists have been experimenting. And we have been listening, haven’t we? “Be patient with my sound”, they say. Awww, okay.
But Obongjayar is an exceptional kind of audacious, isn’t he? Look at the name. What does that mean anyway? And notice how he left his face out of the album cover, out of all album covers—Bassey from 2017, Which Way is Forward from 2020 and now, 2021’s Sweetness. Sweetness is covered in red fingers, lips, and a lollipop. Upcoming artiste, how dare you not want to be seen, credited? How dare you choose an accurate embodiment of your theme over a dissonant picture of your face?
I am Obongjayar in If You Say.
What a song. Talk about changing the narrative. It is a relief, isn’t it? A break from “I fit die on top your matter”, “girl na you be the oxygen I need to survive” and miscellaneous. Men have been pledging the most since the beginning of time. But here he comes—audacious, caped Obongjayar is asking the questions this time and his female persona is required to answer. But look, he says even words are not enough, she has to show him.
Leave story, “if you say you love me, show me”. Men deserve love—pure, unreserved, professed love. Especially professed love. Men deserve effort too. Women show effort, but only if men exercise restraint. Men must not be predictable, brash, and rabid; they must look around and exhale. They must remember that they have options because babes dey.
Obongjayar is asking questions—“do you have what it takes to be my baby?” Because it must take something, mustn’t it? Men must enforce standards too. Men must continue to wonder what women bring to the figurative table (not ask them on dates though, oh God). Obongjayar says he is good by himself, so must we. What do you bring to the table, stranger? And oh God, do not say you are the table. Because Sade, what the fuck does that mean?
Come on, look at you—such a fine, articulate, talented man. Such an intelligent and organized man. An employed man too. Look at your bank account, you are quarter to broke but you are doing better than most. These Twitter women can sub your numbers all they want; you are in touch with reality. You have plans, big plans. So, you have a schedule, a tight schedule. Like Obongjayar, if they want to waste your time, they can just walk out the way they came.
These sparkling sheets are for you and those you love. So is your body. Like Obongjayar, you don’t want strangers in your bed, no changing faces. You are enlightened now, so you see that giving yourself away to every woman who winks is nothing to be proud of. It must be worth it now. Or you must be sold, to the highest bidder. So, you will sit and lie alone, until you are convinced.
It must take something to convince you. Obongjayar wants her to show him that she is not the same as everyone else. You know how everyone is trying to be different, the same way? Come on, you must know the plot—the feigned indifference, the vulnerability game, the masks, the tacit restraint, the faux morality, the failure of empathy, the expectations, the assumptions, the guilt tripping, the blame game, then the victim card. Yes, is there anything else?
But hold on, you are no incel. You have taken your share of “breakfast” with grace and good cheer. You have not turned your high school heartbreak into an insidious, indelible hate for women. You are not spending your time listening to stupid men tell you stupid lies about masculinity on stupid podcasts. Women do not owe you anything. But here is the point—you do not owe them anything either.
Yet, you are making demands. Yes, you are in the position to. You would like some loyalty. You do not want to worry about men with more because your connectoon must be more than things and specifications. You would like some devotion, the same kind you would be happy to give. Like Obongjayar, you want to ride for her, die for her. But if she says you are the one she wants, she better be sure. She must start and finish, she must start what she can finish.
I am not Obongjayar in Gone Girl.
But I think that lyrically, it is the most impressive song of the year—it tells a familiar, hollow story of love—of falling out of love. In Thoughts on Cinema 01, I went on about the failure of perspective we all suffer when we see “happily ever after” stories the way that we often do. In the romantic movie, what happens to the woman left at the altar? What happens to the man living with a lover who has already left him?
The final season of Insecure and Obongjayar’s Gone Girl have made me obsessed with what I call the “final days”—the last days of a failing relationship. I play John Legend’s This Time, Bruno Mars’ When I Was Your Man, One Direction’s History, I raise my nose, stroke my beard and pretend to have intricate thoughts. I do that—think and write things I cannot relate to just because they are profound. Or just because they are an ignored angle to (a certain) human experience. So, every time you hit me with “McCoy, which babe is this for?”, I just roll my eyes.
Obongjayar wants to know if there is something he is not doing, if he has misread the room. You must empathize with this scenario as a simple, naive man. Something is wrong but she will not say it. She says everything is okay, but you catch her staring into space. When you hold her, she is missing. You wish to heaven that she is there. When you kiss her, she doesn’t kiss you with the same longing. And after she leaves, she takes her time with the text replies. She sleeps all day and sounds like HR. Except that you don’t want updates on your job application, you want updates on where you stand, what you have become.
A certain gender says the most about communication but are often, awfully bad at it. Even when all is well, they want you to read their minds. And they announce this odd expectation with curious relish. It is part of good old seduction—for you, an occupied man to take on the daunting, entirely unnecessary task of deciphering what a grown woman really means when she says what she says, when she says anything at all. She could just tell it all to you but then she would be vulnerable in forbidden, forbidden ways.
Have you changed? Have you split into two? Do you even know each other? You look at her and you don’t see anyone.
To deep minds, it hurts, doesn’t it? It drills the heart — malice, distance. You look at your phone and you see the bi-annual “hi, how have you been?” from somebody you used to speak with every day. You used to call them love, they used to recklessly send you pictures, emojis and stickers. You used to know if they had eaten, what they ate, what their Uber driver did, how their workday went. You used to know what their weekend schedule looked like because then they would spend some of it with you, in your arms. Both of you would lie, side by side, facing the ceiling, sharing your innermost desires and fantasies. Now you cannot tell who they are beyond the sly smile in their profile picture and sparse IG posts. Now you can see the caution, tension in your conversations—not too much, not too little. Now you play the vulnerability game.
And this is the case when you are lucky. When you are not, your number is blocked; everybody they know hates you and that one time, somebody retweeted something they tweeted that was unmistakably your sub.
But right now, she is still sitting opposite you. She is right there. Or is she? She is far away now; you have lost her. You are running out of happy topics again; your tempers are shortening. Something has changed and you cannot bear the silence. So, you loudly ask the terrifying questions. You want to know what has happened, what is happening, what will happen. More silence. Then the lie—she needs some time, she thinks a break is a good idea, its not even you, its her. It has taken this long to ask because while you drove past the warning signs, you had hoped that you were mistaken, crazy, dreaming. You had hoped that it was all in your head, that it was all pretend. But it was not.
Now you want to know what needs to be fixed, how it can be fixed. But it is too late. You are searching her eyes for answers, questions. But you are too late. She doesn’t love you anymore. She is dead to you and you are dead to her. She is a gone girl, a zombie. Where did she go? Where will you go?