Hours deep in a YouTube rabbit hole one evening, a video appeared in the suggestions that shocked and intrigued me. It was a real music video for a real song. The title was “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless).”
That the formal title is technically considered a slur nowadays is something I will set aside because this song was released in 1991. But that parenthetical. That parenthetical threw me for a LOOP. It’s structured like a punchline! Imagine if people just wrote song titles like that! “My Girlfriend (She’s a Raging Alcoholic).” “Love of My Life (He’s a Bald Accountant).” “Leaves in the Wind (It’s a Metaphor.)”
Naturally, I clicked on it. The beat is quintessential 90s house, and that “la-da-dee-la-da-da” hook is mesmerizing. Her voice is great and that hook is killer. This is really catchy!
And yet. The repeated “but she’s homeless/ she’s homeless!” makes me want to laugh. It’s so blunt. It’s ridiculous.
And yet. Crystal Waters (the artist’s real name!) wrote this song about a woman she actually knew, a local singer who dressed in all black and wore a full face of makeup every day and sang for money. It wasn’t until she read an article on the woman in the local paper that she realized she was homeless, because the woman tried to look like everyone else. Crystal wanted the song to humanize the homeless, and she asked her label to add the parenthetical to the title so people wouldn’t sing along mindlessly and forget the message. She insisted that it be included on the single’s cover so the subject matter couldn’t be ignored.
That’s….really admirable? And Crystal Waters seems very rad in general. At age 14, she’d been the youngest person ever to be inducted into the Poetry Society of America! Her lyrics are effective and evocative - “She wakes up early every morning / Just to do her hair now / Because she cares, y’all.” I…cannot in good conscience snark on this song.
That I will snark on. Because what is happening.
It feels very “college kid’s devised theatre piece.”
I get what they’re going for! They clearly had a limited budget and made extremely creative choices within it! Especially the clear umbrellas twirling with words and patterns. Crystal Waters wears an outfit that’s very cool. I would wear it today and walk around Brooklyn!
This was, of course, a different time. So who am I to come in with my meme-addled 2019 sense of irony and snark on this? One comment on the video took me out:
Damn. I don’t understand the context of this song’s release, and I thank God for that. Clearly this have a different impact on its intended audience in the early 90s than on me, some idiot binging throwback content in bed mindlessly!
So. I think my verdict is: this song is good, and Crystal Waters is good. I can’t say anything bad about it. And all context aside, that hook is genuinely amazing. Being a Very Smart Cultural Critic, I thought “I bet this song has been sampled by someone since its release,” so I hopped over to WhoSampled to confirm my theory, and yeah, it’s been sampled fifty-seven times. I’m extremely not the only person to think that this would make a good sample. Good for Crystal Waters!
Thank you all for taking this journey with me! It was a very twisty one, like the design of this umbrella:
Donate to local organizations that help the homeless! That’s all I got!