“There will be a time when no one will tell me, don’t wear this, don’t wear that.”
Those are some of the optimistic lyrics in a controversial new pop song by Zere, a singer from Kyrgyzstan. Unfortunately, that time has not arrived as Zere has discovered over the last couple of weeks.
The world’s obsession with what clothes women should and shouldn’t be wearing, and when, took another ironic turn recently when the pop star was met with a hail of death threats after she dared to appear in a music video while wearing a bra that was visible — for a song that’s about gender discrimination.
Zere last month released the video for her song “Kyz” (The Girl), which has propelled her to near instant celebrity — and infamy — in the Central Asian nation. The controversy arose out of the fact that Zere appears in the video wearing a purple lace bra underneath a blue blazer.
Many in the majority Muslim country supported the message Zere sings about in the song and illustrates in the video. But the video, which went viral, also triggered a wave of angry criticism. Some accused her of appearing “naked” in the video, others said she was “disgusting” for showing her bra, according to the BBC, which collected many of the responses on social media. Others said the way she was dressed was “OK” for America and Europe, but inappropriate for Kyrgyzstan. Many went much farther, calling for her death over the music video if she refused to retract it and apologize for it.
“My song is about women, and people in general, doing what they want, wearing what they want, being what they want, and not being judged — and not judging anyone,” Zere told the BBC. “I didn’t think the fact that I was wearing a bra would draw so much attention,” she said, noting that the wardrobe decision was somewhat whimsical when coming up with the video concept. “I thought that the provocative thing about the video was [that] different girls [were] brought together. But it turns out that the bra was the reason for so much noise.”
Still, she was spooked by the death threats and now won’t go out in public unaccompanied. “I suppose they don’t mean it and nothing will happen,” she said of those who made the threats, “but I can’t be 100% sure.” Domestic violence is prevalent in Kyrgyzstan as is an outlawed tradition practiced by conservative Muslims, according to EuroNews, called “ala kachuu,” or “grab and run.” It involves Muslim men kidnapping a teenage girl and forcing her to marry a man in another family. Often time rape follows as a means of “consummating” such forced marriages.
“The mere fact that this happens, that the girls remain (in the families of men) and other women are still helping them in this … I think that says it all,” Zere said.But she is trying to take it all in stride, knowing that the song has helped open up a conversation in her country about women’s rights. And she thinks that the controversy surrounding the song will ultimately be a positive. “If I go to the world level, I will help Kyrgyzstan even more, because with my work I will promote its image.” For more on the story, watch the video below.