The blurring of music and porn

I love music videos. Love ’em. Love the very concept of combining sensory inputs of music and visual storytelling. When I worked late, late nights in Iraq, I’d be the only one in the office. Anyone coming in at say, 3 a.m., would find me hunched over my computer working while Lebanese music videos played on the massive flatscreen normally reserved for security briefings.

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This is one of the tamest images from the video. But even here, Rihanna has her body highly exposed but face hidden with huge, dark sunglasses which decrease perception of her humanity.

Music videos of late have been a disappointment. I’m long used to trite male musician videos featuring highly sexualized women, but now it seems female singers eagerly sell their bodies in addition to their music. Is the conflation between music and sexual exposure necessary to be a major commercial success? In the Billboard Top 100 today, four of the five female musicians (Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Lana Del Ray) in the top 10 most popular songs all have produced sexually-suggestive or explicit music videos (Lourde is the exception – maybe).

The new Rihanna music video “Pour It Up” features the singer twerking amongst female strippers on poles, the camera zooming in to capture the slow-motion ripples of fat on Rhianna’s thighs as she dry humps a throne and water-covered mattress. Miley Cyrus twerked against a male singer and miming masturbation with a giant foam finger for the MTV Video Music Awards. She followed it up with a music video of her completely naked swinging on a wrecking ball and another of her parading in front of packed high school bleachers in extremely revealing clothing. Britney Spears just released her new single, “Work it B**ch” where she dances with scantily-clad strippers in red-lit rooms, uses fetish whips to rip open the bikini bottom of a submissive female bending over, holds kneeling, masked female singers on leashes and sings about women needing to”work it” to attain expensive, luxurious lifestyles.

Turns out, the increase in degrading sexual lyrics isn’t just my imagination. Perhaps unsurprisingly, lyrics gradually got more sexual between 1959 and now. But starting in 1999, the amount of degrading sexual lyrics in Billboard Top 100 songs tripled in the next decade.

Ok, so we’re sexually liberated. We’re reveling in our sexual freedom. We’re exploring our sexuality and challenging sexual stereotypes. We’re experimenting! Yay!

Wait, why does sexual liberation feel like women are more objectified than ever before?

According to the researchers who conducted the study, “Popular music can teach young men to be sexually aggressive and treat women as objects while often teaching young women that their value to society is to provide sexual pleasure for others”.

Could increased depictions and objectification of women in popular media be having any effect on the increase of sexual assaults in the military? Maybe that’s a bridge too far for now.

Increased sexualization of popular media does have an immediate and direct effect on children. Girls and women who see women objectified in the media experience a high rate of body dissatisfaction and eating problems. The objectification of men, which has also increased, promotes a “drive for muscularity” among boys.

So back to the female musicians suggestively dancing and putting their crotch on the camera. Are they happy?

Britney Spears said she feels pushed to be more sexy than she really is in the music videos, such as the recent “Work B**ch”.

“When you start to feel the character, you start to feel silly, ’cause you’re like, ‘This isn’t me, I’m not like all like this,’ moving all sexually and stuff like that,” she said. “So as ‘mommy’ you feel really awkward doing that. [But] once you get out there and the camera starts rolling, you just kind of feel it out and you do it. But when I watch playbacks sometimes, I’m like, ‘Who do I think I am?! Who the hell do I think I am?!'”

“A lot of sex goes into what I do, you know?” she explained. “But sometimes I would like to bring it back to the old days when there was, like, one outfit through the whole video, and you’re dancing the whole video, and there’s, like, not that much sex stuff going on. It’s about the dance. It’s old school. It’s, like, keeping it real and just making it about the dance. I’d love to do a video like that.”

Me too Britney, me too. Though I did love the sharks. 🙂

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Where every little girl aspires to work, a red-lit room in front of open windows and mirrors.

P.S. Sinéad O’Connor’s open letter to Miley Cyrus. After the 20-year-old claimed that Wrecking Ball’s controversial video was inspired by Nothing Compares 2 U, the Irish singer was compelled to warn Cyrus that she is being ‘pimped’ by the pop industry.

P.P.S Simon Doonan’s hilarious article in Slate (“I do not like Miley’s outfit”) talking about pop stars emulating porn stars at the expense of everyone involved.

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