Fuse, MTV, VH1…they all used to be the places to go for your music video fix. But just because they’ve died down doesn’t mean music video culture has as well- in fact, music videos are more popular than ever, thanks to YouTube. Especially when it comes to pop artists- particularly female pop artists- we’ve seen a niche brand of music videos. Stylized choreography, dramatic vignettes, and flashy outfits. And more often than not, our diva herself wearing hardly anything or something skintight, completely and utterly sexualized. Recently, our pop stars have been fighting back against this very paradigm.
I hadn’t even thought about Miley Cyrus since Hannah Montana’s primitive seasons on Disney Channel. But there was absolutely no avoiding her my first month at college- that’s when the music video for Wrecking Ball was released. Fully immersed in my alternative/indie persona, I’d sworn off pop music. How edgy. But I was also a budding music journalist, so I decided to give the video a watch. I giggled with my friends as she nudely swung past, bright red lipstick the only color in the otherwise stark scene. But introspectively, I couldn’t help but consider what this meant for me.
A song about confusion, submission, and heartbreak, “Wrecking Ball” quickly made its way up the charts, carrying the controversial video along with it. It starts off seemingly innocent- a single tear tracks its way down her pallid face. Then we see her licking hammers. And finally, she’s nude, riding past our eyes atop a wrecking ball. “What the heck, Miley?!” the world cried in disbelief.
Not only is her nakedness a metaphor- for being completely naked in front of a person in a relationship, not just physically but emotionally, mentally. But it’s also a power symbol. We’ve all watched little Hannah Montana transform into a grown woman, and Miley chose this particular song and video to embrace her newfound maturity, both in her sound as well as performance. She’s unashamed of how she’s grown- physically, musically, and especially mentally. After shedding herself for another person- the unnamed lover and subject of the song- she’s taking ownership, and complete control by showing herself completely naked on top of a huge, heavy, destructive device.
And then there’s Nicki.
A year later, Nicki Minaj put out this vaguely familiar song and a booty bumping video to accompany it, featuring Drake. And it’s an absolute feminist masterpiece. I know what you’re thinking- how could that possibly be true, with the myriad scantily clad women, and the shining, bouncing bottoms?
Well…that’s exactly it. Nicki knows exactly what she’s doing and she’s proud of it. Lady Minaj has shown the world that she’s here, she has a huge ass, and she’s not afraid to show it off- under her circumstances. We see a lot of imagery of male arousal throughout the video- the coconut dripping in the beginning, the wine glass spilling over the sides, spreading whipped cream all over her chest, the bananas spinning around on the turntable…yet when in contact with an actual male in the video- Drake- she doesn’t surrender her ownership of herself. She slithers all over him, snake-like, wrapping herself around him in the most enticing way possible. But as soon as he reaches out for a taste of his own, she retracts. No, no, Drake.
There’s also something to be said regarding her sample choice- clearly borrowing from Sir Mixalot’s Baby Got Back. Though catchy, “Baby Got Back” has clear footholds in the concept that women’s bodies are objects for men to admire and drool over. In fact, in the spoken intro, one of the female characters states, regarding the fictional woman whose butt is the subject of the song, “She looks like one of those rap guys’ girlfriends.” They go on to claim that people only talk to her because she looks like- wait for it- a prostitute. The intro closes out with an even more horrifying line- “She’s just so…black!” As if all black women are good for is having big butts.
“Anaconda” is reclaiming the male gaze and transforming it into something under feminine control. It’s also fun to dance to.
And more and more female artists are catching on. Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” video showcases her essentially mocking the now popular notion that all she does is date guys, who eventually break her heart, leaving her to write another hit song about them. Beyonce has too many to count. Not to mention the countless other artists you may not even know about who are out there making empowering videos, embracing their womanhood. This is an important step for female musicians to take. It’s allowing them creative control over their music videos, and more importantly, the male gaze that’s commonly present behind them. As I mentioned in a previous post, the people working behind the scenes in the music industry are predominantly male. And whether it’s conscious or not, there’s been a clear sexualized skew in female pop musicians music videos.
So pull up those high-waisted shorts and dance along with them. You deserve it, and you look great doing it.