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Iconoclasm in the music video


I don't know what's brought about this sudden crisis, but it seems that the age of the lads mag music video may finally be coming to an end. I recently commented on the Miley Cyrus twerking scandal that I was glad that the 'Wrecking Ball' video had catalysed an open debate, as it was really about time people started actively discussing the sexualised portrayal of women in music videos.
I have been irritated for many years at the irrelevant zooming in on cleavages, navels and posteriors in music videos. Sometimes an entire TV screen can be filled with a woman's breasts for no apparent reason and yet the audience are to passively ingest these images, often on daytime TV. I used to babysit three sisters and I remember them dancing (completely innocently) but in an inappropriately sexualised fashion to the charts on MTV. Of course the explicitly sexual dancing style of current female pop acts will influence young girls. Without wishing to sound too Mary Whitehouse on your ass, I really do think there's too much sex on TV, certainly in music videos.

In the last week I've seen two music videos which seem to come as a reaction to Miley Cyrus's 'Wrecking Ball' and the genre of music videos which hers just seemed to push that bit too far for 'polite' society.

Firstly, having heard criticism of Lily Allen's new video 'Hard out Here', I wanted to see what the fuss was about. In this video the artist reclaims the word 'bitch' as a confident label, giving voice to those voiceless tits and arses of modern RnB music videos. She goes further to expose the grotesque reality of maintaining the high standards of appearance which are still thought of as necessary for successful female artists... (look at how Christina Aguilera disappeared when she got 'fat'. For someone who is squeamish to the point of leaving the room when Animal Hospital came on (even before we found out what Rolf was up to)... (or was he one of the few that weren't?) — I forget — the opening scene, where Lily is lying on an operating table, having tubes roughly shoved into her belly and fat globules sucked out in abundance, was very hard to (ahem) stomach. However, it was a point that needed to be made. Where she came unstuck was the fact that, as Radio 4 pointed out, she was implying that having a brain meant she did not need to shake her arse. Meanwhile, her social commentary is juxtaposed with a black woman shaking her booty to a very exaggerated and mocking degree. Does the fact that the white girl makes the social commentary and keeps her clothes on, whilst the black girl shakes her ass, make the video racist? It certainly parodies the standard music video topos and provokes the viewer to notice and question the fact that we are watching a wiggling bottom. I personally don't think it's racist, as it's perfectly plausible that the dancer in question was herself annoyed about the objectification of women and the hijacking of traditional African dance moves for mainstream trash pop.... Lily also has a nice neon sign behind her in one scene saying that she has a baggy fanny, so she pretty much has all areas of female objectification covered. In summary, I don't really want to watch the music video ever again, but I like her contribution to the debate so well done Lily.

Secondly, today I stumbled across the video 'Bath is Black' by Marika Hackmann. I really like Marika's music, having first seen her perform on Burberry Acoustic. This song is attracting the attention of Zane Lowe but I really don't think it's one of her melodically stronger songs. Now, as for the video, there seem to be strong parallels with 'Hard out Here.' The video starts with a close up of the gyrating hips of a lap dancer. The woman in question is mixed race/black and it is suggested that she is a prostitute. Whilst she grinds on top of the overweight tatooed client, Marika looks angry in a hoodie. There are references to washing yourself clean, moral chastisement, however she is bathing in a black bath and the viewer can't help but find the arguably unwitting associations of ethnic cleansing rather uncomfortable. The camera zooms in on flesh, as the man grabs at the woman's thighs and bum. There is something unnerving about Marika's clean, young, innocent face juxtaposed with the seedy, sweaty scene. Even though there are shortfalls to the video, it adds to the mounting rebellion against the age of 'lads mag' style music videos.

In all three videos, the passive scopophilia of the female body on film is disrupted. Whilst Miley pushes the boundaries to aggressive extremes and shocks and worries audiences, Lily Allen creates a parody of the twerk, throws the 'bitch' label back at misogynist rappers and shows the disgusting truth of beauty, and finally Marika's video sees sexy dancing re-associated with seedy sex work.