Music videos containing explicit content are no new thing; think back to Cisco's "Thong Song" or 50 Cent's "In Da Club" videos and you'll soon remember that drugs and alcohol, nudity and racy dancing have always been commonly broadcast on video music channels such as MTV and the like. While the recent fixation with nudity in hit music videos may not be a new phenomenon, it is certainly different. Now more than ever, the line between artistic expression and distasteful content is thinning.
Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" video aroused its fair share of controversy when it was released last March. The unrated video showcases the R&B singer "prancing around with Pharrell, T.I., and three beautiful, very naked models." It is difficult to ignore the glaring difference between the male and female video stars, namely that the males are fully clothed in suits and ties while the females are strikingly unclothed.
Perhaps this stark contrast is the point of the video; "in its blatancy, the video becomes an artistic statement." But there begs the question, is nudity in this form art? or is it objectification? Should it be considered innocent freedom of expression or is it a form of sexism?
More recently after its YouTube premiere on July 3, Justin Timberlake's new video for his song "Tunnel Vision" was "quickly flagged and taken down by the site for violating the site's policy on explicit content." But the cries denouncing Timberlake's explicit video were drowned out. The video returned to YouTube only days later with one minor alteration: a "viewer discretion is advised" warning. Just short of three million viewers have since tuned in to watch.
Looking back to the greatest artists in history — painters, filmmakers, sculptors, etc., ... there has always persisted a fascination with the naked body and, in modern pop culture, the female body in particular. But music videos are not controversial simply for featuring naked females. Rather, it is the way in which they are portrayed naked that provokes dissent.
In "Blurred Lines," Thicke and featured artist, Pharrell, seem uninterested, paying little attention to the the women who dance around indifferently. "Their presence in the video doesn’t really evoke sex or glamour in a powerful way," in fact, they are not contributing anything to the video except their bodies. In this way, the video "reinforces a status quo" where women serve the function of objects to be admired, lacking any real agency.
The "Tunnel Vision" video features Timberlake singing among a backdrop of fully naked females. It is debatable whether you can say Timberlake's nude models are dancing. They seem to be stretching and showing off their bodies to the music. Whether they are objects or performers is up for debate.
Both the "Blurred Lines" and "Tunnel Vision" videos cast their respective nude females in extremely similar roles. The women don't seem to be doing anything. They seem to simply be. They have been cast to gaze at and admire.
Plus, the particular models who were selected to star in the film deserve some attention. Just this morning, the Huffington Post revealed the identities of the three mysterious "Blurred Lines" stars who have been transformed into pop culture icons. If these videos are merely showcasing the female body for its artistic value, then why select these very subjects? The extremely thin and toned females selected do not represent the average, real woman; they represent, on the contrary, a model figure that is desired and admired, but hardly attainable.
Of course, we are talking about the entertainment industry here, a business based on glamour and sex appeal. But the reality of entertainment does not mean that these artists should be immune from criticism. Despite their explicit and even offensive content, these music videos are popular; millions of viewers watch them so essentially the producers are giving the people what they want. Still, it is difficult to ignore the degree of objectification and even misogyny at play in both "Blurred Lines," and "Tunnel Vision" among many other videos. While many may chose to embrace these videos for the sake of entertainment, we should be critical and not blindly accept every aspect of pop culture as mere artistic expression. Every form of art is sending a message — so what is the signal emitted by these videos?