361MC: – The Female image, sexism and misogyny in music videos

After our initial idea had been created by myself and the band, we began to refine it and alter certain takes on it. Most notably, was the factor that was raised surrounding the very controversial topic of misogyny and the female image in general. This is one aspect of music videos that is always brought up and usually generates a debate, due to the fact that it is always so prevalent in mainstream music video and the over-sexualised image of certain female artists in the latest chart toppers is usually pushed to the forefront.

This brings up an interesting point and counterpoint surrounding the female image in that on the one hand it could be seen as an appalling means of exploitation and degrading towards women; as a means of being the most effective way to secure viewership and therefore profit. On the other hand, it could also be seen as a way to empower women in that they are being looked up to in adoration by the viewing masses and are regarded as ‘successful’ ‘artists’ in the mainstream music industry.  But is it right to objectify women in this way?

One example of this controversy is Robin Thicke’s hugely successful R&B song ‘Blurred Lines’. “Blurred Lines has sparked feminist ire, been banned in (20) university bars (due to its lyrics being construed to promote rape and its very prominent sexual connotations) and inspired a National Theatre production. Now the 2013 Robin Thicke track has been named the UK’s biggest selling download, topping the list of 100 singles in the all-time official download chart.” (Vincent, 2014)

The paradox of this however is that, obviously, despite the huge backlash and controversy, the song has proved to be massively successful, selling “more than 1.5 million downloads since it was released in May last year.” (Vincent, 2014)

This is a similar concept to the ‘video nasties’ movement of cinema in the 1970s and 1980s and exploitation film, where the constant backlash against them and outraged news headlines served as a great publicity tool for the films that were being penalized and enabled them to gain an incredible amount of notoriety; creating curiosity in the public’s mind to see the film for themselves. That same conceit applies here, as broadcast, print and e-media tell of how controversial Blurred Lines actually is, this is still at its core serving as a way to publicize the song; even if it’s not in a positive light, this making more people listen to the song and if they so wish purchase it also.

What’s interesting about this massive controversy surrounding the song is that there are still many other songs in the charts, performed by both men and women, that are also incredibly sexually suggestive in their lyrical content and image. These never seem to be brought to anyone’s attention though, or at least not to the level that Blurred Lines certainly was. This could be argued that whilst those other videos do contain sexualized images and lyrical content, they are often not the point of the entire song and may only offer a few suggestive lines occasionally. Blurred Lines however makes it the point of the entire song, with a very repetitive chorus and hook; offering two versions of music video, regular and explicit. This is what has come under fire the most surrounding the song, with the three women in the song dancing around topless and portrayed as very passive around Robin Thicke. Whilst some might argue that in other songs, the women, although sexualized, serve as a way to empower women (such as Beyonce’s Run the World (Girls) ) this is because the women are portrayed as active and, although sometimes ethically questionable, are empowering. This is the one problem in Blurred Lines in that it at no point shows women in an active and engaging sense. In many respects, they are just seen dancing in the background and idolizing Robin Thicke and the other featured artists. At the end of it all, they are reduced to nothing more than ‘set dressing’. However, in defense to the song and the video, Robin Thicke stated that the song and the video are two completely separate entities, and the song itself, Blurred Lines, is actually about the equality of men and women. Also, as misogynistic as the video is argued to be, the song was directed by a woman, Diane Martel.

 

With this issue with music videos in mind, myself and the band agreed we had to change our angle on the video involving the female role, as we realised that we were guilty of portraying our female character as not necessarily misogynistic, but passive with the active focus being on the band. Now we have come to this realization, we have considered switching the roles and having the female character as being the active and dominating force whilst the band, or at least the band’s frontman, is shown as being the weaker and more passive member of the duo. This also brings up another interesting paradox in highlighting the double-standards in music videos and the media in general. Ironically, when men are portrayed as passive in a media piece, no backlash ever seems to be directed towards it. It is only when men are shown to be more active than women that controversy begins.

Vincent, A. (2014) The Telegraph – ‘Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines is most downloaded track in the UK‘ [online] available from: http://telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/music-news/10778017/Robin-Thickes-Blurred-Lines-is-most-downloaded-track-in-the-UK.html [23 April 2014]

Unknown. 2013.Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines (Unrated Version) ft. T.I., Pharrell” (2013 )Available at: https://youtube.com/watch?v=zwT6DZCQi9k : [9 Jan 2014].

Unknown. 2011.Beyoncé – Run the World (Girls” (2011)Available at: https://youtube.com/watch?v=VBmMU_iwe6U : [9 Jan 2014].

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