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Culture, Music


by James Francis / 27.08.2013

You know that when a magazine like FHM refers to something as that video then, well, it contains nubile playthings wearing very little. But lad mags do have a tendency of running on the edge of indecency while believing they are revealing in filth – like someone trying to have a bender by drinking light beer. Yet this time the magazine has a bit of a point – that video is the one made for Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”. It features, as you might expect, nubile playthings wearing very little.

A tad harder, though, is to figure out which video FHM is referring to. There are in fact two – and both have been banished from airplay in some form or another. Both are hyper-sexualised and both will certainly give hardcore moralists a good case of gnashing teeth. Though one at least clads its female models. The other decided that tops off is the way to go. That’s right – nudity!

The question is: what’s the point? Don’t misunderstand me – I’m all for naked people on TV. At the least, if it did offend me I cannot morally demand it be removed at the detriment of others. Then again, I am not a crusading stick in the mud, which is perhaps the mentality you need to knock these kind of things down a notch. But back to that question – why put naked girls in your video? It may seem obvious – sex sells. But the clean version of Blurred Lines already attained a high degree of notoriety. It didn’t need to flash any tits.

So there goes the marketing angle. Thicke has not really spoken about this at length – the most he said is that his wife had a say in the video’s making and that, no, he’s not attractive enough to take his own kit off. But even here it is hard to figure out if he is talking about the naughtier of the versions, since both are kinda naughty anyway.

Music videos that cross this line are not new at all. Mötley Crüe’s video for “Girls, Girls, Girls” (1987) was shot in an L.A. strip club and, near the end, you do see a bit of nipple – a big no-no at the time. In fact, the gyrating dancers themselves, even scantily clad, raised eyebrows. Did Mötley Crüe want to court controversy or simply shoot a video in one of their favourite dives? With the amount of drugs they did, it’ll probably always be an open question.

The pendulum swings both ways – aggressive violence is a boundary that some videos instead choose to break. Two years prior to “Girls, Girls, Girls”, Twisted Sister enlisted the talents of gore effects godfather Tom Savini for the video of “Be Chrool To Your Scuel”. It featured zombies feeding off the living – if you are at all familiar with Savini’s work this should be explanation enough (though it retrospect the video is quite benign). Again the motivations for this (and for the entire Come Out And Play album experience) is something perhaps best assigned to Eighties excess.

Some, though, make a serious and quite blunt point. M.I.A.’s “Born Free” video is an intentional shocker – without giving away too much it involves police states, victimisation of minorities and extra-judicial killings. Much can be argued about the musician’s political grandstanding, but you can’t accuse her (or director Romain Gavras) of pulling punches. Nor do we have to wonder why the video turned out the way it did – the message is quite brutally obvious.

There is no lack of mystery either when it comes to Rammstein’s “Pussy”. In fact, they kindly explained this in an interview – the lyrics are pretty self-explanatory (the chorus includes: “You’ve got a pussy/I have a dick/So what’s the problem?/Let’s do it quick”). Rammstein approached director Jonas Åkerlund with the idea of making the world’s first porn music video (albeit softcore), with a song that already did all the heavy lifting.

And we can thank Åkerlund, who has made a surprising amount of MTV fodder, for the proverbial mother of all x-rated music videos. You know it already – it was probably what you thought of when you read this article’s headline. Yes, it’s that one from Liam, Keith and Maxim, aka. The Prodigy.

“Smack My Bitch Up” was a watershed. The song itself courted incredible controversy due to its repeated use of the titular phrase. The whole thing screamed ‘violence against women’, though in reality the line – sampled from an Ultramagnetic MCs song – is open to interpretation. Think of it this way: to some the song Hey Jude is about taking heroin. Anyway, it would appear that the music video had a point to prove and famously throws a big gender reversal spanner in the works. Yet again, if this was the band’s intention is an open question. But it worked very well. And yet “Smack My Bitch Up” certainly didn’t need a controversial video to sell more copies, though that was a welcome side-effect.


In a world where sex and machismo is slathered on to sell something, gratuitous music videos appear to be an oddity. Few, if any, seem to do it for the money. Almost all appear to fall onto the merits of being from creatives (there are exceptions – it’s hard to see Cradle Of Filth videos as anything other than extending a brand). Thicke didn’t need boobs, Prodigy didn’t need hard-partying lesbians, Rammstein didn’t need pussy in “Pussy”. Yet they did it anyway. Why? Probably because they could. Or maybe someone told them they couldn’t. Or maybe by the fourth snort it sounded like a great idea.

Whatever the reason, you can argue that when a music video crosses the line, it’s not crass. It’s a show of artistic integrity in a sea of commercial fervor. Rihanna could have easily produced an x-rated version of “S&M” (to be fair, it was still rendered age-restricted). But she didn’t, because that would never fly with the parents of teens whose money gets spent on her stuff. Suggesting nudity or violence courts controversy, but showing it makes a whole different statement.

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