Editor's note: This article contains offensive language and content.
The 2014 MTV Video Music Awards air Sunday night, and Nicki Minaj’s new video “Anaconda” is finally out. It’s a good week for porn, er, pop.
Last year’s VMA show featured the Miley Cyrus “twerking” extravaganza. “Anaconda” is, according one enthusiastic description, about “butts.” It’s tempting to say that we’ve reached the ultimate confluence of pornography and pop, but someone will find always find a way to go lower.
Porn is everywhere, and has been, really, since the 1980’s, beginning with the technological advancement of cable television’s Video On Demand. CableTV tycoons Comcast and Viacom made millions distributing porn networks, until the internet began to make them irrelevant.
The accessibility and normalization of porn has increased the demand and expectation of racy material, causing female singers to push the boundaries of self-exposure every year. Britney Spears in a Catholic school girl outfit? Christina Aguilera fighting another girl in a boxing ring whilst half-naked? Often, “sexy” music videos from pop stars parallel common themes in pornographic films.
And with the mainstreaming of porn has come the mainstreaming of stripping. Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Iggy Azalea are just three of the many who opting to wearing close to nothing and quite literally posing as strippers. The strip club has literally and figuratively become central to pop in the pornified age of music videos.
Of course, to a lot of liberals, this is all to the good, as evidenced by media reaction to “Anaconda.”
“At last—ANACONDA IS HERE,” Jezebel’s Rebecca Rose announced on Aug. 20. Her colleague, Kara Brown, offered similar rejoicing over the release of Minaj’s “most gif-able music video ever:” “Last night at midnight, the world was finally blessed.” Blessed, according to Brown, with: “Butts. And looking at them. And slapping them. And licking them. And bouncing them. And popping them. And jiggling them. And toning them. And gently tapping them like human bongos.”
Searching for a deeper meaning, Brown announced, “This is an ode to her ‘fat ass big bitches in the club.’” And, “You may disagree with her choice of language, but I dunno guys, I just can't be mad at that.”
Language, she means, like, “My anaconda don't want none unless you got buns, hun” and “He can tell I ain't missing no meals/Come through and fuck em in my automobile” so “Fuck you if you skinny bitches WHAT?”
Entertainment Weekly’s Jenna Mullins felt “overwhelmed,” but went on to list, “all the booty moments that made us take a step back and really think about what's important in life, booty-wise.”
The Huffington Post’s Liat Kornowski gushed about, “all the butts you could ever want in a music video” while The New York Daily News’ Zayda Rivera hyped that, “Nicki Minaj has taken bootylicious to a whole new level.” MTV’s Rob Markman also noted the “booty-ful” video with “delicious eye-candy” – but emphasized, “Ms. Minaj’s latest clip is just as much about living a healthy lifestyle as it about her backside.” So it’s really a think-piece?
Of course, Minaj is celebrated today because Madonna caused a stir back in the 80’s with her risqué costumes and controversial songs, and in the 90s with more of the same, plus a book of erotic nude photos. For that, she’s lionized in some quarters as heroine.
In an article titled, “How Madonna Liberated America,” author Sara Marcus writes, “Her visionary assault on American prudery, her revelatory spreading of sexual liberation to Middle America, changed this country for the better. And that’s not old news; we’re still living it.” Madonna, Marcus wrote, is always a step ahead, daring us “to catch up with her.”
Yes, one suspects Madonna looks back on her cone shaped bra as quaintly modest. And as much as her continued antics have felt like desperate attempts to stay relevant, she rarely misses a trick (pun intended.) The awards show kiss with Brittany Spears in 2003 perfectly captured our era of gay chic and added a few years to her career.
Madonna certainly blazed a trail, and it’s impossible to look at today’s hyper-sexed pop industry without seeing her influence.
Beyoncé is perhaps the world’s biggest pop star, and she’s celebrated for using her status as a platform for appeals to feminism. But business is business, and girl power stops at the studio door.
Beyoncé unequivocally presents herself as a sex object in songs like “Naughty Girl,” and “Dance For You.” Her songs about being sexually pleasing to men have become more common than her songs about female independence, specifically in her latest track, “Partition.”
“Partition” exploits Beyoncé’s sexuality beyond any of her other music videos. The lyrics begin with a reference to performing oral sex in the back of a limo. The video depicts it for viewers everywhere (63 million+ to be precise) as she plays the role of an attention deprived wife, imagining how she could persuade her husband to notice her. Cue scenes of Beyoncé writhing around on a stage in a bejeweled thong. The video’s plot line takes us to a club where Attention Seeking Wife performs on stage as an erotic dancer. She swings around on a pole, writhes some more on chair, and then grinds against more poles. Beyoncé’s real life husband, Jay Z, plays the role of husband in the video and leisurely smokes a cigar watching his half naked wife dances stripper style. The chorus moans, “Take all of me, I just want to be that girl you like, the kind of girl you like.”
So much for female empowerment.
Not alone on the pole, Beyoncé is joined by Rihanna, who’s 2013 music video, “Pour It Up” is literally about strippers:, “Strip clubs and dollar bills, still got my money…strippers goin’ up and down them poles.”
Rihanna arrives on screen of “Pour It Up” in a diamond “bra” that barely covers her, a thong, and platform heels, of course. She proceeds to sit on a throne and after many a-crotch-shot, manages to “twerk” upside down on the chair with her legs in the air (quite a trick).
Other scenes depict women in skimpy lingerie violently shaking their posteriors, including Rihanna herself who does so, on the floor, on the chair, and on a pole. The twerking opportunities are endless, ladies!
Again, to the libertine left, this is just super. One reviewer of the video praised Rihanna for raising “the profile of pole dancing.” She continues in her article, “… a lot of people are more interested in pole dancing now … it’s athletic, it’s artistic, it’s really beautiful, it’s not about stripping or shaking your booty.” Mmm hmm.
For her part, Rihanna seems refreshingly self-aware: “I’m not a ho, I’m just ho-ish.”
It would be interesting to know how Iggy Azalea views herself. The Australian rapper is not unfamiliar with stripper-scene either. The music video “Work” portrays her giving a lap dance to a man in a bar. Her other video “Change Your Life” is based off of the 1990’s flick “Show Girls.”
In a behind the scenes video for “Change Your Life,” Azalea describes the location of the music video as a “topless bar,” where her character works as a stripper before becoming a show girl. The environment is made complete with an array of see-through mesh body suits and lingerie – one scene even shows Azalea in nipple pasties. One video commenter asked, “Was Iggy a stripper before?”
The symmetry between pop and stripping isn’t accidental. In cities like Miami and Atlanta, it is not uncommon for Strip clubs and hip-hop producers to work together to create club hits. Record label executives bring their records to strip clubs in order to determine the song’s potential – if the strippers are dancing to it, then it’s a success and will be played for the thousands who enjoy the night life. Often, these strip club hits will trickle into mainstream sources like the radio. In 2003, rapper Lil Jon promoted “Get Low” in a strip club, stating, “the butts don’t lie.”
The increase of Culture Queens posing as strippers correlates to modern society’s normalization of pornography. The blending of adult entertainment on premium cable packages has undoubtedly normalized and increased pornographic viewership. (In 2010, Time Warner Cable experienced a“technical glitch,” resulting a porngraphic station being featured on Kids On Demand. The children asked their mother why Tom n’ Jerry featured naked women that morning.) Porn is now accessible through smart phones and tablets.
According to an American study, the porn industry is expected to reach $2.8 billion per year by 2015 and 9 out of 10 boys have been exposed to porn before the age of 18. Websites like Women’s Health are constantly spewing articles that encourage porn use, claiming porn promotes healthy relationships.
Sadly, all the moaning drowns out the voices of men and women speaking out about the destruction porn has visited on their lives. Critics are called prudes and “sex-haters,” and told to go back to the 1950s.
But not everyone is insensible to damage of a pornified culture. A Telegraph.uk writer reviewed Beyoncé’s “Partition” video, stating: “She is reinforcing the idea that, in order to be desirable, women have to adopt fantasies promulgated by men.” Beyoncé’s song and video illustrates the conception of the porn industry: women acting out the sexual fantasies of men in order to be what they “like” (for money.)
Morality aside, can that be good for our daughters?