New Music through Old Ears – The evolution of women's objectification

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This week John Turnbull, at a reader's request, tackles the objectification of women through the history of music videos, with interesting results.

Be careful what you wish for.

A few weeks ago I asked readers for suggestions of new music to review.

I received the following email from a young lady called Stacy:

As a student of human sexuality and culture I am fascinated by the objectification of the female body in popular culture throughout the ages, from the Rubinesque nudes of the Renaissance to the androgenous appeal of a young Kate Moss.

I would like to read a review of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, along with other film clips that celebrate the female form.

Content warning:  the film clips in this column may contain nudity, adult themes and other challenging content.


Without further ado I humbly present the evolution of female objectification in music videos.

Bicycle Race – Queen (1978)

Queen - Bicycle Race from Cristian Molina on Vimeo.

Queen were one of the first bands to make music videos with Bohemian Rhapsody. Then they decided to hold a nude bicycle race.

For these reasons alone, Queen are the greatest rock and roll band of all time.

The video in question was banned on most TV stations at the time of release and branded ‘filth’ by religious types and social conservatives.

It was all just a bit of harmless fun, really.

Obscenity rating: 2/10

Girls on Film – Duran Duran (1981)

This was the song that made Duran Duran a household name in the early 80s.

Not least because the film clip featured topless women with big hair, pillow fighting, mud wrestling and generally frolicking about.

Admittedly, the lyrics of the song are about the aforementioned girls, but it’s still all a little sleazy.

Obscenity rating: 4/10

Girls Girls Girls – Motley Crue (1987)

Vince, Tommy, Mick and Nikki go to a strip club.

Pole dancing, thongs, shaking breasts and random motorcycle riding ensue.

The song is about strippers, and Motley Crue certainly look like they’re at home in a gentleman’s club, which somehow makes it all seem slightly less offensive.

Obscenity rating: 5/10

Alice Cooper – Poison (1989)

Alice Cooper - Poison by centrum99

This song introduced me to the music of Alice Cooper.

It’s reasonable to assume that my burgeoning interest was somewhat enhanced by this risque film clip.

Alice and his band rock out in front of a wind machine while a topless brunette writhes among hanging chains.

The lyrics of the song are about a dangerous woman, and the model in question certainly seems to fit that criteria.

On the upside, Alice doesn’t seem to actively ogle the young lady. This is a good thing as he is old enough to be her grandfather.

The chains seem to suggest an element of consensual bondage – but it’s probably not a clip you want to watch with your parents.

Obscenity rating: 6/10

Justify My Love – Madonna (1990)

MADONNA JUSTIFY MY LOVE from Markus Maverick on Vimeo.

Good looking people writhe in black and white as Madonna gets freaky with a handsome latino man.

Madge got famous by flaunting her sexuality, so it’s no surprise that she uses nudity as a tool of female empowerment in this controversial video.

Once again conservative pundits could rail against the decline of morals in society, and Madonna sold a lot of albums and concert tickets.

Everybody wins.

Obscenity rating: 4/10

Closer – Nine Inch Nails (1994)

Nine Inch Nails: Closer (Uncensored) (1994) from Nine Inch Nails on Vimeo.

A disturbing film clip with nudity thrown in to disorient rather than titillate.

This song remains Trent Reznor’s best known work.

The uncensored clip was not widely seen due to the creepy content, including severed pigs heads, bondage imagery and general weirdness.

Probably not a good idea to watch the above clip before you go to bed, or if you’re of a sensitive demeanour.

Obscenity rating: 5/10

Lapdance – N*E*R*D (2002)

A young Pharrell Williams and a couple of other dudes grope topless women, clearly flaunting the ‘no touching’ rules of an actual lapdance.

Or so I’ve heard.

The new millennium seems to bring a new level of objectification to music videos, as the women in this clip are clearly portrayed as playthings for the men to enjoy.

Obscenity rating: 7/10

Bad Romance – Lady Gaga (2009)

Lady Gaga - Bad Romance from saslan on Vimeo.

The second entry in the ‘female empowerment’ category, Lady Gaga proves that you can take your clothes off and still be powerful.

Gaga has long used fetish wear to attract attention, but takes it to the Nth degree in this video, stripped by strangers and crawling on her hands and knees.

While I don’t particularly care for Gaga’s music, there is no doubt she promotes individuality and belief in yourself – which is certainly obscene to some of the more conservative members of society.

Obscenity rating: 3/10

Blurred Lines - Robin Thicke featuring Pharrell & T.I. (2013)

The first thing I wondered when I saw Robin Thicke was if he was related to Alan Thicke, the guy who played the father on Growing Pains (update: he is).

This led me to think that Kirk Cameron, who played young hunk Mike Seaver on Growing Pains, would probably not like this film clip.

The version of this video that you might see on MTV is borderline pornographic, but this online or late night version is out and out porn.

Featuring thong-clad women dancing provocatively for the camera, while the singers ogle them and exude an air of punchable smugness.

It’s little surprise this song has gone to number one on the charts on the back of online views alone.

The lyrics seem to have little to do with the gratuitous nudity.

You have to wonder if the models involved think they will one day be working alongside Ryan Gosling while reminiscing fondly about their time as ‘naked chick number 7’ in this seedy clip?

Obscenity rating:  10/10

Not reviewed: Born Villain by Marilyn Manson (clip is just too disturbing for IA) or anything featuring Britney Spears (for obvious reasons).

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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