Dear Music Industrial Complex,
Do you mind if I call you Mic? I normally don’t write about pop music, but I am upset. I know that sex sells, but may I make a special request of no more music videos consisting of purely women’s undulating butts? In 2014 alone, I have been subjected to the waxed and oiled derrieres of Beyoncé in all but two of her 14 videos released this year, of Rihanna and Shakira in I Can’t Remember to Forget You, of Nicki Minaj in Anaconda, and now of Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea in their Booty video.
When the venerable New York Times is writing about butts, the butt needs to stop here.
I assure you that my assessment is not based on any prudery or dislike of music videos. First, I am a feminist who has no problem with sexualised imagery, as long as it represents consensual, respectful and mutually pleasurable sexuality. Second, I grew up with MTV in the 80s and 90s, when it actually played music. I chart my adolescence through the turnkey events in music videography in ways that my parents did with Motown records.
But before you respond, allow me to address your potential rebuttals as it relates to the consent, respect, and mutual pleasure of women making booty videos.
Yes Mic, I know that these women have consented to appear in these videos scantly clad with oiled up posteriors. Very few people would question the power of Beyoncé or J-Lo to control and decide upon their images. But how far does that power go when they work in an industry in which three companies (Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Vivendi Universal, and EMI and Warner) control 75% of the global market? Jack Bishop describes this 75% monopoly as a textbook example of an oligarchy:
This oligonomic condition gives the record labels the power to have the best of both worlds as they fashion anaemic artist contracts to obtain low-cost content, then sell that content to music buyers at inflated retail prices in the market, which it controls.
With that much control over the market, even the most powerful female artists, such as Beyoncé or J-Lo, must still adhere to the dictates of the mostly male and white executives or their music will not get promoted.
It has been rumoured that Queen Bey’s late night release of all her music and visuals at once was due to her record label Columbia, which is under Sony BMG Music Entertainment, refusing to promote the record. The women might consent but under conditions of economic coercion, in which the threat of withholding promotion affects the decisions made by the artist who wants to get paid.
Yes Mic, I know that the fact these women feel comfortable displaying their sexuality is about female empowerment. Your media keeps telling me so. According to Richard Sennett, respect requires that one recognise the intrinsic worth of a person and treat said person with dignity and regard.
This was the case with Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back song and video, when originally released in 1992. Although controversial at the time, the message that I, as an African-American 20-year-old with curves, did not have to conform to Caucasian standards of beauty to be considered sexy was empowering.
The lyrics show that the song was just as much a social critique as a praise of “thick soul sisters” butts:
- So Cosmo says you’re fat
- Well I ain’t down with that!
- ‘Cause your waist is small and your curves are kickin’
- And I’m thinkin’ bout stickin’
Rob Kemp’s 2013 oral history of the video provides context. Sir Mix-A-Lot was seeking to reaffirm the intrinsic worth of women of colour with curves, especially his then girlfriend Amylia Dorsey-Rivas:
Pop culture says that if a black girl is to be taken seriously, she has to assimilate and be as white as possible, to the point of bleaching her hair blonde. But the entire point of the song was the opposite.
Now that the “big butt” movement has been co-opted by Caucasian women, such as Kim Kardashian, Iggy Azalea, Megan Trainor, and Jen Selter – who had a New York Times article about her posterior – Caucasian standards of beauty regarding butts have been successfully altered.
The question I ask you is whether these videos help us approach these women with a sense of dignity and regard. In other words, do the lyrics and the videos of these booty songs convey belief in the women’s self-pride or care for their interpersonal dynamics of the women’s relationships?
I admit there is a spectrum. Beyoncé has stated the Yoncé/Partition song and video was about her regaining a sense of self as a sexual woman following her pregnancy. The lyrics speak to the dynamics between her and her husband Jay-Z:
- Driver roll up the partition please [×2]
- I don’t need you seeing Yoncé on her knees
- Took 45 minutes to get all dressed up
- We ain’t even gonna make it to this club
On the other end of the spectrum is J-Lo and Iggy’s Booty song. While the song does have a “big booty” pride call, the lyrics and the visuals do not lead me to care about either woman as people:
- All the sexy girls in the party
- Go and grab a man, bring him to the dance floor
- Go on let them jeans touch you while you’re dancing
- It’s his birthday, give him what he ask for
My concern, Mic, is that you are using undulating women’s butts to compensate for the poor quality of some of the artists’ pop music. This means that according to pop writer, Bill Lamb, pop is failing one of its core tenets—to bring pleasure:
This music, usually called pure pop or power pop, typically consists of relatively brief (not over 3 ½ minutes) songs played on the standard electric guitar, bass and drums with vocals that have a very strong catchy chorus, or hook. Art is not a concern. Audience pleasure in listening to the song is the primary goal.
The visuals associated with music are supposed to enhance the pleasure of listening to the song. I am not expecting art, but it is not a good sign when people on music boards are saying that they prefer to watch J-Lo and Iggy’s video with the sound off.
I remind you that the titillation value of such visual “booty” casting is limited when there is so much free pornography available on the internet.
I know I am not the target demographic for pop music, but I am an avid purchaser of pop music. If I promise to buy entire albums instead of singles, would you consider less of “da butt” in women’s music videos?