During the annual John Peel lecture 2013, Charlotte Church has announced that the music industry has a “culture of demeaning women”, a statement that adds further fuel to the now blazing debate about ‘appropriate’ behaviour from young stars, particularly young women. After Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Sinead O’Connor and Amanda Palmer contributed loudly to the conversation, more and more stars, particularly women, are adding their thoughts. So is the public finally waking up to the accepted misogyny of the music industry or are old fashioned ideals about the purity of women getting in the way of younger generations embracing and exploiting their own sexuality?
I wrote a piece recently for Planet Ivy discussing Annie Lennox’s comments about the “pornographic” nature of music videos, and furthermore, how such content can affect young girls. http://planetivy.com/sound/77801/annie-lennox-needs-to-give-young-people-the-credit-they-deserve/ The question that is ultimately raised is – by viewing music videos and performances that contain overt sexuality are young girls encouraged to demean themselves for approval OR are they invited to see their bodies and sexuality has their own identity to do with as they wish?
Charlotte Church states that the music business is “a male dominated industry with a juvenile perspective on gender and sexuality” and perhaps more importantly that it seeks out “sex objects that appear child-like”. In an age of Operation Yewtree and pornography being accessible to anyone with a search engine, you can see why these issues need to be raised. It is not a new thing by any means, the music industry, and in fact any industry that relies heavily on sales to the public, uses sex to sell. The problem is that telling someone a deodorant will make them more attractive isn’t quite the same on the moral scale as dressing up teenage Britney Spears as a hyper sexualised schoolgirl in the Hit Me Baby One More Time video. At almost the opposite end of the scale you have artists who take their manipulation of femininity to such extremes they are almost daring the viewer to see them as sexual objects. Musicians like Nicki Minaj, Madonna and arguably Lady Gaga take nudity and sexuality as a fact of life, and within their use of it also question the patriarchy. If you can bear it, watch the video for Minaj’s Stupid Hoe http://youtu.be/T6j4f8cHBIM and look at how she presents herself to the audience. Still within the confines of a pop music video, Minaj addresses issues of Barbie like expectations of women, the entrapment of women within a patriarchal society and women attacking women with use of language like slut, hoe and slag.
Whilst many will dismiss this song as just noise, there is something to be said for the remarks Minaj is making through the music video. With flashing images of Barbie dolls, the use of a bright pink car and bubblegum pink lipstick, Minaj identifies the unrealistic expectations of female appearance. Through paying a (tongue in cheek) homage to other female singers such as Shakira in She Wolf, Minaj locates where society sees women, and whether women truly can have power when they are trapped. Whilst the lyrics seem to defame other women, we could also perceive that to be an excessive use of the phrase “Stupid Hoe” leading to it having absolutely no meaning at all, and being simply a babble of syllables. Of course, it could be a direct attack on women, or even something Nicki Minaj has experienced herself. That is the great thing about music, we can project onto it our own thoughts and experiences to develop a deeper and more personal understanding. Perhaps this is a good example of how music videos are genuine stand alone pieces of art, albeit of differing impact and value culturally. So the question is still there, are we embracing feminine sexuality through the music industry, or are women still being exploited by the business?
Furthermore, why was Miley Cyrus held as the perpetrator of all things sexually deviant after VMA performance with Robin Thicke, when the Blurred Lines singer, twice her age, was performing the exact same routine, influencing the exact same audience. Where is the line, where is the blame?
Beyond all of this comes the question musicans up and down the country ask themselves every day, why is the music industry focused almost entirely on image, why isn’t good, interesting and intelligent music being given the prominence it deserves? That’s a question for another day.