If you turn on the TV or head to YouTube to find current music videos, you’ll undoubtedly be met with raunchy, sexualised videos accompanying a track that in truth – eight times out of ten – has nothing to do with sex.
Sadly, sex (this includes sexualised images) in music videos and album artwork has become normalised by the reiteration of it. It’s been used time and time again and has simply become accepted.
In today’s society, compared to some 50+ years ago, I’d like to think that, as consumers, we are a lot less naïve and understand a lot more about equality. Our culture has indeed developed quite rapidly in recent years; where celebrities and musicians were just obsessed over in the past, they are now watched 24/7 through Twitter and Instagram, which means they have to stay interesting. With this development sex and the media have truly joined forces, intentional or not, in such a way that it’s a commonplace for women (and men too) to become objects of desire through sexualised imagery. But do these erotic images actually help to sell records any more? I’m not so sure.
Take Miley Cyrus, for example. The squeaky clean disney star, turned manufactured country singer, turned raunchy pop star has been on a constant media whirlwind, since she released her video for the drug and party themed ‘We Can’t Stop‘. The accompanying video portrayed Miley as a party-loving, carefree woman. She ‘twerked’ her way through the video without a care in the world. And why? Because she knew that it would get people talking. Miley even stated on Alan Carr’s Chatty Man talk show recently, when discussing her steamy VMA performance, “People are going to be talking about me whatever I do, so I might as well get people to keep talking about me while I can”.
When her video for ‘Wrecking Ball’ surfaced, people wanted to watch it regardless of any prior knowledge to what the video might entail, based on the sheer hype from her ‘We Can’t Stop’ video. Of course, viewers weren’t disappointed as she swung naked on a large wrecking ball and licked a sledgehammer. But her choices in the ‘Wrecking Ball’ video made sure it spread like wild fire across the web, making it the fasted watched video on VEVO. Ever.
So, what was it that made people watch? Was it because she was naked? Or because of the controversy around her decision to appear naked? For me it’s the latter. If the video had been about sex then it would have been understandable. But it wasn’t. The rocky ballad had no indication of sex in it whatsoever – so why the need? Because it’s controversial.
In my opinion, times have changed. Women are more clued up and not afraid to stand back and say “actually, Miley, that’s not okay” and I believe people respect that now. Of course there are some adverts that still use sex to promote their product or suggest that the lifestyle advertised, will come with the product bought, but we aren’t naïve enough to actually believe it 100% – I hope not anyway. But what this means is, artists can’t get away with being out rightly sexual to no avail anymore. Therefore when they do, it’s not the sex itself that gets people talking and interested.
Without the sex bit, there would be less controversy and without the controversy less people would be interested. So ultimately, yes, as a contributing factor, sex does sell, but not in the way we’ve understood it to in the past. Of course, it’s not just sex that racks up conversation. See Rihanna and her openness about drug taking in public appearances, but that’s a separate discussion. These artists know what they are doing by the choices they make, and what those choices are capable of achieving – sex might be part of their controversial ‘image’ but that alone is not what is making them popular or selling their music.
Written by Bryony Curtis