This week the fine line which exists between artistic concepts and the way young girls are portrayed by the media has been debated. Sia’s new video for her track “Elastic Heart” casts the incredibly talented Maddie Ziegler of Dance Moms, who also danced the lead in Sia’s previous single, “Chandelier.” While pre-pubescent girls in skin-colored leotards dancing are nothing new (there have been centuries of ballet dancers who have worn much the same costumes), the latest video sees a nearly nude Shia LaBoeuf dancing with Maddie. There have been concerns raised about the potential pedophilic undertones in the video, prompting Sia to respond with a statement apologizing to those who feel upset by it. But is this a case of a storm in a teacup or a legitimate concern about the portrayal and use of young girls in music videos? Same old media frenzy that happens when women don’t stick to the usual tropes of music videos or a valid argument about the need to be especially vigilant of how young girls are featured in the media to avoid early sexualization? With a media storm brewing, here’s a look at the top five most controversial videos by female artists. Comment below and let’s join the debate.
Rihanna “Man Down”
A video that starts with the premeditated murder of Rihanna’s former lover and then slides into a ridiculously catchy reggae style song by the Princess of Pop features highly on many “most watched videos” lists. But this video’s controversy comes from Rihanna’s reasons for shooting the man. Although the lyrics state that she doesn’t know why she’s killed him, the video shows this to be a retaliation for sexual harassment or rape.
Lady Gaga and Beyonce “Telephone”
An all-female jail plus choreographed dance routines in studded leather underwear and a pair of glasses made from still-lit cigarettes. The most eco-friendly hair rollers known to man. A few fist fights and a lingering lesbian kiss. We could keep going, but all you really need to know is that any video starring divas like Lady Gaga and Queen Bey is going to take things to new levels. But mostly people were outraged by the lesbian kiss and use of the word “motherfucker.” That and the high body count due to Gaga’s skills in the kitchen. A word of warning to all Little Monsters out there, it’s probably best to leave Mother Monster out of the kitchen.
Erykah Badu “Window Seat”
Needless to say, any pop video that references JFK’s assassination walks a thin line between being much loved and much hated. Erykah pushes boundaries by having a beautiful and heartfelt song playing while she walks the route the President’s car took on that fateful day. A stripped-back melody is mirrored by Badu as she strips off while walking before ending on a powerful message the depiction of which has caused outrage in some quarters.
Madonna “Like A Prayer”
An opening shot of burning crosses referencing the Ku Klux Klan’s racism and intimidating techniques is always going to spell controversy. The original boundary pushing pop superstar, Madonna, started the trend for religious iconography found in the work of Lady Gaga and the like. The real issue at the time of its release was the depiction of a black Jesus. Little did the critics know that in a few decades Morgan Freeman would be widely recognized as ‘The voice of God’ after the film Bruce Almighty.
M.I.A “Born Free”
M.I.A comes from a background of controversy, with family ties to the Tamil Tigers, a nationalist group who sought an independent state in Sri Lanka for the Tamil people. The video shocked people with the violence it depicts, as well as the theme of ethnic cleansing as people with ginger hair are rounded up by military figures and are then killed. A light-hearted pop video this is not.
Other notable videos include Natalia Kills’ “Kill My Boyfriend,” which as the name suggests, is about domestic violence; Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” which has entered into pop culture in a big way, cementing Miley as a controversial figure; and Bjork’s “Pagan Poetry,” in which the pop oddity, who constantly pushes boundaries of music and expression, sings while graphic sex scenes are shown, with one depicting skin crawling threading of strings of pearls. Through skin. And nipples. Be warned.
Title image source: rollingstone.com