Behind the Music Videos

There are some pretty cool videos out there, but you won't see them on MTV

Remember the scandal surrounding nasty lyrics and the 2 Live Crew album cover and Tipper Gore's crusade against obscenities in music? Didn't those things seem ridiculous to you when you were a kid? They did to me, and the thought of echoing the protests of, or even sympathizing with, reactionary people like Gore gives me the willies. But a recent afternoon spent in front of the idiot box watching MTV's after-school programming lineup has got me, to use the PTA's verbiage, morally outraged -- not so much at the music, which I've come to expect is going to suck, but at the videos themselves. Have you seen these things lately?

The first video on this particular afternoon's episode of Direct Effect really says it all. The song is "Can't Stop, Won't Stop" by State Property, featuring the Young Gunz. The premise for the video is that rappers Jay Z, Beanie Sigel, and others (including a charmingly named Peedi Crakk) get to be the first males admitted to an all-girls' reform school. Neat! And so, as an alarmingly simple Casio keyboard line diddles in the background, the rappers take to touting their skills while half-naked girls -- who, by the logic of the video, are in high school -- dance and wriggle. Cool!

"Can't Stop, Won't Stop" is followed by R. Kelly's charming "Thoia Thong" video, directed by Kelly himself. Aside from being instantly amused by the irony of a man facing 21 counts of child pornography having a hit single about ladies' underwear, I'm struck by the fluid nature in which the idea espoused by the song -- Thongs are awesome! -- informs the imagery of the video, i.e., all things feudal-Japan, including a samurai warrior, nunchucks, rice-paper walls, and, of course, Japanese women pole-dancing half-naked (a popular, but little-known, tradition in ancient Japanese cultures typically skipped over in history class).

Here's a hard-knocked posse of 
rappers and break dancers. What, 
you couldn't tell?
Here's a hard-knocked posse of rappers and break dancers. What, you couldn't tell?

After Kelly's piece comes a string of other videos, each more wholesome than the one before. There's Youngbloodz's "Damn!" featuring girls sucking on lollipops and dancing half-naked in the street, as well as Lil' Jon & the Eastside Boys' visionary tale "Get Low," about the trials and tribulations of half-naked girls giving lap dances to people in barbershops, half-naked girls boxing one another in kiddie pools, and half-naked girls dancing in -- why not? -- a strip club before half-naked police officers (also girls) arrive to shoot the strippers with water pistols.

My favorite, though, is the latest from Beyoncé, "Baby Boy," in which the singer lasciviously writhes and winces on a bearskin rug wearing nothing but a dishrag-size piece of chain mail. This one is so obviously suggestive that I figure it's going to cut to close-ups of anal penetration at any second (it doesn't; I think those must be on the director's cut). And, wait a second, isn't Beyoncé starring in a new movie playing a gospel singer? Is the Beyoncé camp sending a mixed message or did someone find a lost chapter of the Bible where God says, "In addition to singing my praises, thou shalt shake that ass. It's all about the drachma, my hizzos."

To be fair, the videos on MTV2 Rocks, while decidedly less misogynistic, are no more creative. Alien Ant Farm has one in which the band performs in a living room, and the music is apparently so good that nearby appliances can't help dancing. There's also A Perfect Circle's morbid vignette about an anorexic girl with (literally) a hole in her stomach, who traipses through a forest catching reptiles and throwing them down a hole, only to finally fall into the hole herself (the meaning of this video is about as clear to me as Kelly's fascination with Japan). The only thing I see all afternoon that is at all cool is Andrew W.K.'s "Never Let Down" video, in which nothing at all happens save for W.K. sitting down at a grand piano like Randy Newman at the Academy Awards and playing his song. While the action, or lack thereof, is understated, the song is an explosion of arena-rock guitars and thunderous drumming. It's the kind of tune that screams for an epic music video, so W.K. just sitting there at a piano is funny. It's called being ironic, and those exploitative fuckheads responsible for making the previously mentioned crap would do well to take a page out of W.K.'s book.

Now, some of you are probably thinking that dissing MTV videos -- or, for that matter, pop music in general -- is like shooting fish in a barrel; we all know it's poo so there's no sense in talking about it. But I think that attitude is the problem: It's like inviting your pedophile uncle (or, for that matter, R. Kelly) to your daughter's 13th birthday party and then telling the adults in attendance not to point out his "little problem." It'd be one thing if pop music were just innocuous treacle -- it sucks if people want to spend their hard-earned cash on treacle, but as long as Kelly Clarkson isn't teaching preteens about sex in the back of a Jeep, I'm cool. But when the top five requested videos in the 4 o'clock time slot feature hundreds of barely clothed girls clawing at one another for the opportunity to star-fuck some rapper, well, shouldn't we be talking about that? Isn't that fundamentally wrong? Or am I just turning into my grandfather faster than I could have ever imagined?

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