First Considerations of Gender and Music

Gender and Music are inseparable. I always knew they were related, that is obviously, but today I learned how related gender and music are.  I watched Nicki Minaj’s new music video Anaconda for the first time and the video was definitely interesting to say the least, from a gender perspective. The video was just what I expected it to be. Minaj’s video clearly objectifies women by exploiting her sex appeal. The surprising part was the lyrics. The lyrics don’t match the exploitative video at all. Instead, the lyrics empower women. Now that is empowering women to take control in their sex lives, but still the tone is definitely an empowering one. Has this bizarre combination  always been there and I had just failed to notice? After comparing Anaconda to one of my first music videos, Survivor, I think it has .

Beginning with the lyrics, it seems that both songs tackle the same theme of female power from very different angles. Minaj takes the angle of power by having sexual control. She makes it clear that she lets men have the privilege of pleasuring her—not the other way around. Usually it is men that have multiple women, but here Minaj is taking the dominant role over her men. In contrast to Minaj’s version of power, the version presented in Survivor is power by self-sufficiency. The message that women can not only survive without a man but thrive comes through loud and clear. The members of Destiny’s Child need no men to make them smart, wise or happy and this makes them powerful. Interestingly, on the other end of the spectrum Minaj needs men so that she can have control over them so that she can be powerful. This may suggest that while female power has remained a central theme in pop culture, its depiction is becoming less self-centered and increasingly relative.

Lyrics are very central to music videos but so are more visual aspects such as clothing choice. Both Minaj and the members of Destiny’s Child were scantily clad, but I’d definitely have say that Nicki takes the cake. Sporting a bra and thong for the majority of the video, Minaj is as close to naked as one can get without actually being naked. Though it would seem that this clear exploitation of her sexuality would undermine the whole power to the women message, I actually find that Minaj’s lack of clothes matches the lyrics quite well. Anaconda is clearly about sex, so why should Minaj not be dressed as though she’s about to be pleasured? Survivor however is not at all about sex. Though the members of Destiny’s Child are wearing more clothes than Minaj even the slightest hint of sex appeal in this video seems inherently wrong. It’s contradictory. It screams we don’t need men to take care of them, but we need their attention. Personally I would have much rather seen Destiny’s Child come out in something ultra-masculine or conservative, but I guess I may be alone in that feeling. As many note, clearly clothes worn by performers have become skimpier. I ask is this skimpiness not justified by the nature of songs today. Anaconda is much more sexual than Survivor. Are we really objectifying women any more than previously, or has the objectification just changed? Some likely feel that the clothing choice in current music videos are degrading, tasteless and unnecessary, but I feel it is much more so when done in a context that doesn’t justify the clothing choices.

Clothes, check, lyrics, check, but this wouldn’t be a music video wouldn’t be a music video without some action. Butt shaking, floor humping, and lap dancing holistically summarizes Minaj’s “dancing”, and Destiny’s Child does some fairly provactive dancing—albeit less provocative than Minaj—themselves. They crawl around and twerk a bit but nothing to terrible. In general both videos feature the usual self-touches, and seductive looks associated with music videos by female performers. It’s interesting to note that Destiny’s Child does quite a bit more dancing in their video than Minaj does in hers.Why? I am not so sure but you could easily argue that Minaj and her body are such a distraction that dancing isn’t really as necessary to hold the viewers’ interest. Whereas the members of Destiny’s Child, whose bodies are a bit less of an anomaly, must constantly act to hold the viewers’ interest.

Now considering all that can be taken from these two videos we can’t forget the fact that Survivor, released in 2001, is nearly 15 years older than Anaconda. So what does this say about females in music videos? While slight changes seem to have been made in public perception, the major themes, clothing choices and dancing seems to be the same. Based on these two cases it seems as though little has changed in the way female gender is portrayed in music videos. So for those out there concerned about the perception of women, at least nothing has gotten any worse, right?

 

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