A brief history of feminism in music videos


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A brief history of feminism in music videos

‘I woke up like dis’

If you watch any rap video in 2016, there’s going to be a lot of jiggling booties. There’s going to be ‘Henny sipping’ and ‘bitch fucking’ and ‘fat asses’. There’s going to be greased up titties, dangling, diamond encrusted chains and tea spilling. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with butts bouncin’. But when paired with lyrics like ‘Bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks/Lick on these nuts and suck the dick’ (as eloquently put by Snoop Dogg), the woman’s body becomes a prop to illustrate the misogynistic rapper in question’s point. Alongside those lyrics, a big ol’ juicy butt would be to showcase Snoop’s point, that women are just butts to him.

And then women got fed up with this shit.

When a new banger drops, everyone eagerly awaits the corresponding music video. With the intrinsic sexism that features all too regularly in music videos, what place could be better to reclaim the female form, than in music videos? If you can wade through the rap bullshit, feminism in music videos is alive and well, and I’ve composed a list of the best. (NB: obviously all of these songs are bangers too).

None Of Your Business – Salt N Pepa: 1993

Salt N Pepa take the classic trope of ‘writhing around in jelly’ and sexily dancing around in satin underwear, and make it as unsexy as possible. They snarl at the camera as they roll around in a thick soupy porridge, and insert clips of a huge, grunting man shouting at the screen. The lyrics ‘How many rules am I to break before you understand/That your double-standards don’t mean shit to me?’ are chased up by the slightly less nuanced ‘Never mind the guy who I took home, to bone’, with a visceral emphasis on the word ‘bone’.

The lyrics show that woman can not only have sex, but talk about sex in the gross way that men do, too. The video then cuts to a male strip show, flipping the male gaze to the unconventional female one. Also: snaps for including LGBTQ relationships in the video. For the early 90’s, this was huge.

Christina Aguilera – Can’t Hold Us Down: 2002

Let’s forget the weird ghetto cultural appropriation-esque setting Xtina’s gone for here, just for a sec. Christina attempts to stand up for women from all walks of life in this video (and chooses to spotlight the women in ‘the ghetto’, which is perhaps where the possibly misguided video comes from), the very first line of the song is ‘So what am I not supposed to have an opinion/Should I be quiet just because I’m a woman?’.

The video culminates in a male/female dance off, where Xtina grabs a hose and sprays it out of her crotch at the men – it’s supposed to look like a man’s dick, obviously. It’s definitely entry level feminism, but the message is what counts, and it still rings true.

Janelle Monae ft Erykah Badu – Q.U.E.E.N. 2013

Aside from this being a massive vibey, classy banger, she manages to parody current-day music videos without demeaning the women that star in them. She contrasts lines like ‘is it peculiar that she twerks in the mirror?’ with ‘am I freak to have my skirt on the ground?’. Basically, she takes the piss out of the ever-changing rules men implement upon us and expect us to keep up with and adhere to (‘will he approve the way I’m made?). All whilst wearing a tux. I fucking love her, man.

Anaconda – Nicki Minaj 2014

Firstly, Nicki’s Anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun. In other words – it’s an anthem for the bigger girls, something that just doesn’t exist in pop music. Secondly, remember, this is Nicki’s Anaconda. The video might be beautiful girls twerking in booty shorts but Nicki isn’t letting you forget that she’s the one who wears the trousers; an image which really hits home when she starts chopping and savagely biting a banana whilst a ‘crazy’ cackle is played over the top and she screams ‘I GOT A BIG FAT ASS’.

Nicki realises she’s using all the classically ‘sexy’ tropes of a pop video, but at no moment does she let you forget that she’s satirizing them for her, not the male viewer. Even at the end where she’s grinding on Drake, he sits there helpless, and as soon as he tries to touch her butt? Playtime’s over, buddy.

Flawless – Beyoncé 2014

I’m not the biggest fan of this song, but as soon as you play a Chimamanda Ngozi clip over the top of your song, it’s bound to become a feminist anthem. And although ‘I woke up like dis’ has since been plastered on, like, a thousand tacky Primark tee shirt, the message remains: beauty comes from within.

MILF Money – Fergie 2016

Fergie employs a girl gang of women that the world just doesn’t want to see as feminists (Kim K and some supermodels, anyone?) to show that motherhood can be sexy. The video proves that it’s possible to keep the breasts (that are used to rear their children), and the breasts that the world see as their sexual value, entirely separate. The video shows Chrissy Teigen breastfeeding baby Luna (which is stupidly still hugely taboo and shocking to see in a music video), whilst simultaneously killing it.

The video doesn’t try to sexualise breastfeeding or make it anything ‘weird’, it simply shows a duality that whilst women can flaunt their bodies and still be feminists, once they’ve had children they don’t automatically lose their sex appeal. It also proves that if a woman is showing you her breasts in a sexual way, that’s fine. But when they’re being used to feed children, that should be acknowledged as their primary function, and mothers shouldn’t be penalised for it. Basically, Fergie makes the point that you can be a fucking hot, bad ass feminist, but also a mother, and you shouldn’t have to choose between the two.

Superlove – Tinashe 2016

Tinashe literally has men pretend drowning around her so that she can ‘rescue’ them. It might seem like some ‘in your face’ English GCSE poetry imagery, but at least the tables have turned.