Miley Cyrus attended the Amsterdam MTV EMA’s this weekend, sporting a semi-transparent body suit and a camel knuckle. She made sure to parade around her new found controversial persona, lighting a spliff when receiving her award, “twerking” in the face and grabbing the breasts of a PVC coated dwarf during her performance. More shocking than her performance, was her award for having the “Best Music Video” for her song “Wrecking Ball”, which consists of her simply taking off her clothes, riding a wrecking ball and licking various tools. This pretty much lacks creativity from anyone’s perspective, yet seems to be a hit with the MTV Awards. Niki Minaj “Starships” was the awards predecessor.
So why is it that video’s like these are claimed to be “best music videos” when they contain no narrative or anything, being not only crude within images and wardrobe, but in its lack of creativity and imagination. In my eyes a music video should have a relation to the meaning of a song, to be able to establish a meaning within a song and share this to the audience visually. What makes these so special?
During an interview with Nick Grimshaw on his Radio 1 Breakfast show, Cyrus explains that raunchy behaviour grabs attention. By shocking viewers and having them notice, they pay attention and then begin to think “oh this girl can hold a note”. Another interviewer from the BBC asked: “you’re trying to establish yourself as a new artist, how is it you have managed to do that? A lot of people who become famous when they are young have really struggled”, Miley replies: “I think the reason why it doesn’t work is because people are like okay, how are we going to make them grow up… I didn’t always play up the whole squeaky clean thing, so it wasn’t hard for me to break out of that”. Basically her reasoning is that she’s trying to grab attention, and break out of her Disney day’s persona in order not to fail. As wild as it may be, is it true?
Look at the development of Katy Perry’s success. According to Perry’s IMDB Biography profile, she grew up with little exposure to mainstream pop and is the middle child of pastor parents. Perry’s career started at the age of 15 when she joined a gospel choir and released an independent album which brought her nothing more than the experience of singing and song writing. Two years later she joined Christian record label Red Hill which again brought her no success. With a Christian background and religious parents it seems a bit out of the ordinary for Perry’s future make-over.
After the use of social networking site MySpace to promote her songs, an executive at Virgin Records recommended her to their chairman and was then signed to Capitol Records. It was from here she released her controversial song ‘I Kissed a Girl’ which hit number 1 in numerous countries. She was now “established as a pop super star and cemented her position” (IMDB, 2013) by releasing songs such as ‘California Gurls’ (images above). It was this look that consequently made her a world renowned pop star. Katy Perry wasn’t the only one who used this technique either, many female pop artists seem to grasp onto the idea that buy showing “female empowerment” via raunchy music videos and skimpy fashion, they would be able to grab attention and latch onto stardom. Rihanna is another example, who coincidentally also decided to use sexuality in her videos and was hurtled into success. Below is her music video “S&M”, the title itself being the abbreviation of “Sadism and Masochism”, the psychiatric term for someone who receives sexual pleasure by inflicting pain upon others.
Rihanna’s video combines a lot of creative imagery, semiotics and camera technology to intensely give a sense of sexualisation being the key to power. Throughout the music video, Rihanna places herself in positions which highlight her authority over the male gender; these are then reinforced through creative cinematography. In one scene (as seen in the top two screenshots of the selection above), Rihanna walks out of her very much 50’s era house onto her front lawn, walking a male on a leash. The imagery as she walks the man on the leash works by showing her in a higher status to the man who acts moronically like a slaved obedient dog. Other imagery that suggests that she’s breaking free is in the forth screenshot. In this we see Rihanna literally breaking free of her puppeteer like bonds, and strains to gnaw away at them persistently as she is surrounded by a minimalistic plain wallpapered background (which signifies the monotonous plain life of a patriarchal woman), and is surrounded and trapped within the box shaped room and pink misty vignette. The rest of the video is swarmed with inter-cuts which simply consist of sexualised, close up images of Rihanna metaphorically implementing references to sex. One of these images can be seen in the final screenshot. The depth of field (the amount of focus in which separates the foreground from its background) is extremely high, focusing primarily on the sexual gaze of her eyes as she tempts the male audience by emphasising her sexuality, whilst gazing into the lens suggesting some sense of dominance.
“Coincidentally”, in 2011 (the same year this video was released), Rihanna won the award of “Sexiest Woman Alive 2011” by Esquire Magazine. Sound familiar? Clue, Miley Cyrus, she wins the award the same year she introduced this new controversial being.
Returning to Katy Perry, it’s unfair to say she followed this concept throughout her musical career; in fact it’s an interesting fact. Soon after Katy Perry’s fame took a rise, her music videos became more meaningful and contained an actual narrative. It’s interesting that her first approach to concurring the music industry through her independent, tame, Christianity approved music failed, yet when producing the sexual nature of the songs which are seen in ‘I Kissed a Girl’ and ‘California Gurls’ enabled her to achieve her success. From here however, she soon started to create videos in which had a narrative and a meaning which related to the lyrics in which she wrote, these dropping the whole sexual aroma of her earlier videos. Could it be that Perry just used the technique of using her sexuality as empowerment in order to get where she wanted to be? And once she arrived at her status felt she was able to produce her music in a way she initially wanted to, with something of meaning and of less sexual reference? But it simply took that something to get her noticed.
Perry also performed Sunday night at the Amsterdam MTV EMA Awards, but grabbed attention in an entirely different way than Miley’s. Her beautiful and elegant choreography and fully clothed shimmering attire stole the awards as the best performance of the night, without the need of giving old men heart attacks from the overload of flesh Miley unleashed. She also took away the “Best Female” award, a far greater achievement then music video which rarely has any control over by the artists themselves. Perry no longer seems to need the shock factor now she’s cracked the industry.
Is it possible Miley is following the same route as them, is she an example of the effect of what sexualised music videos has on the next generation, being taught to believe that by flaunting herself sexually she can be hurtled into success. I’m not trying to make her sound innocent, but after seeing examples unfold before her that by becoming outrageous and being in touch with her sexuality she can grab fame, it’s possible. She’s taking it too far, but it’s working, gossip, magazine articles, interviews, awards is quickly making her one of the most talked celebrities out there, shattering her previous persona of Disney squeaky clean to being an outrageous and a powerful individual. It’s a shame that as a new, young and supposedly creative individual had to follow previous examples rather than making her own. Artists such as Taylor Swift after all didn’t need it. Narrowed down, it seems like a weak and easy way to bust into the industry, but it get’s results, and the MTV Awards are only reassuring it.