Sold on soft porn the sex stuff has got the hackles up over the years from middle America freaking to Elvis ramming his crotch at them in the 50s to the terror of middle England when Mick Jagger wiggled around on TV in the sixties. There were the tabloid inches and bans generated by sex in pop like Madonna’s writhing in the eighties to the terror of David Bowie half coming out to the tabloid confusion caused by gender bending.
Pop has toyed with sex, sold records on sex, and even found time to have sex in-between, It’s pretended to sell sex in the name of liberation and somehow got away with being a conservative lads club whilst enjoying the money making confusion. Pop is sex. The question is now how much and what type of sex we want it to be. Where are the boundaries? Do we leave it as it is in its Jimmy Savile tainted reality or do we allow twerking and simulated sex as being staples of the pop parade or is it a fuss about nothing? Not all art is about sex…
In recent weeks the sex debate has come back with much talk recently about the pornification of pop brought on by the Robin Thicke number one hit, Blurred Lines, which seemed to advocate that the girl who was saying no meant yes although some people point out that the song could perhaps be more subtle than that and the Miley Cyrus video which has had eighties pop singer Annie Lennox pitching into the debate and a recent pop and politics debate in Brighton at the Labour party conference looking at the topic.
Meanwhile pop stars are twerking and simulating getting shagged from behind whilst wearing what looks like a swim suit titillating our porn sodden society that we live in that is seeking a new cheap thrill under the banner of eroticism. For some it’s portraying women as mere rubber dolls whilst for others it’s mildly erotic but mostly showbiz in its eternal seeking of stiff column inches and sensation.
Older pop stars like Annie Lennox are calling for pop videos to have ratings on them like films because they are bothered about what children are getting to see. Annie herself was not averse to some media sex games in her early days in the Eurythmics where she played the gender bender card when she took the women in suits and short, sharp shock of hair from punk and scrubbed it up for the early eighties video generation- a look that was recently going around museums as a respected pop classic but would have been considered slightly racey at the time.
Was eighties gender bending about empowerment or just another sex sells moment? Lennox’s role in the gender bending decade in which she replayed a game from the earlier punk rock wars was striking and great for media attention and one that could be argued was empowering by some and controversial by others.
On one side people are calling for something to be done in the current focus on sex in pop- whether it’s curbing the excesses of pop or banning the songs all together. It’s an interesting debate going on around the perceived increased sexual content of pop videos and performance. It’s something that we have touched on in the recent pop and politics debates and it is the dominant issue of the moment.
But are Miley Cyrus or Rihanna’s near naked sex games in the name of art and commerce blighting the minds of the youth? Or are we just getting bored of the pop machine supplying only one type of woman performer- the jiving dolly bird with the camera hunting crotch looking to up the ante each time perhaps to the point where an internal examination camera is all that’s left- at the same time, to be honest, most of the male bands are dancing the same dance as well- the sexless, genitalia rubbing, robotic, pretend sex beat of the 21st century.
But hasn’t pop always been a soft porn industry? Have we just got used to these ancient signposts in the pop sex wars forgetting their power to shock in their respective decades? These hip swivels were once celebrated as victories over the ‘squares’ and the rolling back of stuffy repression.
Or has the reality of the so called sexual revolution been that men can be the cavemen and women have to be giggling sex objects? Can women be allowed to be more than rubber dolly birds in the music business? Does sex have to be so obvious? Where are the real women in the mainstream? Where are the Patti Smiths, Polly Harveys, Poly Styrenes with a fierce individual intelligence to back up their muse? Of course the underground is packed with thousands of contemporary versions but the mainstream is obsessing on buttocks instead of brains.
So, is there a sinister new frontline opening up on the groin exchange of the pop wars?
Maybe those were more innocent times and maybe gender bending or breaking down the sartorial roles of men and women or hinting at a less conventional sexuality of those times was more innocent than now? Maybe it gave women more to do in the pop mainstream than just bend over and pretend to have sex or maybe it was the same kind of titillation in a different suit.
The pornification of pop doesn’t seem like a slowly encroaching process to us but something that has been tied into pop from day one, part of the process and part of the powerful attraction of the form.
What do you think? Has pop stepped to far? Has soft porn become hard porn? Are women being too objectified by pop or has this been part of the history of pop culture and beyond – centuries of performers dancing the sex dance in a mixture of art and titillation? How far should we go in censoring ourselves? Does censorship work? Where do you start with censorship? Do we need the sex records to balance out the sexless Radiohead sort of thinking records or has sex been redefined into a leering grope? Is it time for record labels to promote more interesting female artists other than skinny waifs with ants in their too brief pants?