Twerking And The Pornification Of Pop – Where Do You Stand?Pop has always pissed people off.

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?

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. Art imitates life they say, and Miley Cyrus was projecting what society, news and media has deemed socially acceptable in 2013. Personally I find it incredibly boring, devoid of any artistic credibility and utterly meaningless. If you can force yourself to do it just listen to commercial radio for an hour. Every pop song is about sex in varying degrees, and it’s conditioning kids to equate sex to everything. God I sound old…

  2. By the time I got to the end of the article I was so fed up with the appalling writing that I’d more or less forgotten what i was meant to be commenting on.. we all know not to expect Dickensian prose from LTW, but even by your own sloppy and ‘anarchic’ standards, this piece is really really badly written. It reads like nobody proofed it – how many questions do you ask? I lost track when it went past twenty.. This isn’t the way to ‘stimulate debate’, it’s the way to lose readers.. it’s repetitive, garbled and says only one thing, over and over again. PLEASE start being a bit more rigorous in your subbing process – there’s a half-interesting opinion piece buried in here somewhere :)

  3. I was talking about this today – Madonna done all this Sex stuff to death many years ago – i recall banned/sexy Hip Hop vids that were near porn – How Do U Want it by 2-Pac for example. As an Adult i can of course get over it – but the likes of Cyrus and Rhihanna fans are mostly Under 18 and probably a lot are Under 14 too -They must know they are terrible role models for young girls …. I’ve waited patiently for all this gyrating tits and ass front girl backed up by similarly afflicted backing dancers to fade away – it’s the same formula over and over – do they not get bored with it and look for something more worthy to listen to/watch? Seems not – if they keep trying to push the boundaries sexual simulation wise and how much flesh on show, sexually graphic lyrics as regards what is acceptable viewing to promote a song – if u see your ten year old daughter twerking – you know it’s all gone far to far

  4. There’s nothing as unsexy as people trying too hard to be sexy. I think the most offensive thing about Miley Cyrus’ ‘performance’ (apart from the fact it brought to mind her father) was that is was so awful. I mean… what was it? She ‘dances’ like an arthritic C3PO. I’m sorry but I’m from the generation that thinks you have to have talent to be a pop star. Cyrus and Rihanna make Tiffany and Debbie Gibson look like Led Zeppelin and The Beatles.

    The whole sorry episode reminded me of the classic scene from ‘Silver Streak’ when Richard Pryor tries to teach Gene Wilder how to dance to get him past the border guards at the train station.

  5. It’s not the performance that’s in anyway a shock, but the obviously sought for (& got) attention by such a cynically contrived performance. Who really gives a shit? Overt sexuality in performance, whether to make a statement, be a titillating ‘act’, or the gods forbid/compel, an honest personal expression, all have their place but this feels as ridiculous (but much more unreal & cartoony), as Janet Jackson’s ‘wardrobe malfunction’. Just raw, cynical hijacking of ‘news’ media as a promotional tool. It all means nothing, even if it is the kind of story that may be the final straw, that changes a middle-aged parent of a teenage girl, from a Guardian reader to a Daily Mail reader.
    Nothing to see here. At least there was a bit of nip from Janet.

  6. Pop music has always been a sanitised version of rock and roll, its very name slang for intercourse. To quote the late great Frank Zappa “I think pop music has done more for oral intercourse than anything that has happened and vice versa”

  7. Great piece of writing and something that really underlines what I love about this site- great and stimulating writing that really gets the point over without droning like the grey faced typing of rivals. This is why we love Louder Than War!


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