The Pornification of the Music Industry

Something that appears time after time in this conversation is just how widespread porn is; that is, that many things, more than perhaps what we’d initially though, have been reached by porn and thus, “pornified”.

One such aspect of culture that has been undoubtedly affected by pornography is the music industry. Here, Annie, a 22 year old recent journalism & media graduate, shares her thoughts.

“So Adele managed to shift a few hundred thousand records literally without stripping off, throatily professing a love for bondage, or pretending to be a lesbian. Abort mission, Germaine Greer. The battle is won… When did mainstream success as a female artist become so synonymous with sexuality? How did we get to a point where Adele managing to sell records and yet not pose in her delicates is heralded as ‘radical’?”

In 2011, after Adele had proved to the world that she wasn’t going to let her choices to remain modest in a society which demands sex, NME asked these questions. The problem of women being pornified to gain success started long before 2011 but, sadly, hasn’t really come on to the radar of the general public until recently.

In 1998 a reasonably naive Britney Spears topped the charts with debut single …Baby, One More Time and the music video was plastered across TV screens for the world to see. At this point in her career Britney was reasonably PG-13 and all together quite inoffensive, but this may have just been the real beginning of what can now be referred to as the pornification of the mainstream music industry. Spears was suggestive; Baby, One More Time was all about implication, but if we fast forward to 2011 and look at the videos for Rihanna’s S&M, Nicki Minaj’s Super Bass, or Katy Perry’s California Gurls, it’s quite obvious that no one is just suggesting anything anymore, these videos openly depict sexual fantasies.

But the scariest thing about the mainstream music industry isn’t simply that it depicts sex; it’s probably that it is beginning to depict, far more regularly, hardcore, violent sex, the sort of sex that very few people actually partake in on a regular basis.

Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked Our Sexuality, said in an interview that “pornography now looks nothing like it did 10, 15 years ago — that it is now brutal and cruel and is absolutely based on the degradation of women… Even the industry said that many women have a hard time being in the industry for more than three months. Why? Because of the brutalization of the body.

Looking more directly at Rihanna’s video for S&M and at the song itself, I’m a little shocked that this even made it past the censors. The video is brutal, explicit; it makes BDSM out to be something normal, something every day, while the lyrics go something like this: “Cause I may be bad but I’m perfectly good at it, sex in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it. Sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me.” To add insult to injury the majority of the song is made up of “na-na-na-ing” and “come on, come on, I like it”; it doesn’t exactly scream lyrical genius, further minimising the possibility of people believing that Rihanna could possibly be any more than just a body used for sex. As Dines suggests, pornography is “based on the degradation of women”, but so is the music industry. Very few women in the industry these days are allowed what now seems to be the privilege of keeping their clothes on or singing about much other than sex and men if they want to be successful.

Even Rolling Stone magazine (est. 1967) are jumping on the bandwagon. The University of Buffalo did a study entitled ‘Equal Opportunity Objectification? The Sexualisation of Men and Women on the Cover of Rolling Stone’, which found that images of women were nearly 90 per cent more likely to be sexualised in the 2000s than in the 1960s, but for men that figure is just 55 per cent.” The study further states that, “Sexualised portrayals of women have been found to legitimise or exacerbate violence against women and girls, as well as sexual harassment and anti-women attitudes among men and boys. Such images also have been shown to increase rates of body dissatisfaction and/or eating disorders among men, women and girls; and they have even been shown to decrease sexual satisfaction among both men and women.”

The media seems to have no problem with pushing these pornified images on people, regardless of all the studies that are done which prove the extent of the negative effects that they have on people. Both genders are affected; no one can hide from this, so why do we still allow it? Do the people who take these photos and who airbrush them to make them look perfect ever wonder how the people who see these images will react to them? Surely those within the music industries who encourage the artists to strip off to gain success, know why they’re doing it and realise it sells because the fans think this is what the world wants?

// We are leaving this post fairly open-ended because we’d love to hear what you think. Is the music industry to be blamed for its own pornification? What is and is not its responsibility? If the main ‘issue’ with pornography is, as Dines suggests, the brutalization of the female body, do female musicians/stars pornify themselves and their gender by partaking in the industry? How can we change it? If our voice as consumers is loud, what message should it be shouting?


8 responses to “The Pornification of the Music Industry

  1. I suppose the music industry could reply that nobody in the videos or on the magazine covers is doing anything they don’t want to. But we’re back to the knotty question that Kinsey had to face following the furore that greeted his survey on sex: are people who volunteer to offer their sexuality for public consumption representative of the general population?

    At the end of the day I reckon the videos are geared towards young men sweating hormones as they watch on the technology of their choice, but the girls and women in their lives aren’t asking to be objectified. At the extreme, we saw where this process can lead to when the boy rapist from Cambridge violated a child in his care after viewing what the judge called “mild pornography”.

    It’s difficult to know how to start to put the genie in the bottle. Certainly if Adam Smith could see this use of capitalism he’d have ripped up The Wealth of Nations.

    • I think the main problem is that society has led people within the music industry to believe that they won’t be successful without taking their clothes off, therefore meaning that it doesn’t really matter if they do or don’t want to do it, but they feel like they have no option because everyone else is doing it so they should too; if they see Nicki Minaj and Rihanna making money in that way surely they will too? The industry have every right to tell the artists that it’s their choice, that they don’t have to do it, but as far as I know they don’t.

    • That’s brilliant to see but also sad that the article itself was written two years ago; it’s like they started the fight and then gave up pretty quickly. It seems that nowadays the more crazy you are (e.g. Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj) the more support you get for being “unique”, even if all that actually involves is allowing yourself to be massively sexualised. Lady Gaga would probably be just as weird if she didn’t insist on running around in her underwear.

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  3. Hey, this blog is really interesting and I’m going to follow it – but if I could just respectfully explain why I disagree with you on one point; “Looking more directly at Rihanna’s video for S&M and at the song itself, I’m a little shocked that this even made it past the censors. The video is brutal, explicit; it makes BDSM out to be something normal, something every day.” I think you’ve mis-read this video. I think a lot of people mis-read that particular video. I also think that was the intention.This video is actually a clever stab at the media. Deliberately ironic, the director knew the video would cause an media frenzy, while it mocks the media and their hysteria at every turn. Rihanna is “controlling” the media, not a sexual partner – tying up journalists, and leading Perez Hilton, the celebrity blogger, around on a lead. While the song itself is about BDSM, the video just uses BDSM as a metaphor for control of the media – and quite amusingly, the media reacted in exactly the way they expected. The background quotes “illuminati” and “slut” and “daddy issues”, making light of all the various things the media says about her. I think the scenes in this video, with Rihanna sucking a banana, and pretending to hump a blow-up doll, are all purposefully exaggerated, jokey scenes which are meant to be more amusing than sexy. I definitely would not describe it as brutal. It is lighthearted. Even the bright colours used throughout reflect the lighthearted attitude conveyed. It’s meant to make people sit up and notice and say, “Oh, goodness, how shocking,” and the point is that she expected that reaction, and is laughing all along. (Re. the BDSM lyrics – consenual BDSM between two partners is a personal sexual choice and I would consider it nothing to be ashamed of, so I dont see the wrong in singing about it) I think there a distinction between something being sexual, and something being pornographic. In Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream we see her (airbrushed to perfection, of course) with an equally perfect guy getting semi-naked – but I do not consider it pornographic. At all. It’s about love. It’s sweet. It’s all about context.

    Personally, there are other videos that bother me. Snoop Dogg’s “Sweat” video genuinely makes me feel uncomfortable, where a barely-clothed young girl who looks less than half his age writhes all over him while he sings. Why was that not banned, or made a huge deal of? And the worst part is, it’s so casual. Rihanna’s saying, “I know you’re all going to freak out over this me in these skimpy outfits” – theres an awareness of the boudaries she’s pushing; that what she’s doing is not acceptable. But Snoop doesn’t even give any thought to the girl grinding on him. She’s nameless, personality-less, just a body. And no-one bats an eyelid. it’s just taken for granted that this is acceptable.

    Anyway, I know a lot of people disagree with me on this, and I’m not trying to convince you of anything, just wanted to make a point. I’m enjoying your blog anyway and do agree with a huge amount of what you say, thanks for writing.

    • This is a really brilliant, insightful point so thank you for commenting. In regards to the Snoop Dogg video, as I don’t listen to him or know much about him it wouldn’t really have been possible for me to comment on that video, which sounds horrific, to say the least.

      Rethinking Rihanna’s video what you’ve said definitely makes sense and I can see why she would want to make a video with that meaning behind it, but I don’t think that the many young girls who look up to her as a role model will see the video in this way. Also, regardless of the meaning, the video does depict BDSM, which isn’t really necessary to make the point she wants to make. Plenty of artists (sadly they’re mostly male) make really important points via their lyrics; why couldn’t she have been encouraged to take this route?

      I’m also not sure that Teenage Dream is about love. I think it’s more about having a bit of a fling with someone as there’s more lyrics focusing on the physical side than the emotional side. Perry’s lyricism in general isn’t that complex and I really don’t think she’s the best role model for young girls either as she’s all too happy to take her clothes off to “shock” people. To be honest, it’s not that shocking, it’s just getting a bit old.

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