thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Posts Tagged ‘music videos’

“Look at Her Butt:” Nicki Minaj, Power, and Sexual Objectification

In body politics, feminism, hip hop, race on September 9, 2014 at 5:02 am

MinajSnarls

Melissa Sexton

Ever since Nicki Minaj posted the cover art for her new single in late July, I’ve been trying to finish a piece about the “Anaconda” controversy. Each time I had to push the project back, I feared that I had lost the relevancy so important to writing about popular culture. But sadly, there has been no lack of opportunity to reflect on issues involving women’s agency over the display of their own bodies.

Last week, unrepentant hackers posted stolen photos (real and photoshopped) of Jennifer Lawrence, Jill Scott, Kirsten Dunst, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and other female celebrities. The response was depressing if not surprising: mixed in with thoughtful critique, there were plenty of arguments about (men’s) free speech and (women’s) responsibility to protect themselves from exploitation by never, ever taking a photo of themselves or, ideally, never ever taking their clothes off outside of a private dressing bunker equipped with magnets to destroy photographic film and digital storage systems. It was a painful swirl of arguments that, to me, boiled down to a couple of confusing prescriptions for women: first, your body should never ever be publicly visible, so make sure that doesn’t happen; two, expect that men will do everything they can to make your body visible and be prepared to defend yourself; third, if your body should become visible, you will be held morally responsible, whether you chose to display your body or had your body displayed against your will.

This incident merely provides the most recent evidence that how we respond to the sexual objectification of women’s bodies is mostly about who is controlling the display. When women’s bodies are put on display by others, particularly men, we respond as though it is unfortunate but unavoidable. In the same way as victim blaming, this rhetoric figures the sexual desire of men as boundless and the moral responsibility of prevention as belonging to women. The female body is figured here as terribly powerful and terribly vulnerable, capable of short-circuiting men’s ability to act rationally or compassionately. The only way to deal with this power and vulnerability is through fear and containment. Wear long skirts when you go out and make sure your photos are inaccessible to hackers. Men don’t seem to be held culturally responsible for choosing to display women’s bodies when women fail to contain them.

Read the rest of this entry »

On “Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film”

In hip hop, Jay Z, Marina Abramovic on August 5, 2013 at 4:48 am

Emily Arden

Re-posted (with permission) from The Daily Creative Project.

I wish I could embed this VIDEO right here in this post. (You can also view a great ARTICLE, with the video embedded.)

I’ll have to settle for posting this photo instead:

jaymarina

In my deepest heart I believe the intersection of artists – being purely themselves – while surrounded by other creative folks, is the key to creating peace and sustainability.

I don’t have words or a way to quantify this type of energy and inspiration. I’ve been searching for them. The words. Obviously this is a very utopian, simplified view. But the essence is what I’m getting at; creating creativity together sparks greatness.

It’s why I created ReSourceArts and am working to figure out how to create a physical space that can offer this kind of organic and magical interaction on the regular.

I believe we are all creative in our own right and all have something to offer. Given the right tools and circumstances, and permission – from ourselves and each other – to let go of fears and stereotypes and an out-for-myself mentality, magical things can happen. We all grow stronger – individually and as a community – for it. We can then go out into the world and continue to multiply this type of positive energy.

Jay Z’s video for “Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film,” in my opinion, is a really wonderful reminder of this. I totally smiled the entire time. I loved Marina Abramovic’s PERFORMANCE PIECE, and I love that Jay Z reshaped the idea into his own performance art.

Artists and musicians are usually told they’re different. They don’t fit in. They’re crazy. They’re too much. But people who don’t see the world the way they’re told the world is recognize that quality in other people.” – Cedric Shine for the record: NPR’s music news

That sentiment is why, totally why, we all need to be working together and creating other kinds of communities. Cause we haven’t ever fit in. Sometimes it makes us more likely to go and continue to work in a vacuum. I see this all the time. I get frustrated by artists who operate this way. I get it. The self-preservation mechanism that sets in because we haven’t ever felt cared for, so we do everything we can to take care of only ourselves, as if there isn’t anyone else out there who can be trusted to do so. But there is another way. A kind of space that allows us all to be free to be us and within that amazingness, to connect with others and spark new kinds of amazingness. No need to be fighting for our little piece of the pie. Instead, to keep working to make the pie even bigger for us all to enjoy.

I’m glad for the reminder today, and excited to keep building, in my own small way, on this idea of creating connections and community.

Here’s to another day of creativity…

Emily Arden Eakland, Director, ReSourceArts
Emily is a Creative Soul, Dancer, Educator, and Idealist who has a passion for all things slightly off the beaten path. Her wanderings have allowed her to work with a multitude of artists – from dancers and DJs to graffiti artists and musicians – in order to create entertaining and thought-provoking events and opportunities. She has also worked with young people in both traditional educational settings as well as in arts-related programming. She received her degree in arts management and education from Goddard College and continues to blend her artistic and management skills in order to create opportunities for artists to create and connect. For more on Emily and the organization she founded, please check out her websites: ResourceArts and The Daily Creative Project.

GLG Year-End Picks: Amy B’s Best Music of 2012

In music videos on December 27, 2012 at 7:25 am

Guest Contributor Amy B.

Typically, at the end of every year I narrow down my favorite albums to the top 20 or so. And then, inevitably, I have to create all sorts of side categories to make sure albums and EPs and random songs and rad YouTube videos don’t get missed. This year I’m cutting to the chase by skipping the arduous process of trying to sort out my top 20 and going straight to the more interesting categories of random things I’ve made up. Hope the tunes of these awesome bands bring some joy to your ears as you wrap up 2012 and head into 2012!

Ed: Each of the links below will hook you up with an 8-track playlist home-brewed by the one and only Amy! Happy listening.

Top 5 albums likely to be on everybody else’s lists because they are super!

alt-J – An Awesome Wave

This is my absolute favorite album of 2012, hands down. Earlier this year, public radio station KCRW put “Breezeblocks” into its rotation and I’ve been attached at the hip to this entire album every since. (I can’t believe I just anthropomorphized a record. Okay, yes I can.) Their style isn’t easy to describe—maybe guitar rock with folk, synth pop, and psychedelia all mixed in—and  their lyrics are full of completely obscure film and literary references, but their songs manage to be catchy and mainstream radio-ready anyway. I thought any excitement I get when I play this album would have worn off by now, but months and months later that’s not the case.

Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

Ocean hit the scene in a big way. He made his TV debut on Jimmy Fallon’s show with a riveting performance of “BadReligion,” a song about falling in love with another man (not exactly common ground in the hip-hop scene); and hours later released this flawless album. Prior to this, he had published on his own website personal stories of past love and rejection and questioning sexuality. He continues these themes on Channel Orange, where he is confessional and introspective about love, money, sex, and drugs while managing to go beyond the “same ole, same ole.” His lyrics are inventive and intelligent and unlike what have come before them. All the hype and praise for Ocean is beyond deserved.

Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…

Guys, can you believe we waited seven years for this album? It was a long time, but Apple certainly didn’t disappoint and managed to live up to all the hype. She brought her signature raw emotion and honesty, and coupled it with her clever and atypical songwriting and piano-playing. Apple still carries with her some rage and heart-break, but I think this one has some love in it, too. The closing song seems utterly triumphant as she compares herself to a pat of butter and her lover as a hot, hot, hot knife. (I added the extra hots, but I think Apple was thinking it.) Welcome back, Fiona!

Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

Dirty Projectors caught a lot of people’s attentions when they released an album covering an entire Black Flag album from memory. I was totally on board, but I could see how many found it campy and maybe even overwrought. Each subsequent album has managed to be experimental while also inching toward mainstream acceptability, and I think Swing Lo Magellan is the most accessible yet. Everything is a bit more stripped down, a bit warmer, and (dare I say it) a bit poppier. If you admired this band before, but could never really get into their music, give their latest a spin.

Cat Power – Sun

Chan Marshall’s past albums have all carried a bit of sadness with them. These were songs for rainy days, hours spent alone, and moments of grief. In fact, You Are Free has reliably gotten me through numerous break-ups for nearly a decade. While Marshall was helping me cope, she herself was facing a rough road of substance abuse and bankruptcy and bad relationships. Sun is the light at the end of a dark, dark tunnel with its strong anthems full of confidence and passion. Marshall is ready to conquer the world (Saudi Arabia, Dhaka, Calcutta…), and we’re all invited to come along for the ride. Read the rest of this entry »

A Thursday Survey: What Gives, Girls?

In feminism, gender, girl culture, Girls, music videos on September 20, 2012 at 8:46 am

Chelsea H.

Yesterday as I drove into the parking lot at work, Pat Benatar’s growly, joyfully combative “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” was playing on my Subaru’s radio. I sang along, rejoicing in her toughness, knowing this comes out of a tiny, petite woman whose lungs must take up 45% of her insides, until I got to this line: “Before I put another notch in my lipstick case / You better make sure you put me in my place / Hit me with your best shot…” I stopped singing. Here I was, barely conscious of my feeling that this was a female emancipation kind of song, and then this line. And I know, she’s being facetious – she really thinks his best shot is going to miss, or deflect off of her amazing woman armor – but it still bothered me. “Try your best to make me act like the demure, fragile, modest little woman your interpretation of society demands I be.” What kind of message is that?!

Crimes of Passion Album Cover, courtesy of Wikipedia

I turned off the radio. Somehow, for all the years I’d been listening to that song, I hadn’t thought about the fact that it was about a woman’s relationship with a man. As I’d applied it to my own life, singing along, I had been sing/yelling to job interviews, to tough days looming before me, to challenging classes, to physical labor, but never to a man. It bothered me that this powerful voice was consumed by her relationship: not only “Hit Me,” but “Love is a Battlefield,” “Heartbreaker,” and “We Belong.”

As the day progressed, I found myself continually coming back to this dilemma: I can instantly call up dozens of songs sung by men which are NOT about their romantic relationships: songs by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Green Day, Michael Jackson, Boston, Chicago, Blitzen Trapper, Steve Miller Band, Audioslave, Nirvana, the Monkees, Journey, Pearl Jam, Johnny Cash, Guns ‘N Roses, Billy Joel, even Neil Diamond, amidst “Sweet Caroline,” “Desiree” and “Cracklin’ Rosie,” has “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.”

But when I tried to do the same for women, I could only come up with a few (apologies for the ads that lead into some of these videos):

Amy Winehouse’s brilliant, stubborn throwback anthem “Rehab,”

Carole King’s “Smackwater Jack,”

maybe Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” which, though it’s not about a romantic relationship, is a story of a woman dependent upon a male figure (no offense meant, of course, I’m certainly not critiquing having a relationship with God, only pointing out how prevalent this theme is).

Four Non Blonde’s “What’s Up,” which was always one of my favorites in high school, seems to fit this short list (also, how awesome and 90s are their outfits?!) .

Of course there are also the smaller number of songs by women about women, like Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” and, though it’s not terrifically explicit (and though it admittedly deals with deeper, more complex issues), Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” but these still fall into the theme of women singing about their relationships.

And I’m not saying this trope doesn’t appear in songs by men. There are plenty of male singers whose songs tell the story of relationships with women. It’s just that there are so many that don’t.

So here are my two questions:

  1. Ladies, why do we do this? Don’t we have other, equally important things to sing about? Why are we so focused, as musical artists, on the men in, out, and around our lives? Is it that women are singing songs written by men, or is it that women’s songs about men sell better? Is it that these are “safe” subject matter and therefore more playable? Why aren’t we singing about the other parts of our lives – the parts that are not longing for, begging for, dependent on, or grieving over men?
  2. I’m sure I’m missing some – after all, I’ve only thought about this for a day or two – and I want to be wrong about this. What other songs are out there sung by women (and not just covers of songs originally sung by men) that are not about their relationships with men? Let’s make a list. Let’s make a big list, if we can, and prove me wrong.

Olivia Newton John, Carly Rae Jepsen, and the Slapstickiness of Female Desire

In music videos on July 23, 2012 at 9:43 am

Guest Contributor Paul Bindel

He won’t be calling.

Some may click through blogs or Songza for the musical scoop of the hour; others trick to summer festivals to hear the best new band. This summer, my primary source of new music happens to be junior-high girls—vanloads of them, giggles and whispers, as I shuttle them on outdoor National Park tours. iPhone after iPhone comes trickling from four rows of backseats, mixed with exultant, usually off-key sopranos. We dance, we crank it, we sing, mixing the right soundtrack for sights of bears and bison and rock formations.

I haven’t decided if I’m in the trenches of new music (particularly when it comes to country tunes) or caught in the Adele-an or Taylor Swift-ean eddies from last year. But I’m not sure trendiness is more important than pleasure, and these girls enjoy their music. Sure, “I Gotta Feeling” may play five times before 2:00 p.m., but once the snare hits, the irony drifts out the van window: we’re all in 7th grade again, and it’s summer.

This week, I was fascinated to hear how my passengers relate to Carly Rae Jepsen’s ubiquitous single “Call Me Maybe.”  Few audiences are better than teenage girls for a song about female desire, vulnerable angst dripping even from the title. The song has mostly come up as our vans imitate the Harvard Baseball team’s van dance cover. (Yes, we posted our version on Youtube. Yes, “the boys’ van totally copied us.”)

I wasn’t exactly curious about the song until a girl mentioned it over dinner: “Did you see the ending of her music video? It is so crazy.” At the prospect of more than fist pumps, I asked for more details. “Well, this girl is in love with a guy, and he’s so cute. But when she gives him her number, he’s actually gay and wants to date her band member. Can you believe that?”

I could and couldn’t, but was struck that the plot so resembled Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” another viral video with a gay twist. The songs’ similarities made me wonder about female desire. With more than 30 years between the two videos, why do women whose songs directly express desire become exaggerated objects of desire in their videos? And why do the video’s desirable men end up desiring other men? Read the rest of this entry »

Replay: Fiona Apple’s “Every Single Night”

In music videos on June 14, 2012 at 8:32 am

Sarah T.

So this is what it’s like to be inside Fiona Apple’s head: Beautiful. Weird. Always intense. There’s a giant octopus waving its tentacles in the river Seine and a smaller octopus which you are permitted to wear as a hat. In bed, you confess your innermost secrets to a gentleman who wears a mask of a bull. Sometimes you commune with the snails.

With your brain, every single night’s a light and a fight. You carry it around in a medicine bag. Once in a while you cup your mind in your hands, consider its treasure and weight.

You want to connect. Play with a hula girl and it means you’ll become her. Look in an aquarium and soon you’re inside. You see bright threads running between a figurine Eiffel Tower and the real one, sparkling like fire; between them and you; between you and a small paper globe. They’re crossing in every direction. You can’t see what’s pulling the strings.

In your music and interviews, you’re vulnerable and conflicted and unfailingly honest. Earnestness paired with eccentricity can make for an easy brush-off: fifteen years ago you were widely ridiculed for speaking your mind.

These days, people are slower to laugh. It’s not quite cool to like you, but mostly because you’re out beyond cool. You tend to convert the most committed of skeptics. When you say “I just want to feel everything,” the way your voice rings and falters, there’s no way to doubt you mean what you’re singing.

Where the pain comes in, you’re almost Ophelia: long hair, heavy dress, floating still in the water with your blue eyes closed. But you’re not so far gone — you can turn things around. You swim upside-down when you need to.

Replay: Kimbra’s “Good Intent”

In music videos, Uncategorized on May 22, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Kimbra ripped into the American consciousness belting out a blistering rebuttal to Gotye’s woe-is-me soliloquies in “Someone That I Used to Know.” But there’s much, much more to this New Zealand songstress than one smashing guest appearance. Her U.S. debut album Vows, now streaming at NPR, reveals an artist that’s part edgy Betty Boop, part pop star, part soul singer, and 100% addictive.

This week, Girls Like Giants follows Kimbra back in time to a retro era of fedoras, smooth dancing moves, and triple-vision. Behold the glory of “Good Intent.”

Sarah T:

The first time I watched this video, I was like, “Why do I feel a particularly strong affection for red-dress Kimbra? Is it just that the dress goes well with her coloring? Is she a winter?” I knew that technically the same person was dressed in black, white, and red, but somehow I loved her the best in scarlet. Watching it again, I realized that Kimbra is playing slightly different characters depending on the color of her dress. Kimbra in black is cold and sexy and elegant, like Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Kimbra in white is a swooning ingenue. And Kimbra in red is a bold, insouciant siren: no WONDER I was mysteriously convinced that she was the coolest. Read the rest of this entry »

Replay: “Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen

In girl culture, music videos, Replay on May 9, 2012 at 4:13 pm

What do you think of when you think about Canada? Maple syrup? Scott Pilgrim? A moose? Universal health care? A Place To Which One Might Abscond Should the U.S. Magnify Its Aura of Impending Doom?

From here on out, perhaps the irresistible bubblegum chords of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” will come to mind too. The  singer-songwriter hails from British Columbia and rose to fame on Canadian Idol. The U.S. has embraced her pop export with open arms, partly because “Call Me Maybe” is an earworm of a single, impossible to shake, and partly because of her music video’s campy charm. The video both captures the breathless excitement of a newborn crush and winkingly acknowledges that swooning over a hot somebody you know nothing about is a little ridiculous — which doesn’t make it any less fun. Read on as Girls Like Giants tries to peg down Jepsen’s number.

Read the rest of this entry »

Replay: Iggy Azalea’s “Murda Bizness”

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2012 at 10:14 am

2012 is the year uniquely spelled azalias bloom: namely, Azealia Banks and Iggy Azalea, two young rappers soon to be riding an airwave near you.

But the two women don’t seem to have much in common beyond their names and occupations. In February, Banks criticized Azalea for writing a song that includes the line, “I’m a runaway slave master.” (Azalea has since apologized.) Banks went on to identify elements of appropriation in Azalea’s rise to fame, writing on Twitter:

“Sorry guys. But I’m pro black girl. I’m not anti white girl, but I’m also not here for any1 outside of my culture trying to trivialize very serious aspects of it. In any capacity. *kanye shrug*”

Azalea’s videos for “PU$$Y” and “My World” highlight some of the issues Banks raised. Azalea is the only white woman in those videos; both show her flanked by two black women dressed in matching or nearly-matching outfits. The women are silent while Iggy raps, signaling their support for Azalea by bobbing their heads or mouthing along with her lyrics. The purpose of their presence seems to be to lend Azalea–a white woman from Australia–credibility as a rapper. She appears both accepted by them (her outfits sometimes coordinate with theirs) and distinguished from them, not only by the differences in their appearances but also as the only woman who gets to speak. It’s easy to understand why Banks is doing some Kanye shrugging.

But the video for Azalea’s first single off her upcoming album The New Classic, “Murda Bizness,” seems to be trying to change the conversation. Accompanied by her mentor T.I. and fellow Hustle Gang artist Chip in a simple, pared-down video, Azalea keeps the focus on the music–and on collaboration.

This business of murder, it is infectious, no? But with Azalea’s history, it’s worth approaching “Murda Bizness” with a dose of wariness. With that in mind, a few members of Girls Like Giants got together to try decipher the puzzle that is Iggy A. Read the rest of this entry »

Replay: Drake’s HYFR featuring Lil’ Wayne

In music videos, Replay on April 11, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Sarah T.

Jews and rapping aren’t necessarily the first pairing that comes to mind. But Drake’s new music video “HYFR,” featuring Lil’ Wayne, is proof positive that the two go together like matzoh balls and soup or wine and Passover.

Let’s start with how happy Drake looks. Mazel tov, friend! He’s so glad to be hoisted on a chair during Hava Nagila and have his best friend in attendance wearing a panda mask.  As Rembert Browne at Grantland points out, Drake has never seemed as relaxed as he does in this video, which honors his multicultural heritage and both Jewish and hip-hop cultures. He seems truly comfortable with himself, and I think that has to do not just with celebrating his background but also with coming out as an honest-to-goodness loveable dork of a rapper.

Hip-hop’s masculinity imperative is a straightjacket for artists who have range beyond guns-drugs-and-girls. It’s never been a great fit for Drake, even with his lady’s man soft sell on toughness: his voice is a bit nasal, his expressions tend toward puppyish even when he’s trying to look badass, and of course he’s also Jimmy from Degrassi, which makes him fun but not very imposing. This video is all about Drake embracing his own dorkiness, from the goofy premise to that shot of him happily chatting a pal’s ear off to his owl sweater to that amazing picture-cake to his open-mouthed beaming as he jumps around with his arm slung around various buddies.

I’m actually getting kind of emotional writing about this, because the video is hilarious but it’s also kind of a big deal, what Drake’s doing. He’s confident enough about himself and his acceptance in the hip-hop community that he doesn’t need to front; he can own this bar mitzvah. And it’s also important that his hip-hop friends—Lil’ Wayne, DJ Khaled, Trey Songz–are in attendance, supporting him and celebrating his Jewish heritage.  Historically there’s been an undercurrent of anti-Semitism in a lot of celebrated hip-hop—even my beloved Jay-Z has tossed off some problematic lines about Jewish folk. So it means a lot that Drake made this video, and that the hip-hop community turned out for it.

Also, little Drake at his first bar mitzvah is ridiculously adorable.

What are your thoughts on Drizzy’s time-honored celebration of his transition from Boy to Man? Let us know in the comments.

This post is part of a new weekly column, “Replay,” where we respond to music videos. Sometimes they’ll be new, sometimes they’ll be old, and sometimes they will just be ones we love. Drop us a line at girlslikegiants@gmail.com if you have a music video you think we should feature here.

Previously: Azealia Banks’ awesome first video “L8R.”

Replay: Azealia Banks Will See You “L8R”

In gender, music videos, race, Replay on April 4, 2012 at 9:03 am

If you’re not already familiar with Azealia Banks, you will be soon. The rising hip-hop star has got it all: charisma, talent, quick wit, quick rhymes, and a killer name for her upcoming debut album, due out in September: Broke With Expensive Taste.

“But where did my new best friend Azealia come from?” you may be asking yourself at this very moment. “Yea, but from whence does this Lady of the Song arise, like Venus from her shell of ore?” asks your other friend who thinks he is Shakespeare, but he’s not. Your friend is weird but he means well and you are a treasure. So we’ll answer both of you with today’s music video pick, “L8R”  — a demo Banks released way back in 2010 to help draw record labels’ attention.

Sarah T.
First, let’s talk about this barbecue. I want to go to there! And I’m a vegetarian. I think Banks was doing something smart with the whole grilling meat = steamy = sexy but also = Banks in a position that’s traditionally occupied by men. At least in pop culture representations, it’s almost always men who are working the BBQ grill. Similarly, as a rapper, Banks is a woman working in a pretty masculinist field. In both cases, she looks completely in control and capable and also super-appealing. And like she’s having a grand old time.

I really enjoy the sense of playfulness in this video. There are so many fun little details — the guy who keeps the card on his lips while Banks is rapping after a fast-forward game of kiss’n’blow, the way she gets tossed into the pool and completely rolls with it, smiling and swimming and rapping underwater. The light-hearted visuals make for good contrast with her lyrical boasting, which includes the following claims: Read the rest of this entry »

Swagger Going Swell: M.I.A., Nicki Minaj, and the Blurriness of Cultural Appropriation

In race on February 21, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Melissa Sexton

Between the infamous middle finger that flew at the Super Bowl and the culture-colliding, controversy-stirring video for “Bad Girls” that dropped in early February, M.I.A. has been back on the cultural radar in a big way. And if The New Yorker’s assertion that M.I.A. should not have apologized for her television flip-off isn’t proof enough that her “swagger’s going swell,” then just consider the  infinitely danceable “Bad Girls” video as further evidence:

If you’re looking for swagger, you’ve come to the right place. While the chorus repeats a familiar bad bitch theme (“Live fast, die young – bad girls do it well”), there is something powerful about the video that goes beyond the usual rapper assertion of being “the best bitch doing it” – something about the dancing crowds and the spinning cars that makes me feel caught up in a moment of celebration. And yet, the general Internet response has not been to put this video on repeat and dance. Instead, bloggers and journalists have launched into a discussion of whether M.I.A.’s video is an example of cultural appropriation, even Orientalism or Arab-bashing. The question, as Faisal Al Yafai articulates so clearly in his Al Bawaba article, is what thoughtful people should “make of a big budget music video that depicts Gulf Arabs as anarchic, gun-toting, stunt-driving street-dancers?” He continues to frame a number of possible interpretations: perhaps the video is “a condescending take on a misunderstood culture through an Oriental lens,” but alternatively, the video might be “an interesting cross-cultural attempt to address social norms” and an example of “encouraging cross-cultural pollination.” In her defense of the video, Dina Dabbous admits that it is “laden with crass stereotypes” ranging from “Arabian horses” to “Arab men watching women misbehaving.” But she reclaims the video’s value for two reasons: first, the video’s accurate depictions of hagwalah racing culture; and second, its “original and fresh” translation of the usual “hyper worlds of gangsta culture” to “Arabia.” In other words, at least M.I.A. is doing something new with the old tropes of excess and debauchery, and at least she gets that new world right.

East-meets-West-hip-hop-gangstas? Or stereotypes of gun-toting Arabs?

But that very translation of hip-hop culture from American to Arabic streets (the video was shot in Ouarzazate, Morocco) opens up all kinds of questions  about the differences between appropriation and translation; about the fluidity of cultural tropes in an age of globalized music and exchange; and about the authenticity of ethnic and cultural identity in pop music. Why is it that translating gangsta culture to a Middle Eastern setting is a praiseworthy re-imagination of hip-hop stereotypes, but reversing that direction of exchange and using Middle Eastern cultural tropes like hagwalah to sell hip-hop is an insult to Arab culture? M.I.A.’s video points to one of the exhilarating and troubling qualities of pop music: the way it borrows from everything it can get its hands on, with varying degrees of self-awareness and caution. In the process, appropriation can and often does happen; cultural images get mobilized in ways that are reductive and offensive. Yet such appropriation can also be radical, creative, or community-building; it can challenge existing stereotypes by pointing to the richness of sub-cultures like hagwalah.

I believe that M.I.A.’s video can show us that automatically classifying cultural borrowing as reductive “appropriation”  limits our understanding of pop culture. Looking beyond strict separations of pop cultural identity into purified, “authentic” racial categories can help us see the double-edged potential of cultural borrowing: on the one hand, the use of cultures other than one’s own can constitute a form of  imperialism, where any culture can become grist for the capitalist money mill, a simple indicator of otherness or novelty. On the other hand, such borrowings can open up a liberating potential, expanding our notions of what beauty, success, and celebration can look like.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Invention of Lana Del Rey

In gender on February 16, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Sarah Todd

Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” looks and sounds like an arrival. On the surface, it’s about a girl swooning over romantic fantasies while her boyfriend ignores her for his Xbox. That’s a pretty potent idea to begin with: a girl who’s absorbed the message that life is “only worth living if somebody is loving you” tethered to an indifferent lover, trying to convince herself, “This is my idea of fun.”

It’s not so fun, sitting in the blue light, waiting for someone to notice your sundress and the scent of your perfume. Sometimes girls stay anyway. They deserve a song.

But “Video Games” also taps into a deeper truth. Girls dreaming about love are often dreaming not so much about the love object as about the women they might be, if they were loved the way they wanted–about what it would be like to be as desired as they are desiring. The song’s fantasy of wide-sweeping love is propelled by haunting church bells and delicately plucked strings; a plaintive, simple piano strain grounds it back in the blue-light reality. And in the music video, Del Rey herself is all fantasy, looking impossibly gorgeous with smoky eyes and pouty lips and Brigitte Bardot bedroom hair. It’s easy to see why the video went viral, unleashing a tidal wave of internet chatter in late 2011. Read the rest of this entry »

My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Affair with Misogyny, Hip-Hop, and Post-Feminism

In race, Uncategorized, violence on February 14, 2012 at 1:49 am

Melissa Sexton

In the winter of 2011, I found myself in a familiar funk. It was my birthday and I was creeping ever closer to thirty; it was winter in Oregon, and the ceaseless rain had begun in earnest; and I had just gone through yet another break-up. But as I battled through the post-break-up blues with endless evenings of YouTube surfing, I stumbled upon Kanye West’s strange, strange film Runaway. I wasn’t into hip-hop yet; I didn’t know anything about Kanye, except that I’d seen his “Gold Digger” video a few times and that Rolling Stone was declaring “Runaway” the single of the year. But I was instantly hooked by the scenes of him zooming in a sports car beneath a pink sky, snarling, “The plan was to drink until the pain over…But what’s worse? The pain or the hangover?” I was hypnotized by the sarcasm, by the strange mix of excess and self-awareness. So I dragged my sorry self onto the bus and rode to a mainstream CD store, somewhere I could snag a cheap copy of My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy for myself.

And thus began my love affair with the cultural icon that is Kanye West – that quintessentially American asshole who declared “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” and who was able to make “Let’s have a toast to the douchebags” into an anthem and an apology all mixed into one. I could not stop listening to this album. I was a poor graduate student with a strange penchant for old technology, so I was riding the bus around town with my blue Discman, listening to “Monster” on repeat, feeling the first inklings of reawakening fierceness. And while I certainly identified with the crazed, quicksilver rapping of Nicki on “Monster,” I also found myself getting some swagger and attitude by identifying with Kanye. I related to the strange world he sketched for us on Fantasy: a world of overindulgence, good intentions, bad tempers, failed relationships, loneliness, and compensatory swagger. I was having a strange, gender-bending encounter with an album that openly used women, that admitted at one moment, “I know I did damage” but that countered such self-awareness with Pusha-T’s bluff-call: “I did it – alright, alright, I admit it – Now pick your next move: you can leave or live with it.” Opening up a line of questioning that continued as I grew to love more and more hip-hop that was, at some level, misogynistic, I asked myself why I was feeling so powerful by identifying with an emotionally distant, explicitly male persona? Read the rest of this entry »

Barbie Girls: Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, and Mattel

In gender, girl culture, race on February 3, 2012 at 7:26 am

Sarah Todd

Since Azealia Banks’ 2011 breakout hit  “212” captured my heart, mind, soul, and dancing feet, I’ve been reading up on the 20-year-old rapper and soon-to-be superstar. Almost every interviewer asks Banks about Nicki Minaj, which gets old fast for her, you, me, and the bourgeoisie. (With the possible addition of our lady Rye-Rye, they are the only two black female rappers currently generating major mainstream buzz. They also went to the same “Fame” high school in NYC. Ergo, endless comparisons.)

But one comment Banks made about Minaj in an interview with GQ UK stuck out to me:

It could just be that we were both inspired by Lil’ Kim. She did her thing with it, but I was kind of going to do a little bit of that same thing, with the characters, the pink and the Barbies. I wrote a song called “Barbie S***”. I was thinking “I’m going be black Barbie, that’s going to be my thing.” Then all of a sudden she [released it]! I was like, “F***! Did she have someone on my MySpace page? Is someone watching my Twitter? This is way too coincidental!”

The characters, the pink, the Barbie: was it really such a coincidence? I’m not so sure. As Banks notes, Lil’ Kim rapped about being “Black Barbie dressed in Bulgari” back in the early double-0s. There’s a French rapper who goes by the name Black Barbie. Atlanta rapper Diamond calls herself “black Barbie” too. All signs point to the fact that Barbie’s big in the hip-hop world. Read the rest of this entry »

“Call Me Doctor”: Rachel Bilson Raps, Girls Like Giants Scratch Our Heads.

In gender, race on January 23, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Rachel Bilson plays a doctor on Hart of Dixie. Some critics have a hard time buying it.  Last week, Bilson shot back with a Funny or Die video that features her throwing down by… rapping.

Chelsea B. was on the case, writing to some fellow Girls Like Giant-ers:

I feel so conflicted. I mean, it’s a fame thing and I get that Hollywood is weird, but also, watching this and not acknowledging or critiquing the inherent privilege and appropriation is a problem.

Since the rest of us were equally puzzled, we decided to try and sort things out with a good old-fashioned roundtable. Let us know what your take on Dr. Dolce Labcoats is in the comments.

Read the rest of this entry »

VMAs 2011, or More Questions than Answers

In MTV, Uncategorized on August 29, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Chelsea Bullock

The title says almost everything, but here’s the rest:

1. I didn’t actually watch the VMAs live. I followed the relevant Twitter and Facebook feeds and then watched all videos I was interested in today via mtv.com* and YouTube.

2. Beyonce sang her face off. I think her performance, while completely uncontroversial, is still enabling continued discussions of the public nature of the pregnant body. Also, are you as excited as I am about the potential awesomeness of Bey and Hova’s progeny? I hope so.

3. I have professed my adoration of Gaga since the beginning, but had been experiencing a bit of a lull in my affection. Jo Calderone‘s appearance and performance rekindled our flame. The monologue is a bit long, but totally worth it for anyone considering herself a little monster. He’s making Judith Butler proud.

4. Thanks to the fine folks over at Crunk Feminist Collective for their discussion of Chris Brown’s performance and for alerting me–the non-live viewer–to the fact that Jay-Z refused to demonstrate support for him.

5. Britney was honored, and rightfully so, but bless her for making the whole ceremony a bit more delightful by not even attempting to hide her confusion over Jo Calderone.

I’m curious to know: who watched, what your thoughts are, exactly how wrong is it that Katy Perry won over Adele, how long we have to punish Chris Brown, if you were disappointed by the Hunger Games trailer too, if you love Snooki as much as me, how attracted you are to Jo, and if you also thought Hova and Yeezy’s performance of “Otis” was a 9 out of 10.

*MTV, thank you for leading the way and making the entire show available online for free.

Good Girls Gone Mad: Music Videos and the “Problem” of Female Rage – Part 1

In gender on July 12, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Melissa Sexton

[Previously posted on my personal blog]

A few months ago, I wrote a post on my old Livejournal account about women and anger.  Specifically, I was responding to a fascinating article in the New York Times about film depictions of angry women.  In this article, brilliant critic Manohla Dargis argues that, It’s tricky whenever a woman holds a gun on screen, even if the movie is independently produced and the director is female.”  She continues, “I complain about the representations of women, but I’m more offended when in movie after movie there are no real representations to eviscerate, when all or most of the big roles are taken by men, and the only women around are those whose sole function is, essentially, to reassure the audience that the hero isn’t gay. The gun-toting women and girls in this new rash of movies may be performing much the same function for the presumptive male audience: It’s totally “gay” for a guy to watch a chick flick, but if a babe is packing heat — no worries, man!”

Whatever we think of women packing heat, I think it’s safe to say that American media is still really uncomfortable with depictions of genuine female anger.  Giving girls guns may be fine, but don’t let the girls fight male sexual domination; that’s just uncomfortable.  (See this other great NYT article on how Pretty Woman ultimately defeated Thelma and Louise in our cultural history).  Just look at the controversy surrounding Rihanna’s recent “Man Down” video.  After reading all the angry arguments against this video, I was expecting blood, gore, naked bodies, terrifying yet glamorous violence (like Kanye’s recent “Monster” video.  Or Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi”).  But no.  “Man Down” is a fairly tame if emotionally devastating video about a sexual assault and a woman’s revenge.  What, I had to ask myself, made the “Man Down” video so wildly controversial?  I mean, it was in rotation on BET, not PBS; was it really any more violent than the usual rap video fare?  As one smart Twitter comment (quoted in the MTV article linked above) stated, “it’s really ironic how women r always exploited n videos … we watch women be raped & murdered. Now a woman flips the coin & look!”  The only thing, I concluded, that made this video uncomfortable was that it dealt with real female anger and the violence that can result from it.  And it didn’t glamorize sexual violence in any way.  Is violence okay as long as it’s between men?  Is sexual exploitation of women okay as long as it is covered up (barely) with rhinestones or push-up bras?  Unlike many music videos, “Man Down” showed not bravado but instead naked emotional vulnerability – a mix of vengeful anger and frightened regret -

paired with a gritty, unglamorous aesthetic.  Female anger?  Female violence?  That’s scary.  To make it this real, in the words of the Parents’ Television Council, “gives retaliation in the form of premeditated murder the imprimatur of acceptability.”

But while we fear such realistic representations of well-founded female anger, anger is such an important source of cultural bonding for women.  Why is it, I asked, that we swim in a musical sea of songs about broken relationships, betrayal, and unfairness, as well as female retaliation and sexual competitiveness, but few of these songs or their accompanying videos has the power to generate controversy akin to “Man Down”?  Musically speaking, this mix of feelings has become a classic in the form of what I’d like to call the “Angry Woman Anthem.”   By looking at a couple of ‘Angry Woman Anthems,” I think we can see that many pop cultural representations of female anger negotiate female anger in ways both pathologically consistent with heteronormative dismissals or co-optations of feminine rage AND really subversive in their depiction of about anger and revenge.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hey Ladies! The women of NBC’s The Voice

In Uncategorized on June 24, 2011 at 12:43 am

Phoebe Bronstein

The Voice is one of the many reality television shows I have just recently started watching. It started with Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Millionaire Matchmaker. Then I moved on to Real Housewives of Atlanta, The Sing Off, and currently The Voice, The Glee Project, and my favorite, The Bachelorette. Until about three months ago, I had never watched a full episode of any reality TV program, and now I can’t stop! And aside from The Bachelorette, most of the shows I am into now revolve around singing (though I cannot handle American Idol mostly because of the mean spirited judging/hazing). I loved The Sing Off, plus the University of Oregon men’s acapella group On the Rocks was on it for a while, and I do love my Ducks. And The Glee Project is pretty fun so far. I really only watch these shows for the singing.

For some reason, even though I don’t really like The Voice, I keep watching it—maybe because I am still waiting for summer premiers or more likely because I love Cee Lo Green. But since I can’t stop watching, what I’ve noticed recently is that The Voice has some of the most interesting racial and sexual politics on television. And perhaps the most liberal. Unlike American Idol, where the last four winners have been white men from the Midwest or South, on The Voice the final eight contestants were one of the most diverse casts I’ve seen on television: people of all shapes, sizes, styles, sexual preferences, and races.

Nakia and Frenchie Davis before leaving The Voice

The final four—Javier Colon, Beverley McClellan, Vicci Martinez, and my favorite Dia Frampton—are most certainly the best singers from the show, but they also reflect the diversity of the show. Three out of the final four are women, two of them are openly gay, and only one of them is white. And the best part is (for me at least) that “America” voted for all of them, and I think that is cool and exciting. For example, “America” voted for Bev the badass, beautiful, and bald rocker, and Bev is not a type we normally get to see on network television. In my last post, I wrote that it feels like there is only one option in the way of female role models on TV, but on The Voice there are so many different kinds of interesting, successful, and bad ass women.

Beverly McClellan does her thing on The Voice

So maybe I watch for Cee Lo (I do adore him), or maybe I watch for lack of something better, or perhaps I watch because The Voice presents options not available on regular network programming. At the end of the day, I would like to think it is the latter.

PS After writing this post I found out that both Cee Lo and Blake Shelton have gotten into trouble recently for homophobic tweets (both apologized profusely). However, I just think this adds a strange (and upsetting) twist some of the cool stuff I see happening on the show.

Don’t Call It A Comeback: Britney Spears and “I Wanna Go”

In girl culture on June 23, 2011 at 2:44 am

Don’t Call It A Comeback: Britney Spears and “I Wanna Go”

Sarah Todd

On the record, did Britney end up making a comeback or not? I can’t tell from the way people talk about her. At the moment, she seems somewhat in the middle: nowhere near her early-2000s popularity heights, but not getting ridiculed in the tabloids on a daily basis either. Anyway, the truth is that Britney’s never coming back. At least, she’ll never be what she once was, and why should anyone expect her to be? She can’t be a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl somehow made responsible for working out the entire country’s virgin/whore complex again. Although she’s still young, she’s a different person now. It would be worrisome and far more disturbing if she wasn’t. If she wasn’t getting older, she’d be a vampire, and I’d be frightened.

Her new video “I Wanna Go” is pretty fun and self-aware. Britney jokes about tabloid rumors and fights off paparazzi-robots and makes excellent Half-Baked references. Her boots look like they’re good for making people bleed. I imagine that’s what she’s going for: the woman has plenty to be mad about. I would definitely see Crossroads 2: Cross Harder. I mean that one hundred percent un-ironically.

Although Britney is awesome throughout the video, smashing cameras left and right, the best parts are her reactions to Guillermo Diaz as he pours milk all over his face. At first she’s bewildered but trying to convince herself it’s kind of sexy…

Then she’s like, “Really, Guillermo? More milk? Okay, I guess. You do your thing.”

Finally, she just starts laughing: she’s in a car with a lunatic, but he’s a fun lunatic. No big deal.

Of course, eventually it turns out he’s a robot, just like basically everyone else in this video except Britney. Which is interesting, because Britney herself seemed like a robot before her breakdown. She had precise dance moves, superhuman abdominal muscles, and a vacant gaze. To all appearances, she was the kind of girl Warren from Buffy would have built.

However: just because we can’t readily see the evidence of a person’s interior life doesn’t mean they don’t have one. When Britney shaved her head and walked barefoot in gas stations, people ganged up on her. A big part of the reason they were so quick to do so was because her breakdown showed that she was a human being, not a robot, after all. The moment she was vulnerable, the public went right for her jugular–almost as if we’d been programmed that way. Maybe the real robots were us all along.

My other favorite part of the video is when Britney walks away from cop, spinning his handcuffs in one hand. She’s got hot-pink streaks in her hair and shoes that double as attack dogs. She’s wearing the smile of a woman who’s beaten a system that’s determined to pull her over. For the moment, she steps away free.

Shooting Britney (The Atlantic)

Hollaback: Rye Rye’s “Hardcore Girls”

In girl culture on June 18, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Hollaback: Rye Rye’s “Hardcore Girls”

Sarah Todd

Have you met young Baltimore rapper Rye Rye? She is amazing, as her single “Hardcore Girls” clearly demonstrates. While the song’s club-ready electronica sample isn’t my favorite, Rye Rye’s supertight rhythm and lyrics like “Can’t you see I’m the baddest chick / Even Superwoman couldn’t put her hands on this” put me squarely in the “Hardcore Girls” corner. But the best part about this particular song is the music video.

In “Hardcore Girls,” Rye Rye manages to be both exuberant and totally cool, breaking into brilliant smiles and casually twirling a baseball bat. The lady has star power, and the ability to persuade susceptible audiences that perhaps they too should invest in a handprint jumpsuit.

But Rye Rye isn’t the only hardcore girl in the music video; she shares the screen with ladies of a variety of ages, ethnicities, and personal styles. The lineup includes a female bodybuilder doing pull-ups on a fire escape, an older woman with some serious dance moves, a strikingly beautiful woman with a shaved head chilling by a pay phone, and an adorable yet tough little girl who crosses her arms with defiance. A big part of what makes the music video so exciting is that it shows such a multitude of diverse ladies being awesome in different ways. They’re all strong and beautiful and quite evidently hardcore. When the music video flashes through all of their faces at 2:15–and I know this sound may sound like I’m a giant cheeseball and/or overly invested in music videos, both of which are true–my heart lifted just to see them.

There are men in “Hardcore Girls” too; mostly, they’re looking at the women, with varying degrees of awe and lasciviousness. The guy half-smiling at 1:35 looks like he’s both attracted to and impressed by Rye Rye, a perfectly understandable response. Also, he is cute. On the other hand, the lecherous eyebrow-wiggle of the older man at 1:37 looks kind of creepy. While the men are looking at the women, the women don’t seem to be looking back, nor do they give any signs that they’re performing for the men’s benefit.

Since most of the video takes place on city streets (I think it’s Baltimore, but never having been there I can’t swear it), “Hardcore Girls” shows what navigating public spaces can be like for women who are the objects of unwanted attention.  At 1:16, when two women pass by two men with a pitbull, they keep their heads down and their long hair swept in curtains over their faces; the blonde woman holds her hands protectively at her collarbone. It’s clear that they’re trying to ward off any interaction. While we don’t hear cat calls, that may well be because all the women here could beat the men up.

In fact, most of the women in the music video show that they can defend themselves. There’s a reason Rye Rye carries a baseball bat. A woman pushes away a guy who’s getting in her face, while he falls to his knees in mock-worship.  The two women at 1:09 have a very protective dog who lunges, barking, at the screen. The female bodybuilder can certainly take care of herself, and even the little girl knows how to kick box.

“Hardcore Girls” isn’t saying that it’s always bad to look: after all, Rye Rye boasts of her killer moves, “All the honeys in the club keep watchin.” But the video does show that women have the right to move through the streets freely, without having anyone bother them or make them uncomfortable. Hardcore girls don’t just know how to dance; they also know how to fight.

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