CONTROVERSY IN MUSIC VIDEO: THEN VS. NOW - EMILY HARRISON
Where will it end?
Music videos just keep getting more and more controversial and what with Miley rumoured to have done a real life concert in the nude having already got her kecks off and had a questionable white fluid poured into her mouth in a recent music video, it begs the question how much further can she go from there? Once she has bared all to thousands of fans, and millions more once images of the concert go viral what more is there left for her to do? And more broadly where can the industry go? We have got so used to seeing artists doing crazy things that in order to not seem passé, their antics need to get crazier and crazier. We have become somewhat immune. No longer are we shocked by a naked boob, risqué religious iconography or illicit drug taking. Artists know this, and as a result they have to push the boundaries further.
Controversial video antics are a bit like playing dares at school, everyone wants to do the craziest thing, egged on by your mates, the kudos you gained from weeing in the lunch time squash was worth the humiliation of pulling your pants down and weeing in front of everyone. In much the same way, artists are willing to reveal more and more of themselves and push the boundaries of acceptable behaviour to shock and impress their audience. Also lets not forget controversy sells and being as nobody can sell records anymore they have got to flog something to get the crowd going.
As we have moved through the MTV years to a world where the internet reigns supreme, controversial music videos have really had to ramp up a gear. We look back at some of the most controversial videos of the past and theorize what they would have to look like to elicit even a raised eyebrow from the YouTube generation.
1) Nirvana – Heart Shaped Box directed by Anton Corbijn
This video was clearly intended to piss people off. Images like a child dressed up in Klu Klux Klan gear, Jesus being pecked at by crows and dead foetus’ hanging from trees were never going to please everyone, or anyone in fact. But I don’t think when you sing a song about eating someone’s cancer you are really out to please the masses. But you know we all love a bit controversy don’t we? So despite their best efforts to alienate people the video still won the 1994 MTV Video Music Award, so perhaps not as controversial as you may initially think, even then.
To be controversial these days I think Nirvana would really have to ramp it up. I am talking more foetus’, more offensive religious imagery and more kids in culturally subversive costume. I am thinking hundreds of mini dictators running around maybe throw some new ones into the mix, mini Stalin mini Idi Amin, maybe add in some more controversial figures from recent history to really get people going, we all know how well that worked out for Nicki Minaj … add scrambled embryos into the mix and you have yourself a winner.
2) Like A Prayer – Madonna directed by Mary Lambert
Madonna hanging out with a black guy meant to be Jesus caused outrage in the 80’s but now I think it would be lucky to get even a comment from the permenantly outraged readers of the Daily Mail. Madonna of course got a lot kinkier over the decade, even having her ‘Justify My Love’ video banned by MTV. Not that it’s done her any harm, but Like A Prayer was definitely the most significant of her church baiting sexually liberated 80’s videos.
These days there are more videos that poke fun at the Catholic Church and it’s religious imagery than you can shake a cross at. If Madonna were to remake it now it would probably have to contain Madonna having actual intercourse with a transexual Jesus and subsequently giving birth to the Pope himself to solicit even so much as a raised eyebrow.
3) Smack My Bitch Up – Prodigy directed by Jonas Åkerlund
Drugs, Drinking, Sex, Blood, Strippers and Violence this video combined all the things parents feared the younger generation of the 90’s got up to on nights out. The songs title only served to make matters worse leading the older generation or anyone who hadn’t seen the video to hypothesize that it glamourized violence against women. But for those who were in the know, it was precisely this that was the most shocking thing of all, the perpetrator of all these heinous acts was in fact, female. Dun dun dahhhh.
This shocking revelation was enough to get tongues wagging in 1997 but seeing as we have got all too used to seeing Rihanna tieing up women and hanging them from meat hooks while smoking copius amounts of weed, I am not sure Prodigy would cut the mustard in the controversy stakes today. As with everything these days the whole thing would need to be a hell of a lot more extreme. Think GBH going on murder mixed with the latest crazy drug (bath salts) mixed with the plot to The Hangover 7 and you're getting there.
4) Girls on Film – Duran Duran directed by Godley & Creme
Not a video you would necessarily associate with scandal but Duran Duran’s original uncensored version was banned by the BBC and heavily edited in its run on MTV. The controversy at the time was so great that Simon Le Bon would later comment it overshadowed the serious intentions of the song, which, was intended to call out the industries exploitation of models. This video has unwittingly become a precursor to its modern day counterpart ‘blurred lines’, a fact I can only imagine Simon Le Bon is thrilled with.
These days there would need to be more nudity and lot less band, in fact maybe they would just cut them out altogether and just have a load of naked women rolling around in the ring. Maybe that’s the final taboo, all the models fully naked waving their vaginas at the camera, whether it would enhance or detract from its original intentions remains to be seen… but it would certainly rake in the views on YouTube.
5) Lemon Incest – Serge Gainsbourg directed by Serge Gainsbourg
To be fair I think this is one of the only videos on my list that would cause as much controversy now as it did then, potentially even more. It featured Serge and his then 12 year old daughter Charlotte singing a song about good old-fashioned incest. Incest is possibly one of the most incendiary topics to pen a song about, and it doesn’t help when you choose to perform the video with your real life child wearing a shirt and pants while you lie together on a bed…
Not hard to see why this video still remains a controversial one, and really I don’t think much more would need to be added for it to be considered so today. If anything people would be more up in arms than they were then (just think of everyone’s reaction to Elastic Heart). Back in the day it even managed to reach no 2 in the French charts, but then with its catchy synth pop and clever word play who can blame them? Maybe shield your eyes from the video though.
So music video has always been a controversial format, but as boundaries are broken and lines are crossed, its contents must become more extreme. With the backlash from the voices of the censors stronger than ever and the artists hunger for a headline showing no sign of abating where, my friends, will it all end? Will it take someone metaphorically weeing in the juice to really send us going backwards and censoring videos that contain anything other than innocent side boob or will the semi-pornographic cartoon video violence we see today only become more extreme? Only time will tell. But I for one can’t wait to watch and find out.