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Pop is Porn

Rino Breebaart

These days, it's possible to have a porn website on the computer screen and an MTV video on the telly, and lose one's ability to distinguish one from the other.

One of the rather mixed perks of my day job as internet editor is that I occasionally have to review a range of web pornography. These websites have to meet stringent guidelines in order to advertise with our company. I say this is a "mixed" perk because after several dozen varied and extreme sites with all possible permutations of fetish and taste, I get rather tired and exasperated with the amount of weirdness out there. I've reviewed every combination of sexuality, race, gender, insertion, age, and the tireless quest for new and exotic variations thereof, including animals (too many animals), grannies, and grades of body hair. I've seen fetishes ranging from feet, breast and nose fixations. I've seen all manner of bodily functions and perversions turned into sexual acts. And I now have imaginative access to all applications of latex, rubber and hosiery. I've reviewed sites specialising in role-playing scenarios and/or varying degrees of extremism — from weird illegalities to regular S&M. I've picked up strange snippets of lingo like 'camel toes' and 'snowballing'. So I can now distinguish between the thousand sexual shades of gray (or should that be flesh-colours) in the broad spectrum of every possible variation of the sex act.

In all, like anyone who has had some capacity to look online, I've found an endless variety of fetish and catering-to-desire but ultimately very little entertainment — and it's entertainment that I hunger for after all the fun and games. But then, getting away from the computer and flipping over to a regular TV entertainment channel like MTV, I instead get a consistent stream of near nudity and shaking booties in G-strings and grinding dances and heavy suggestion; and I'm not even talking about the average rap video, yet. To be specific, the full extent of this near-pornography didn't hit home until I was watching the German MTV channel recently, where the contrast between popular American and popular European music videos is quite definitive. This is because most of the German bands have relatively little sexy action going on — the American videos (of which there were many, this being MTV) simply have far more skin on display. Now, music videos have always featured a degree of sexuality to help shift units — historically speaking, Elvis' movies with their girls, girls, girls tap into profitable sexuality in the same way that today's bling rappers cash in on appealing models and booty-shaking. From pop-music films to pop videos, sexiness builds the projection of a fantasy lifestyle crowded with fantasy-fulfilling people.

While watching the top 100 music videos of the year on German MTV, and taking into consideration all that I've (shall we say) learned on the day job, I'm starting to lose track of that categorical differentiation between amusingly attractive promotional videos and hardcore titillation. Pop videos are starting to employ more heavily the modes and moves of porn: the same striving for variety, albeit limited variety, in production ideas and execution. For the moment, the flirted promise of revelation, which occasionally overdoes it in televised music (like Janet Jackson's exposed and pierced nipple), still stands in contrast to pornography's outright overfulfilment of revelation, but the boundaries are blurring and, alas, adopting the same flesh-toned hues.

Stop and take stock of how much sex there is in pop music promotion. Consider how sex and pop fit together so well. Every Snoop Dogg video has beaches and bikinis aplenty. Every R&B clip will have a swag of scantily clad dancers (male or female), or else a grinding and shall we say evocative dance routine (that's you, Beyoncé). The guy from Maroon 5 gets heavy with a scantily dressed girl in every video. Or, if it's a breakup song, the lead singer reminisces while his partner is laying about in her bedroom, scantily dressed or barely concealed, possibly sharing her bed with another guy. Or a singer might develop a taste for sexual games involving videotape and jealousy, like Chris Isaak in "Baby Did a Bad Thing", although Madonna has already pretty much mined the full range of such fetishes in her videos. Then there's Britney with her endless changes of sexual wardrobe: schoolgirl, bondage, wedding night virgin. Techno videos like Groove Armada's "I See You Baby" and the Eric Prydz remix of "Call On Me" work on the aerobics perve: all pumping beats and pumping leotards. Some other clips push for the fetish combo of scantily clad girls with power tools, or even girls exercising with office equipment (filing cabinets, photocopiers . . . regrettably, I couldn't quite catch the name of what could've been a German DJ). And they're always pouting, pouting while doing the sweaty bedroom poses and wearing whorish makeup, their cleavage pushed up, and basically everything shown, up front and in your face, just short of genital exposure and the act itself. There's always a flirtation with exposure, the push to an implied maximum like D'Angelo's "Untitled (How Does It Feel)", shot completely naked from the lower waist up.

Don't get me wrong, I really don't mind the show. I don't have a crusading viewpoint or an embedded agenda concerned with the state of media morals. Though it is becoming increasingly difficult to criticise the negative side of pornography (the effect on young minds, the difficulty of controlling access, the skewed representation of real relations and intimacy, etc.), especially when the pop media we consume elsewhere are adopting the modes and visuals of porn. Or rather, when their very consumption becomes a form of pornography, voyeurism, titillation — as moist-eyed viewers stare slack jawed at the TV screen and develop a 'crush' on Beyoncé. Another side effect, on the qualitative angle, is that those videos are starting to reflect the bland monotony and simple button-pushing of porn. There's the same play on suggestive nudity and invitation that you see at the start of porn routines; the same obsession with superficiality and surface (perfect lighting and makeup, just like porn's monotonous hairlessness and levelling of everything to sexual utility), and there are all the familiar poses. A recent Kylie Minogue video (I think it was "Red Blooded Woman") gave me the impression she was made up to look like a blow-up doll — a plastic star with her plastic soundtrack, predictably titillating. The visuals in music videos are pushing for that same sexy pleasure factor over and over as porn; the only difference being that with legitimate porn, the music is far worse.

To my jaded ear, the music in so many rap and R&B videos is also starting to sound similarly monotonous and repetitive. Or rather, the music is ceasing to matter as that which differentiates the package; just like porn, despite its search for variety and extremity, it ultimately becomes so much bland grinding with bland rhythm and beats. Same video or dance routines, same stars but a different jacket cover. A slightly different X-rating and package, but with the same degrees of titillation. And that means we might be too easily distracted, and losing track of real musical variety in the pop charts.

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