Two newsworthy music videos from different female pop stars in the same week? I guess I'll have to ask, "why is Sheryl Crow on Cougar Town?" on Monday. Let's get to it.
So, I watched Christina Aguilera's "Not Myself Tonight" which was directed by Hype Williams and premiered on Vevo at 12:01 a.m. this morning. As I had recently written about reported collaborations with Le Tigre and D*Face's cover art for Aguilera's forthcoming Bionic on my blog, I was a bit excited. In addition, the first half of this year has been headline-making for controversial music videos, with M.I.A.'s "Born Free" being the most recent.
I'll preface by saying that if we have to play favorites (which we don't, as I don't like pitting female artists against one another), I'm on Team Christina. Initially, I was hesitant because she was aligned with blond post-feminist teen pop stars like Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, and Mandy Moore. As a high school student and nascent feminist, I was into Björk, Cibo Matto, Erykah Badu, PJ Harvey, and Liz Phair and had no use for the commodification of jailbait. I was also not into "Dirrty" when it first came out, but its confrontational pro-sex message eventually won me over.
I'd also point out that the clip shows Thai graffiti that says "Thailand's Sex Tourism" and "Young Underage Girls" which did not win me over. This gets at some of my issues with Aguilera's past racial appropriations. While I enjoy the clip for "Fighter," directed by Runaways' Floria Sigismondi, it trades in Orientalist imagery. Also, though "Can't Hold Us Down" is a duet with Lil Kim that's critical toward double standards and celebratory of female sexual autonomy, the video shows Aguilera, who is part Ecuadorian, playing an amalgamation of a chola and a b-girl to the point of minstrelsy.
However, once I heard that voice, I knew something more was going on.
More to the point, I knew that the young woman behind that voice was often singing about agency and self-possession. As Aguilera's matured, this has only become more evident as she's built a family and forged a career largely on her own terms. Also, while overstuffed, I liked Back to Basics, which boasted "Still Dirrty" and "Candyman"; the clip for which Aguilera co-directed with Matthew Rolston.
I am excited about Bionic despite concern that I don't see Le Tigre, M.I.A., and Santigold's producer credits. Polow Da Don was behind lead single "Not Myself Tonight," a derivative but enjoyable dance track bolstered by that voice. The song hasn't made much of an impact on the pop charts. Will the music video create interest?
We'll see how the blogosphere treats it in the coming days, but I'm inclined to say "no." The content is "provocative," but nothing we haven't already seen. Frankly, we've seen much of it before elsewhere. The chorus line of female dancers "engaging" with Aguilera recall Ciara's "Love Sex Magic," Spears's "3," and Beyoncé's "Green Light." Ms. Knowles also wears the same dominatrix ballet heels in "Green Light." Spears further comes to mind when the camera highlights bottles of Simply Christina, Aguilera's perfume, as the fellow former Mouseketeer dabbles her brand's fragrances in "Circus" and "3." Some of the sets recall the gestures toward Metropolis in Madonna's "Express Yourself." I even read Aguilera lighting the wardrobe on fire as a reference to George Michael's "Freedom '90."
However, Aguilera does seem equally into making out with the tied-up woman and the hunky dude she climbs on top of at the end of the clip. Also, though "Like a Prayer" took place in a church, I don't remember the Material Girl putting on a dominatrix mask in one. Of course, Lady Gaga wears them to press conferences.
Apart from extensive borrowing, I wish "Not Myself Tonight" didn't abide by the tired narrative of women going to the club and getting their rocks off. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but there are a myriad of other ways to depict ladies feeling out of character and liking the experience.