How many times have you seen half-naked women grinding on men’s bodies in music videos? The number is far greater than what we may care to admit. Though we may watch it for mindless fun, we should deeply look into the problems of this kind of aesthetic.
Music videos have in an essence allowed musicians to play the personas that their music demands. This lets the artist explore the sensations and emotions of the song on the image they are portraying. There are many other cultures that leave their artists in the background, also known as playback artists. For example, in the Bollywood industry, many singers are designated to sing for actors or actresses in movies, and this because the music videos are often times weaved into the film. I am not saying that one way that is correct over the other, but there is more of a direct and tangible freedom given to American musical artists. To an extent, this kind of freedom has been misused. Often times, we see the formulaic representations with women barely clothed and capturing almost every heterosexual man’s dream, and some have referred to this as the “male gaze”.
According to an article in The Conversation, the male gaze suggests how men look at women in a sexualized way for their own empowerment. This piece furthermore explains how the gaze primarily focuses women as the object of attention for a heterosexual male desire. Laura Mulvey, an English director, first proposed this phenomenon. Many of her works investigated this concern and question around the “male gaze”, including "Pentheselia: Queen of the Amazons". In this film, she experimented with the idea of women being placed in the patriarchal system and how this connected with the male fantasy. This insight even extends to the music industry as well. In an article discussed in the Independent, 7-12 percent of music video directors are female. Taking into account a number of music videos released every year, only a small fraction of them are actually directed by a female. This low representation of women restricts the narratives many artists may wish to take with these videos, so the artist Charli XCX took matters into her own hands.
The “female gaze” was missing, and what better to implement that than in a song like “Boys”. For those who do not know, Charli XCX is a pop artist who sang many hits like Fancy alongside Iggy Azalea and Boom Clap from The Fault in Our Stars album, and now she has gifted us all with her new hit “Boys”, in which she experiments with the female gaze. Charli directed this video on her own alongside Sarah McColgan. The video features over 60 male celebrities starting from musicians like Joe Jonas, to Wiz Khalifa, to even YouTubers like Cameron Dallas. Overall the video does just do an exact opposite of what a male gaze would look like, but there are some very true genuine moments. She captures not only the playful sides of men, but we see many of them messing up in the video as well, which provides a more genuine side. There some question as to whether she took the right approach in making this video. Is doing just the opposite of the “male gaze” be enough of an impact to spread the message? Could she have used people other than well-known celebrities to convey the same message, or was this a way for her to humanize the people who are lionized?
Overall, her message has created something revolutionary. The female hand can control the female gaze. Of course, this makes sense, but in order to make an impact in the Hollywood industry, there needs to be more directorial female representation. If this is something that does not generally appeal to you, the music video was meant to be a feel-good one. Just sit back, and enjoy Joe Jonas eating his stack of pancakes!