by Katie Lathan
I don't remember the last time that I bought a tangible single or album. This is probably against some kind of music-lover law, but it's also entirely demonstrative of the internet age in which we live. If I can have the instant gratification of listening to a track on Spotify, or watching a music video on YouTube, why would I bother leaving the comfort of my own home to go and track down a CD?
Indeed with the rise of YouTube and an increase of those lazy listeners who would prefer to watch a video rather than actually go out and buy a single, there needs to be some sort of inventive or controversial element to the music videos which are being produced. Make a video that generates enough internet attention so it will be spoken about on radio shows and gain TV momentum, more people will hear about it, and then they'll start searching to see what all the fuss is about.
This move and genius piece of marketing has led to music videos becoming increasingly controversial in order to grab our easily-lost attention. Let's take, for example Odd Future. I'm a massive Odd Future fan, and I do truly love their music, but what was initially intriguing about them was being able to watch Tyler, the Creator eat a cockroach and subsequently throw it up, and seeing fellow OFWGKTA member Earl Sweatshirt and his friends make a cocktail of drugs in a blender and then pull their teeth out. These controversial music videos earned them a lot of attention, and the accolade of being "at the vanguard of modern hip-hop". Not too bad, for a few teenagers who initially were pissing around with a video camera.
If we turn away from rap music and towards more mainstream music, however, we can get a good look at what does work in the music business. And that, it would seem, is casual misogyny. Now, before someone starts chanting about how this is all feminist shit, bear with me. Robin Thicke was recently at the top of the billboard charts for four weeks, and has created the first song in six months to sell more than 400,000 copies in just a few weeks. It would be more than naïve to suggest that the accompanying video for the song, with three naked models prancing around, didn't have anything to do with this. Thicke had four studio albums prior to this, but find me 10 people who can name a single of his previous songs, and I will follow Tyler, the Creator's lead and eat a cockroach. The success Thicke now has is almost unprecedented in terms of how it came almost entirely from the video. One look at the lyrics of his follow-up single, Give It 2 U, and it's quite obvious that sex sells ("I got this for yah, a little Thicke for yah"). Of course, any man who has to frantically repeat how well-endowed he is ought not to be trusted.
But it's not only men who objectify women to sell their music - women also know that this system works in their favour. Lady Gaga is known for her controversial videos, and she does it all in very few clothes. Even in Marry the Night, where Gaga begins the video in a mental hospital, ends up with her in a leather playsuit, smeared with oil and clambering over a car in the pouring rain.
And Nicki Minaj wears so few clothes that you have to try pretty damn hard not to objectify her. It's worth remembering, though, that 'Nicki Minaj' is an alter-ego which stems from the singer's desire to escape the tumultuous upbringing that she underwent. That's right - the practically naked figure that we are used to seeing writhing around in some semi-fantastical landscape is an extension of a psychological trick to make her younger self feel better. If that doesn't make you feel empty inside, I don't know what will.
Perhaps the saddest case of all is that of Beyoncé. Gone are the days of the Independent Women, Sasha Fierce and the idea that it was in fact girls who ran the world. In a horribly ironic twist after Single Ladies, Beyoncé is at the peak of her career, yet touring as Mrs Carter. Feminism, even if it is slightly misguided (as it is in Ms Knowles's case), doesn't sell records, but girls in bikinis do. According to Thicke himself: "Women and their bodies are beautiful. Men are always gonna want to follow them around." And as long as the music industry considers men monolithic enough to follow a pair of shapely legs wherever they wander, I suppose those legs will continue walking right up the billboard chart.