Popular music: short, sophisticatedly curated clips of, usually, young females performing, being sexually battered to fragments and uploaded into behemoth tube sites for the discursive pleasure of legions and the intense profits of few.
Was it always like this? The pathologically dismissive and, let’s face it, pornography-habituated like to hand bat any such comparisons aside, with tiredly pseudo-wise statements, such as: “But sex has always sold,” as though it were churlish to query the trajectory from Billie Holiday or Carmen McRae taking us through their melancholic intonations of the jazz classic Love for Sale, in, I dunno, the past, to Miley Cyrus demonstrating her yoga moves up against Beetle-juice at the VMA music awards in 2013.
Indeed, it seems inevitable that — particularly post the rise and ubiquity of internet porn — the “blurred lines” between commercialised sexual imagery and music would become quite clear, culminating in one rude peak with US rapper Coolio’s Pornhub-released soft-porn film (with accompanying rapped elevator music), Take it to the Hub.
Coolio’s video follows on from intensely pornified music videos like RnB singers Nicki Minaj and Jenifer Lopez’s respective films about their large bottoms, Iggy Azalea’s film about somebody’s “Pu$$y,” and that now almost rather timid Christinia Aguilera video wherein she got, dirty and stuff.
However, Coolio’s porn site’s outing is rather less glossy than Minaj, Lopez, Azalea and Aguilera’s musical flings, and its aesthetic apparatus is less “pornography referential” and more pornography literal.
It was an arrogance (or an ignorance, I’m not entirely sure which) of Pornhub’s godheads not to recognise that though pornography influences most of our popular culture, its influence must remain oblique.
Pop music is more a glossy idealisation of what pornography is, what it looks like, and what it does than an exacting documentation of what it actually is.
The music videos that vomit out hallucinatory visions of commercialised sexual access must remain a polished but surreal balance between jovial and clinical.
They ultimately can’t give way to the kitchen-sink reality of porn, which is, as described by a character in the Channel 4 comedy series Peep Show, “the usual dead-eyed men fucking dead-eyed women in a desperate world of pain.”
Although porn “fans” will scream holy mischief if their beloved “fuck bubble” is criticised in even the most gentle of terms, they don’t actually want their indulgence to be inaugurated into the popular sphere in the fullest of senses. Because then they can’t play their pretend transgressive game — which in a political sense is po-facedly pretending that porn users are a hugely thwarted people, despite the gargantuan output curated by porn sites and simplicity of their access.
Men (and it is men) need to believe that their toss hobby is the liberated world into which they escape from the banal urban civilisation forced upon them by women — who they seem to want to believe invented society and all its infrastructures.
The fact is that men own the concentrated profits of all of the porn sites, videos, advertisement and merchandising accompaniments, and we are all supposed to pretend this isn’t true. Imagine being in charge of everything and yet wanting to play outlaw? Well imagine every gormless bit of Hollywood cinematic pus ever, and you’ll get what I mean.
The point is that both pornography and pop music exist fully embedded into our corporate establishments and in no real fashion challenge the conservative values that ultimately prop up the capitalist patriarchy upon whose rock they suck.
Cardinal of these values are essentialist, binary ideas about men and women: men are kingpins who have the money, and women are sexual demi-people who compete with each other for the currency and status of being “loved” by either the right kind of men (music executives) or indeed the right number (pornography viewers).
So women are not really people as much as they are a form of vaginal cattle. Their price at market rather depending, historically, on where on the ladder between princess and prostitute they find themselves falling.
The updated version is pop goddess to porn “performer” — although performer isn’t really the right term because they do actually have to suffer sexual interference. And not “star” because despite whatever delusions those god-awful porn conventions or award ceremonials seem to be labouring under, women used in porn are seldom ever launched into the status of the household name.
Nonetheless, pornography’s cultural influence is so foundational now that in pop music contemporary starlets must reference it, without ever actually being its full-on fodder, in much the same way as postmodern sociologists must have an uncritical view of the porn industry in their “critical” analysis, while always remaining respectfully suited themselves.
Or at least that is the tightrope of image or brand that must be walked, one brazenly broken by Pussycat Doll Kaya Jones, who said the band was a front for a prostitution ring, a claim vehemently denied by the remaining members. Because the Dolls had to sell sex, but they could not be seen to actually sell sex.
And it is not as though I imagine that sexualised imagery was not used to promote popular music prior to the rise of pornography tube sites – in the same way that I understand that misogyny was not invented by Hugh Hefner – but it’s the severity and homogeneity that is so striking.
In the decade in which I spurted up, the 1990s, it was possible for women musicians to wear relatively normal clothes, to write and sing songs about being relatively normal human beings. Not have to pretend to be goddesses atop a prostitution pile, imbuing themselves with the tones of pornography in order to attract the nervous ennui of their commercial audience while simultaneously never getting too close.
So the Pornhub executives can relax, their music production company may never take off, but their influence is already assured.