The over-sexualized good girl gone bad. Young

The
proliferation of sexuality in twenty-first century popular music reflects the
media’s encouragement to exploit the female body as a means of capital
exchange. The sexualization of women saturates the mainstream at the emergence
of this current decade, and women are propelled to be overtly sexual due to the
incontestable old adage that sex sells. Music videos embrace highly
concentrated amounts of sexual imagery. Western society’s airwaves capture the
sexualized images of women that perpetuate myths of women’s unconditional
sexual availability and object status. Pop music icon Miley Cyrus emerged from
her days as an innocent singer on her television show, Hannah Montana, to a risqué
image of the over-sexualized good girl gone bad. Young girls are at a risk
because popular music’s excessive sexualization of women blurs the boundaries
between normal women and the unhealthy lifestyle of sexualized pop stars. Current
trends in American contemporary pop music include hyper-sexualized
representations of women, and the overt sexualization of young females in the
media harms young girls by encouraging society to internalize values which
promote gender inequality and society’s obsessive preoccupation with the body.

            Music videos provide extreme
illustrations of hyper-sexuality and erotic behavior. In the music video “Like
a Virgin,” Madonna portrays herself as a sexually independent woman (Morics).

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The lyrics Madonna belts out promotes sex without marriage, teaching young
women to be sexual while still exercising total control over their lives. Thus,
Madonna’s public persona as a confident, sexually unashamed woman was accepted
by the younger generation who emulated her fashion and style. Madonna’s fandom
was young girls, some titled ‘Madonna wannabes,’ a demographic whose own erotic
explorations had long represented risk and impropriety (Powers). In the novel Good Booty, author Ann Powers
interviewed a ‘wannabe,’ and the fan mentioned that “Madonna was able to do
something that our parents would never let us get away with… that whole ‘slut’
image” (Powers). The power of Madonna, on young girls, influences adolescent
sexual behavior and creates an image not suitable for their own age. Madonna is
eroticized through the use of provocative clothing and depictions of her
engaging in sexual behavior. In her song “Like A Prayer,” Madonna sings “I am
down on my knees, I wanna take you there” as she fantasizes oral sex. Adolescent
girls are not mature enough to engage in the sexual activities that Madonna’s
hit songs are about, and they do not teach abstinence. Thus, sexy music videos
like Madonna’s, featuring sexualized lyrical content, contribute to
adolescents’ sexual activity status to no longer be modest and remain virginal
until marriage. Madonna holds the spotlight where popular music and eroticism
commingled song’s explicit content.

            Pop stars, such as Miley Cyrus, push
the boundaries of what society deems as acceptable. Miley Cyrus broke through
to mainstream celebrity after her role as Hannah Montana on Disney Channel. Sex
is a key issue with younger celebrities like Cyrus, and she violates the trust
of parents as her recent musical contributions exceed the limits of
age-appropriate behavior for her main demographic, adolescent girls (Bickford).

The music video “Wrecking Ball” features footage of a nude Cyrus swinging on a
wrecking ball and interspersed scenes of her licking a mallet (YouTube). Cyrus’
music videos and live performances are raunchy and provocative. Her physical
appearance influences young women’s experiences and feelings about their bodies.

Cyrus is a pop star idolized by millions of fans for her beauty and vocals. Young
female girls seek older female role models to base their actions upon, and for
millions that role model is Miley Cyrus. Her young female fans learn that a
beautiful voice is not enough, and that they may need sex appeal in order to be
successful, promoting negative gender expectations.

            Britney Spears, the first American
sweetheart of the internet, exemplifies the dangers of sexual maturity at an
early age. At the age of 16, Spears released the music video “Baby One More
Time.” Teenage Spears dances in a school hallway in a revealing uniform against
the dress code, exposing her airbrushed stomach that heightens her sexual
appearance. Her gorgeous flesh and tiny voice juxtaposes the lyrically explicit
music and video imagery (Powers). Spears’ main demographic was adolescents and
teenage girls. When young girls watch her video and consume the sexual lyrics,
they are essentially learning to be sexually available, in order to achieve attention
and success. Young girls have the natural tendency to engage in social
comparison with the video imagery of Spears, and psychologically internalizing
the societal thin beauty ideal. Viewing these images of a scantily-clad Spears
influences girls to compare themselves and wish to look and feel sexy. In 2013,
Spears’ released pop song “Work, B**ch,” along with a hyper-sexualized music
video with hip-thrusting dancers wearing provocative costumes (YouTube). The
lyrics “you want a hot body … you better work b**ch” promotes the idea that in
order to be successful, women must exemplify bodily perfection. Spears’ music
sends negative messages to her fans that hot bodies are of paramount importance
compared to intelligence and talent.  

            Women are sexualized in videos,
regardless of the artist’s gender. Robin Thicke’s pop hit “Blurred Lines
(Unrated Version)” was censored from YouTube for its near-nudity women and degrading
lyrics. The female dancers are scantily-clad, with some only wearing nude undergarments
and topless (YouTube). The dancers straddle stuffed animals and expose their butts
to the camera, referring to the imagery that women are understood to be debased
sex objects. The dancers function to enhance the heteronormative masculinity of
men in society. The lyrics are further degrading to women with an emphasis on
the body and physical aspects. The imagery of objectified women affects the
common psyche with regards to how society treats women and the degree of sexual
expectation placed upon them. These images, popularized by celebrities like
Robin Thicke, legitimize men’s control and domination of women through a
rhetoric of power over and objectification of women. American popular music’s
representation of hyper-sexualized women constructs and reinforces gender
inequality where women serve in roles of subordination under the power of men.

            The sexualization of women in music
videos is not solely a modern phenomenon. In the video of The Shirelles “Will
You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” the camera takes an angle on the bodies of the
female performers, sexualizing the piece (Jack). The zoom-in on the protruding
butt represents the male gaze. The video demonstrates that many female body
parts are coded with sexual ability, objectifying women. Women are expected to
be “pretty enough” to attract male attention and social approval (Levande).

This song reflects gender inequality, where males have the agency to objectify
their sexuality, but females do not have the agency to express sexuality. Men
make women the object of their sexual gaze.

            In popular music, and music videos,
sexual iconography denotes that women are passive, submissive and exist
exclusively for the pleasure of men, however, prominent exceptions do exist. Some
music critics believe that popular music stars such as Miley Cyrus, Britney
Spears and Madonna demonstrate female empowerment in their music, where women
take ownership of their sexuality. Artists defend their overt performances of
sexuality as evidence of female empowerment. However, young girls cannot tease
this out from their favorite pop stars’ music videos. Young girls actively
construct their gendered subjectivity from music videos and want to be members
of the same public as their favorite celebrities (Bickford). These female pop stars
reinforce impossible beauty standards and promote an image in adolescents’
heads of the unattainable woman. Music videos are a powerful tool for identity
formation among young pop culture fans. The movement to empower females through
sexualization in music negatively impacts the physical and mental well being of
adolescent girls. Loss of self-esteem from watching sexy performers promotes
unhealthy sexual habits and can lead to eating disorders and depression. Popular
music in America promotes adolescent girls to increasingly view their bodies
and themselves from an outsider’s perspective.

            Pop music is a cultural phenomenon
that has immensely influenced society with its collection of Top 100 hits and
controversial music videos. As the new millennium began, society reinvented
themselves as erotic beings. Artists continue to exploit women in order to
compete for airplay, media attention and in turn record sales continue to rise.

The portrayal of females in popular music changes adolescent girls’ own self-image,
and alters how society views the gender of women as a whole. The erotic sexual
themes in American popular music videos and the greater contact young girls
have with sexualization on music streaming platforms, the greater the probability
they will experience the negative consequences associated with it.