Sex sells: the modern music video

Music videos are, at heart, a marketing exercise. Labels don’t throw thousands of pounds at a band to make art, they do it to promote the music and try to sell it. There are four historical ways to market any product: humour, showcasing, controversy and sex. This Is America is a great example of a song’s video that has enhanced its message. Showcasing often comes in the form of lyric videos and are, frankly, typically unremarkable (but they are cheap).

It is the sex category that is of the most interest. Sex can be used in music videos in many ways. Sometimes it forms the basis of the video itself, other times it serves another purpose. Many people argue that it is too common in music videos and is only becoming more so. I’d invite anyone arguing this to take a 15 minute cross-section of 80s MTV. In amongst the pastel colours and bad hairdos was plenty of sex appeal. We too often forget that marketing which relies on sexualisation is not a new thing. We may see more skin, or more provocative dancing, but that is more a sign of the times than any greater use of sex.

Ultimately, the important question is whether sex has a place in music videos and my answer is the most painful tepid of any: it depends. My views are much the same as for adverts. Indeed, if one takes my early point that music videos are marketing as the logical conclusion, then this makes sense. Sexualisation is different from objectification. Where sex serves a point and does not objectify, who cares? It’s an advert after all.

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June 2022
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