May 262010

The video for Christina Aguilera’s single “Not myself tonight” is aptly titled. It’s full of blatant visual quotes from Madonna’s “Express Yourself” (1989) and “Human Nature” (1995) videos, plus George Michael’s “Freedom.” The pop singer is channelling Madonna from 20 years ago, when Aguilera herself was in the Mouseketeers.

Here’s Aguilera a scant 8 years ago:

Compared “Not myself tonight” to the video for Aguilera’s “Dirrty” from 2002’s Stripped album, directed by fetish/kink photographer David LaChappelle and described as a “post-apocalyptic orgy” in Blender. Instead of the Helmut Newton-tinged style of other videos including fetish style, “Dirrty” lives up to its name. It’s punk, not aristocratic or bohemian. What’s edgy about “Dirrty” is that it didn’t depict a fantasy world of aristocratic privilege and expert lighting, suggesting softcore porn. It reflected the aggressive world of racially-tinged, multi-ethnic, multi-fetish pan-sexuality depicted in the new (in 2002) broadband internet: utopia to some, dystopia to other.

While quite up front in fetish and BDSM sexuality, “Not myself tonight” is so aggressively clean and neat that it is actually a step backwards from “Dirrty.” It’s less provocative and transgressive. That particular crown has actually passed to Lady Gaga (“Love Game” and “Romance” particularly), and this video looks like Aguilera playing catchup, and making a bad miscalculation by aping Madonna from 20 years ago.

As SF Appeal’s Sexual Manifesto put it:

The fetishes and kinks we see in current music videos aren’t shocking per se, but then again, we live in a time where BDSM is less stigmatized and it’s not quite as pervy to purchase a first-timer’s bedroom bondage kit or a feather tickler.

Now that MTV doesn’t air videos anymore, or at least not while people are awake, these videos live in the internet world, the same one that has pushed BDSM into a more mainstream light. It’s not a conscious thing, as in Rihanna soaks in a tub of champagne and thinks, “I should wear a leather catsuit in my next video because the internet is slightly kinky and catsuits are kinky.” It’s a subconscious path in a more diverse and varied world. The network of people we connect with and contact (however remotely) has influenced the way we think nowadays, and that includes how we think about sexuality. Just think about how many people were willing to sit through the scat play in 2 Girls 1 Cup.

And 2 Girls 1 Cup these popstars are not. It’s hard to say whether these women include a kinky prop or outfit because they secretly enjoy dressing up like cops, but it’s certainly a thought to entertain. Many people engage in kinky sex without labeling, realizing, or acknowledging its inherent kinkiness.

Fetish is one of those visual styles people can always return to in fashion, videos and so forth. Someone once said that it has “good bones,” and still looks good no matter how old it is. However, my previous post discussed the de-fetishization (or at least de-sexualization) of harem pants, which took about a century. Will fetish style lose its cachet around 2050 AD?

Or, as the SF Appeal piece hinted, is the real danger assimilation, that kink will no long be seen as a distinct form of sexuality from vanilla?

This is, admittedly, a very fine distinction I’m making. “Not myself tonight” is pretty kinky by most people’s standards, even if it doesn’t push people’s buttons the way it would if it had come out in 2000 or 1995.

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