Gender issues in the realm of contemporary music videos are commonly represented on an unjust basis. According to general assumptions, females are perceived as a second plan cast members, whose task is to create the tone and atmosphere for the central theme. Female roles in music videos are often eliminated to accompanying a lead singer or exposing their bodies in order to highlight the supremacy of men. The women’s costumes and makeup are usually provocative and designed especially to seize attention of male auditory and make the video physical and alluring. An apt example of such tendencies is Eric Prydz’s video clip Call on Me. However, regardless of the abovementioned general proclivities in the music video industry, there are certain concrete exceptions. One of such exceptions is a video for Madonna’s song Express Yourself, directed by David Fincher.
Madonna’s Express Yourself has completely challenged the stereotypes in the music videos. Its location and time setting are clearly futuristic and visionary. A special atmosphere is created by dim neon lighting and a heavy rainfall, which makes the entire setting dismal and desolates and suggests a vivid space for the viewers’ imagination. There is a lens reverse between the shaft and the city, denoting industrial work. The shaft scene ostensibly points out the male sex being used for manual labor. Meanwhile, Madonna is represented as a strong female leader and the main message delivered by the video is that women are going to transcend men in future. Her arrival is sudden and energetic, which is achieved by the implementation of a low angle shot. A tender blond woman appears standing on top of a tall building, creating a pronounced visual contrast against the background of buildings, trains and other massive elements of industrial urban neighborhood.
The video’s long shot displays the impaired factory environment with the punctured roof and poor working conditions. All workers are attractive males with mature muscular bodies. They demonstrate an image of a perfect man, which is commonly cultivated by the majority of women. The workers are half naked and sweaty. They do heavy physical work demonstrating their propensity to using brute power. Such approach to portraying the male sex introduces the assumption that men are generally much stronger, but less intelligent than women. Madonna’s role in this video is of a flexible and versatile nature. At the beginning of the video she is wearing an elegant black dress that womanizes her image and makes her look tender. Consequently, she appears standing alone in the middle of a large room wearing cocktail evening dress and stroking a black cat. This scene utterly contrasts with the factory theme and masterly reflects a significant difference in social status between Madonna and the working class men. Thus, the video confronts common stereotypes of women being less successful and authoritative than men. Madonna’s elegant silky dress suggests that she is a wealthy woman. The use of low angle highlights her advanced social status and makes her look powerful. The female image suggested in Madonna’s Express Yourself is entirely opposite to that in Call on Me, where women are displayed as insignificant sexual objects.
The dazzling lighting in Madonna’s large and luxurious room accentuates the exceeding splendor and high standards of her lifestyle as opposed to grim and unpretentious atmosphere of the factory. Furthermore, Madonna changes her elegant graceful outfit to a stylish tuxedo creating a daring and eccentric image, which challenges commonly accepted idea that suits and ties are only applicable to refined wealthy men of the high society. Fincher includes this original and courageous scene in order to demonstrate how powerful, independent and confident Madonna is. The director uses low angle shot and clever lighting to reveal her tall figure secure on the stage. Her moves are determined and presumptuous and a sophisticated monocle hanging from her neck creates an even more evident impression of her significance, professionalism and a cosmopolitan mind. Such radiant appearance of a woman suggested by Fincher completely subverts the commonly accepted assumptions about the female sex. Madonna performs an expressive and assertive dance showing her energy and an exceedingly rich potential. This impressive scene creates a significant visual impact on the audience, because the reverse stereotypes it introduces are unconventional, radical and original in their nature. Fincher’s image for Madonna is that of a dominant and highly effective woman, entirely opposite to unnatural and preposterous girls in Call on Me.
The males in Call on Me and Express Yourself are represented as two extremes. In Call on Me they are portrayed as alpha males, having absolute supremacy over the female sex and being authentic leaders. Ladies dancing around them dispose their bodies and act submissively. Female roles in the music video are restricted to the unpretentious second plan. Call on Me brings out the difference in social status between men and women. On the contrary, males in Express Yourself are portrayed as a cheap labor power. Moreover, their status resembles that of slaves. Such impression is created by the chains on their necks and the conditions in which they are forced to work. They appear to be at the lowest and most primitive level of society.
Another characteristic feature of the male sex represented in Fincher’s music video is aggressiveness. It is expressed and highlighted in the scene of violence that occurs towards the end of the video. In his attempt to accentuate the social and cultural differences between Madonna’s refined intelligent manners and the workers’ primitive behavior, Fincher portrays the barbaric and uncivilized side of the male nature. Furthermore, an attentive viewer can observe evident similarities between the significance of male roles in Express Yourself and the female parts in Call on Me. In both videos, these segments of the cast function as sheer backgrounds for the main themes. They act as decorations designed to create an entertaining and appealing atmosphere for a music video.
Objectification has become an indispensable element in most music videos, because it helps attract the audience and seize their attention. Although Call on Me is a typical stereotype of a music video and its style and central themes are complete opposite to those in Express Yourself, both videos have certain common technical features. An apt example of such features is an extensive use of low angle shots. However, the purposes for which they are used appear to be utterly different. In Call on Me, the director uses low angle to focus attention on the figures of young and sexy ladies, who form a favorable background for the lead artist. Due to such focus, the video succeeds in meeting the chief requirements and anticipations of the male auditory. The music video revolves around a picture of a single man surrounded by many attractive women in one room. This limitation of space contributes to the impression of a man’s control over women and exposes him as an alpha male. Such type of narrative is common for the popular music videos. It features pornographic trends and a primitive plot. On the contrary, Madonna is the only female character in Express Yourself. She is strong, dominant, confident and successful. Thus, the concept of Fincher’s video presents a reverse stereotype interfering with common routines concerning representation of women in the music videos.
In comparison to Express Yourself, Prydz’s video appears to be rather primitive. Its setting never changes and the entire narrative is revealed through the framework of dancing and partying. The main concern of the video is to expose characters and not develop them by means of introducing a certain concept or plot. There is an extreme close-up shot in the video, which focuses on the girl’s defiant red nail polish. Red is a powerful and bright color often connoting love and passion. The girls’ intense nail polish colors, their acute make-up and messy hair make their appearance provocative, seductive and wild. Their skin is bronze, their lips look much accentuated and their overall appearance creates an impression of a cheap artificial physical attractiveness popularized and common in the porn industry. Large amount of close-ups of exposed female bodies combined with the abovementioned low angle shots make the video fit into the common stereotypes of popular music videos. As for the costumes, they are not as versatile as those in Fincher’s video. The girls in the dancing room wear different, yet similarly diminutive and provocative clothing. This feature proves the fact that women have been greatly objectified in Call on Me.
However, Express Yourself does not entirely support the idea of reverse stereotype. In the closing scenes of the video, Madonna appears naked, wearing a dog collar and chained to the bed. She suddenly becomes a characterless sexual object. This scene appeals to the fact that women freedoms are often limited by common gender assumptions and stereotypes. This scene, where Madonna walks like a cat and licks the milk from a cat bowl, is a metaphor for non emancipated women who humbly rely on men and live up to the social stereotypes.
In the music video industry, gender issues always remain crucial. Copious videos like Call on Me are largely produced to satisfy males’ taste and form major trends in the popular music video industry. This category of music videos has a profound impact on society due to the fact that its target audience is teenagers. Thus, an excessive use of sexual elements is a largely destructive factor in the development of young generation. While displaying imaginative and visionary situations, such popular music videos contribute to the growing social prejudice and stereotypes in the real life. In conclusion, the importance of eliminating the amount of such poor quality, yet unfortunately high rate music videos as Call on Me is hard to be overvalued. A possible way to achieve this is by means of creating reverse stereotype music videos like Express Yourself.