The (Imagined?) Politics of The R&B Music Video

Please excuse the incoherence that’s about to unfold.

So there I was in the gym yesterday, running 10 kilometres (WOO!) to nowhere, when the new Timberlake and Timbaland video came on. Accordingly, and with the appropriate amount of consideration behind it, here are a few rambling thoughts on R&B videos. (FYI, I’m including all mainstream ‘Black’ music under this umbrella; just call me the Daily Mail. I love it when they describe any black musician as a rapper. No doubt they all play basketball really well. And love fried chicken.)

When a white star, say Justin T (who has made his name as a peddler of ‘Black’ music) does a music video, the featured video girl, regardless of the multi-ethnic dancers in the video – and the genre of the music being historically ‘black’ - will always be white. ALWAYS. Well, with the exception of his debut solo single, Like I Love You - that luminous beauty was Shakara Ledard. But he was trying to woo us ‘Urban’ chicks. (And the rat bastard did. You got us, Justin.) When he does deviate, they are usually Asian/Latina/of-indeterminate-ethnicity-but-not-black-no-sir. Seriously. Check it.

“Brown paper, white paper, stick it together with tape, the tape of love…”

Now let’s turn the tables with the video for Ayo Technology, you know the one, the catchy one with 50 Cent, featuring Timbo and Jutin. Sidestepping the ridiculous levels of implied misogyny and objectifcation of women etcetera, do you notice how JT ends up, once again, with ‘his’ very own white girl? Swing the camera over to Fiddy’s direction, and there is a veritable Rainbow Coalition draped across him – black, white and every beautiful shade and ethnicity in between. Ah, you think. Perhaps this is but one modest abberation. But wait! Mosey on down to the Timbo corner, and there he is, being attacked by a blonde. And not a black blonde like Lil Kim. Since this isn’t Destiny’s Child, and all participants in this song are equal partners, (ZING!) the camera once more returns to Justin. And there he is. Still with his one redhead. And she’s still white. Hm.

Now a few more questions.Why is this? Don’t get me wrong, the presence of these mostly pneumatic women in these videos, uber-sexualised, and reduced to the jiggling of their ‘pertinent’ parts is a nightmare to a feminist. And I’m a feminist. But as an aside, why is race still such a big question here? I might be taking a mahoosive leap here, but is ‘miscegenation’ (of a certain bias) still that hot a topic in America? Is Justin still seen, as a white man, as the great oppressor? Has he been advised to steer clear? Is it personal choice? Label enforced or implied? I read a few interesting comments after JT did that Love Sex Magic vid with Ciara. Robin Thicke’s videos, stuffed to the gills with black women, would suggest not. Then again, he’s been married to black actress Paula Patton forever. Does that mean he gets a ‘pass’? And are Timbo and Fiddy representative of the Shaft school of black masculinity; bedding women left right and centre, as well as thumbing their noses at white people like, “Na-na-na-na-na, ‘your’ women love us!”?

Sigh. I don’t know. I just noticed and wondered, is all. What say ye?

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5 responses

  1. Whooooah. I hadn’t seen that Love Sex Magic video before (I live under a rock, okay?). It’s…….spicy. God damn you, Timberlake. How DARE you bite your lip at me, sir? Go tickle someone else’s libido.

    I wish I had answers for your questions, YGD. It depresses me to think that the use of black dancers and actresses in music videos is a kind of cultural short-hand for “disposable” women. And I think that you may well be right that miscegenation carries considerably more cultural cargo in the US than it does in other places. I don’t think it’s a picnic anywhere, but Americans do endow it with a certain unmistakeable tension. Truly, the normalisation of inter-ethnic relationships is way past due. It’s at moments like this that I realise that we all need to be doing a lot more shagging. David Oyelowo, you’re next.

  2. David Oyelowo????

    Sorry YGD, haven’t seen the videos, however I think girls above a size 0 need to be in music videos.

  3. I’m feeling Adriana on the David Oyelowo comment… rather yummy :)

    What amuses me with R&B music videos is that they’re all the same really, lyrically and visually. It’s almost always about some moody love situation presented to either excite or depress you.

    The female vocalists like Beyonce et al appear in less than nothing and when they’re fully clothed they assume the roles of undercover prostitutes waiting to get their kit off. What’s twisted is that their target market is teenage girls and women in general… the writhing and gyrating is for men who happen to catch their video…

    I’m happy to admit i’ve been living under a rock, I’m officially bored of watching music videos and listening to music that’ll get me overly excited or aroused, i’ve got other ways of getting my kicks ;-)

  4. Meh, don’t think its that deep. Justin was given blacks chick in the ‘Carry Out’ video with Timbaland and ‘Work It Out’ with Nelly. They are just beautiful video girls A, B and C to them, not looking at color.

  5. Ultimately I don’t suppose black women should want to be in these videos but I understand you point. I haven’t paid much attention to his videos but I don’t think this is isolated to JT. Even with black R &B artist and rappers it seems there rascist or colorist issues. How many dark skinned women are seen in videos? Or if they are, how often are their roles less derogatory than that of lighter skinned women

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