Beyoncé’s hit “Get Me Bodied” exemplifies her aesthetic when it comes to the history of her music video productions. Last week, the multiple Grammy Award winner released a clip for the song “Why Don’t You Love Me” where she portrays a 1950s-style sex matron named B.B. Homemaker performing chores around the house, playing it up for the camera, smacking her behind, pumping her legs in the air and dusting the Grammys that perhaps belong to her alter ego. All the while, she sings of being ignored by a would-be lover despite her fabulousness.
While B.B.’s look has been said to be influenced by shows like Mad Men and can be seen as an extension of the look Beyoncé rocked from Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” clip, her style—the intense makeup and over the top, exaggerated movements—is heavily influenced by the bump and grind of traditional burlesque.
It is from this devotion to shining costumes and constant shimmies that Beyoncé has become one of the primary forces who kept the music video medium alive during its lean years in the mid ‘00s and who’s helped to spearhead its resurgence as a formidable online presence. For her 2006 album B’day, she reportedly bankrolled several of its clips herself and her single “Single Ladies” is the second most-watched music video online with more than 520 million views. It is regarded as a video classic.
Whereas Gaga’s work embodies the performance art possibilities to be had in music clips, Beyoncé’s work is a continual homage to the vamp, to pop artist women who use their adorned and partially or almost fully unclothed bodies to make an impression on audiences. And while this is a movement that harks back to the earliest days of the music video where Madonna’s stamp could not be ignored, there’s been a groundswell of female acts who have taken the idea of the sleek and slick vamp to the top, including Gaga, Rihanna, Keri Hilson, Ciara and Christina Aguilera, who in her “Not Myself Tonight” clip utilizes ideas from the Material Girl’s image canon.
WATCH BEYONCE’S ‘WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME VIDEO’ HERE:
The concepts and imagery for “Why Don’t You Love Me” can also be found in a clip Ashanti used in her “Good Good” clip to support her 2008 album The Declaration. In one scene, she scrubs the floor in pearls, earrings, heels, stockings and a mini, eventually enveloped by suds; in another, she shops for groceries in a red hot dress that’s like a second skin. In contrast to B.B.’s forlorn state, Ashanti asserts that she knows how to keep a man and advises women to explore their power, to allow men to maintain the illusion in public that they run the show since behind the scenes ladies rule.
And therein lies the potential conflict for many, that a woman can rule while being a living doll, another image trope played up by the likes of Mariah Carey. Mimi’s clips have become increasingly about her shape over the course of her career as she embodies Barbie in videos for “Touch My Body” and “Up Out My Face,” which she shares with up-and-coming rapper Nicki Minaj. The clip opens with both women in their own life-sized doll packaging and continues with big doses of self-mockery and tongue-in-cheek asides. Mariah grandiosely tumbles into a heap from her box at one point; Nicki looks on and smiles.
Interestingly, any sort of potential uproar over the vamp and doll trend has felt diffuse compared to the hoopla over the nudity displayed by Erykah Badu in her “Window Seat” video, where her body was used to make a political and social statement about nonconformity. Badu was fined by authorities and has been the subject of intense debates. Pre-packaged, sexualized nudity on a soundstage is more accepted than politicized, public nudity done guerrilla style.
Leah King, a performance artist and youth educator/program coordinator for the Brooklyn Academy of Music, thought that Janelle Monae’s clip for “Tight Rope” stands out because the singer in her bow tie and blazer isn’t using sexy body imagery to sell her song. It’s a reminder that the vamp is only one female archetype among many, and begs the questions: What’s the next step for the bodacious body trend in music videos? And where are some other places that it can lead us?