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Pop star Rihanna (wearing white) performs "S&M" while chained during the Loud Tour in 2011. A woman dressed as a dominatrix (wearing black) is sitting in the background.

Sexuality in music videos has been evident since the 1980s. The extent to which stereotypes align with gender portrayal varies each decade. Music video content has remained culturally relevant and subliminally influential on adolescent character development. In addition, the intersectionality between race and gender is evident throughout music video history. By analyzing the correlation between music video material and gender representation, conclusions can be drawn pertaining to how music television impacts young adults' perception of their appropriate societal behaviour.

Over time, women and men are portrayed in a different way. From the 1980s when music videos were first released, men appeared more frequently than women and were more likely to be the lead character. Over time, the perception of women has changed. In music videos, the implication now is that female characters are valued for their physical appearance and their ability to entertain and pleasure men. In many music videos, cameras point towards a woman's chest and legs. Also, most women wear more revealing clothes to attract especially the male audience.

Human sexuality not only includes gender but also people's behaviour. Within music videos, certain songs impact others differently. Scientists have proven that female adolescents are more likely to use music to reflect their emotional state while men are more likely to use music as a source of energy or create a more positive image of themselves. Many artists include references to sex, drugs, violence, etc. within their music and show these within their music videos. As more adolescents watch these videos, there has been an increase in ill behaviour. The human sexuality in music videos, as well as the behavior portrayed by the artists, can give off both positive and negative behaviour towards the audience.



On August 1, 1981, the first 24-hour music video channel aired.[1] Directed towards adolescents, MTV promoted societal trends through video content and advertisements. The material displayed helped the audience identify appropriate male and female roles, behaviors, and careers.[1] In the 1980s, typical feminine stereotypes included: submissive, performed household duties, emotional.[2] Contrastingly, common male clichés were as follows: dominant, professional occupations, aggressive.[2] Young adults mainly watched MTV because it was different from other programs, they were intrigued by the unification of visuals and music, and used it as "leisure time entertainment".[3] Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Michael Jackson, and Guns N' Roses were leading significant figures, displayed on MTV. Music Television had a commanding influence on its audience and heavily effected the ways adolescents viewed their societal role.[3]

Music videos, released in the 1980s, typically depicted women as alluring objects. Aligning with typical stereotypes, women were portrayed as attractive, yet submissive. Although women's talents may be acknowledged, their skill never surpassed the male's—this concept is evident in AC/DC's video for "Sink the Pink".[2] In the Rock n' Roll video, one of the main characters is a self-assured woman, who is a skilful pool player; the woman utilizes her talent and sexuality as an attention getter but is not shown as more talented than the male characters.

In a study, conducted in 1987, thirty hours of MTV content was analyzed. The research performed helped draw further conclusions, regarding sexuality in 1980s music videos. The results suggested: 57% of music videos displayed women being objectified, 17% showed women's talents being accounted for, yet her sexual role was highlighted, 14% did not align with typical stereotypes, 12% acknowledged women's independence.[2] In addition to these results, touching was displayed in over 50% of music videos and females were frequently seen in seductive clothing.[3]


Music remained an essential part of the cultural evolution of the 1990s. The music scene transitioned into the darker and more provocative sounds of the genres of alternative, hip-hop, and R&B. Popular music videos of the time came from artists such as Nirvana, Notorious B.I.G., Aaliyah, Weezer, Micheal Jackson and Radiohead. While the acclaimed artists and genres of the times differed from the previous decade, the visual depictions of this music and how they were delivered to the public remained the same. MTV remained socially relevant in constructing images to correlate to music, helping propel youth culture into the atmosphere of visual experiences. As music videos grew in popularity and cultural prominence, researchers became continually fascinated by the link between gender identities and mass media platforms. Several studies have been conducted regarding gender portrayals in music videos of the 1990s.

In early 1990, MTV created a Program Standards Department which aimed to reject music videos featuring extremely graphic and explicit content. The program sought to prohibit any signs of female nudity and violence directed toward female figures. For example, MTV rejected Madonna's "Justify my Love" video due to its explicit content. After this program was implemented, a study was conducted to analyze the centrality and depiction of women in the most 100 popular videos of the decade. The study first sorted men and women in the categories of either leading or supporting figures in the videos, discovering that men outnumbered women in lead roles by an astronomical 5 to 1 margin.[4] Secondly, the study categorized the lead roles into seven main portrayals (artist, poser, comic, actress, superhuman, dancer, or crowd pleaser). The analysis found that a majority of women in leadership roles were portrayed as either poser (35%) or dancers (29%) while men in lead roles were more equally disbursed amongst the seven categories.[4] Portraying women predominately as dancers or posers implied that, in the 90s, women needed not to display musical talent, but instead physical talent that emphasized a sexual attitude. Meanwhile, the equal disbursement of men amongst the categories suggested that men could better exhibit skills of musical and performing prowess.[4]

Other studies analyzed 123 music videos from varying genres that aired in the summer of 1995. 44.7% of the videos failed to feature a female in a central role, while 31.7% of the videos portrayed women as conventional, meaning that they served as either objects or sensory props to romantic male desire.[5] However, the overtly sexual nature of women in these videos was not the only thing analyzed. Gender displays in the form of nonverbal sexual cues were also considered, proving that women could also be depicted as more subliminally sexual than men. For example, in the videos only 1.24% of men touched their hair compared to 38.35% of females.[6] Additionally, only .74% of males danced suggestively in their videos compared to 26.80% of females. The study examines the distinction between the prominence and depiction of male and female gender portrayals within the music videos of the 1990s.


Singer Britney Spears performs in The Circus tour in Miami, 2009

Music remained integral to cultural life in the 2000s, while not many new genres were created during this time other than a few indie-related and electronic genres. Teen Pop carried a heavy influence over from the 90s into the first part of the decade. Artists such as Britney Spears Christina Aguilera, NSYNC and Backstreet Boys. By the mid-2000s Contemporary R&B had become the most popular genre with artists such as Usher at the forefront.

A study conducted by Jacob Turner in 2008, hypothesized that African American genres of music (hip-hop, rhythm, and blues) would feature the most sexual content in their music videos while White genres (Country and Rock) would featureless. The study found that 73% of all music videos had some sort of sexual content. Further, the study found that 90.09% of mixed Hip-Hop and R&B music videos contained sexual content. Followed by Hip-Hop with 79.7%, R&B with 76.9%. The genres that contained the least amount of sexual content on their music videos were rock with 40.0% and Country with 37.0%. The study also looked into how African American and White wallpaper characters were dressed in music videos. It found that African American wallpaper characters were three times more likely to dress provocatively than White wallpaper characters. The study also found that while African Americans were not underrepresented in music videos. However, the study proposes that this is because videos featuring African Americans featured significantly more sexual content than videos that featured Whites.[7]

In 2004, many family groups and politicians lobbied for the banning of the Eric Prydz video "Call on Me" for containing women dancing in a sexually suggestive way, however, the video was not banned.

In 2005, The music video of "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" which featured Jessica Simpson in character as Daisy Duke, was controversial for featuring Simpson in "revealing" outfits and washing the General Lee car in her bikini.[8] The controversy resulted in the music video being banned in some countries.

Sexuality that is being conveyed in music videos can be portrayed as something positive or negative, depending on the type of listener. Sexuality in music has been growing and impacting the world. In 2008, sexual songs have been on the top of the Billboard charts, which is a music chart that keeps track of all of the songs in the US. Some sexual music videos have brought a lot of discomfort to people, leading to the videos getting banned. For example, Madonna's music video for "What It Feels Like for a Girl" was banned due to sexualizing and portraying girls as violent and non-traditional. [9]

Role of social media platformsEdit

In the 2000s, social media platforms such as Facebook and MySpace grew in popularity, allowing users to very quickly share music videos with one another. This had an impact on the direction of sexuality in music videos. Due to the increased accessibility of music videos online, many of which featured a decent amount of sexually suggestive content, this led to the increased perception of normality in regards to sexual themes in music videos.[citation needed]

In particular, YouTube was a major contributor to this trend. The platform, launched in early 2005, grew rapidly—with its videos amassing 1 billion daily videos by October 2009 [10]—and becoming the largest video sharing site on the entire Internet. Although YouTube's success in the 2000s was relatively limited compared to its explosive growth in the 2010s, YouTube was nevertheless one of the most popular sites on the Internet even then. Naturally, it became a hub for music videos as many content creators and fans flocked to the site to post content. The easy accessibility of various music videos, some charged with sexual themes, began to increase the perception of normality as previously stated.


Into the 2010s, artists have continued to garner headlines for provocative content in music videos. For example, Rihanna's music video for the song "S&M", in which she simulates sex with a life-sized doll and wears bondage gear, generated much media attention and was banned in 11 countries. YouTube required its users to verify they were 18 years of age before being able to view the video.[11] The director of the video, Melina Matsoukas, responded to the controversy by saying she felt the video was a success because the provocative imagery creating a dialogue around the video.[12] Conversely, Ariana Grande's "Everyday" video which depicts several couples beginning to have sex in various public places, such as on the bus, was praised for its sex positivity and inclusion of different races and sexual orientations.[13]

Recent research has looked into the effects that music videos that sexually objectify women have on women's body image perceptions. A study of college students found that young women were more likely to view their body in a negative light after exposure to a sexually-objectifying music video, particularly in women with low self-esteem. The same study found that exposure to sexually objectifying music videos lessened the extremity of young women's conception of an ideal body weight.[14] A 2017 study found a relationship between sexual content in dance music videos and negative attitudes toward sex and sexuality among young adults in the United States and Australia.[15]

Some scholars have noted that sexualized content in music videos rarely depicts non-heterosexuality. Frederik Dhaenens has pointed out that when music videos feature gay content, it often involves a "heteronormative shaping of gay and lesbian identities", citing Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' "Same Love" as an example.[16] Carly Rae Jepsen's music video "Call Me Maybe" demonstrates the heteronormativity in music videos. The music video scenes portray stereotypical heterosexual figures that reiterate heterosexuality.[16] The music video focuses around heterosexuality by using homosexuality to bring attention to the video. Music videos like Disclosure's "Latch" and Citizens!' "True Romance" emphasize homosexuality in a small-scale.Homosexuality is being presented in small amounts to include sexual diversity and attraction.[16] The artists' music videos depict heterosexuality but also include homosexuality to embrace social change.

Expansion of social mediaEdit

YouTube continued to grow in the 2010s after a successful half-decade since its launch in the 2000s. Sexual themes were explored in videos that grew to enormous popularity on YouTube. Meghan Trainor's 2014 single "All About That Bass" is one example of this trend, although a milder one, as the sexual themes were very subtle. Nevertheless, the video amassed over 2.2 billion views on YouTube as of March 2019.[17] Also in the 2010s came the rise of music streaming platforms such as Spotify (which reached 191 million active users by January 2019[18]), possibly creating a countermovement to the increased acceptance furthered by YouTube's growth, the reason for this being the de-emphasis on the video itself in favour of the sound.

Depictions of raceEdit

Studies have shown that music videos featuring African American characters tend to feature significantly more depictions of sexual acts than videos featuring white characters.[19] For example, African American women are the most likely group of people to be depicted as engaging in sexual behaviours and wearing provocative clothing. A study in the American Journal of Health Education attributed music videos' "frank sexual messages, objectification, and overtly sexual images" to apathy toward these behaviours in African American girls, which the journal considered dangerous in light of the heightened HIV risk for African Americans.[19] It has been suggested by scholar Jacob Turner that white-run corporations like Viacom (which owns MTV) are more willing to pay for music videos from African American artists that perpetuate racial and sexual stereotypes as an explanation for why African Americans videos are disproportionately sexualized compared to white videos.[20]

Sexuality has been thoroughly addressed in terms of how it is used within music videos, however, race in relation to sexuality in music videos has not been covered efficiently. Race and music have been intertwined for hundreds of years, with certain races relating to different types of music more closely. For example, younger African Americans tend to listen to hip hop while older white folk listen to county and classical music. While certain races can relate with certain music genres more, modern times have led to an increase in all races listening to all types of music.

Although there has been an increase in races indulging in all types of music, the content in music videos has not changed much. Hip hop videos still tend to be predominantly African Americans and focuses upon a generalized harsh lifestyle that only a portion of the African American population truly faces.[21] Country songs also still tend to focus on a white male lead, while their audience has expanded to many different races over time. The youth culture has driven the population to become more accepting towards all types of music genres and videos, allowing for the roles of certain races and genders within videos to change as well.

While the article focuses on the influence of sexuality in music videos, it does not explain how race has an effect on how people are portrayed in music videos. It is a concept that has drastically changed in the last 30 years a different type of music has spread its appeal to all races. Certain people from certain races are used for their sexuality in music videos, especially African American women. By not demonstrating how race has influenced sexuality in music videos, the article does not encompass the full meaning of sexuality in music videos and how and why different sexualization of people occurs.

With the increased reach of music globally, thanks to modern technology and social media, prominent figures in music are emerging in places all around the world, such as Korea and India. Their growing influence in the music industry has allowed for many racial stereotypes, such as the Indian taxi driver, to be broken, however, stereotypes within the US still dominate how people from across the world are portrayed in music videos. As more and more American artists have begun to collaborate with foreign artists such as BTS,[22] racial stereotyping has begun to become less of a factor in how different races are portrayed in music videos.

Asian artists, such as BoA, have been accused of presenting Western stereotypes of Asian female sexuality in their music videos as an attempt to gain popularity in the United States. Japan's Koda Kumi and AKB48 also presents sexuality in their music videos. Male K-pop star Rain's music video for his song "Rainism" has been credited with helping to refute stereotypes of Asian men as effeminate and weak depicting an Asian man in various sexual situations, primarily with white women.[23]

In the article " “Sex and the Spectacles of Music Videos: An Examination of the Portrayal of Race and Sexuality in Music Videos”, studies the sexual behaviour portrayed in music videos by two races. The study revealed that African American women, unlike white, were more likely to portray sexual content in the music videos that were televised in the United States. This included both provocative clothing and sexual acts in the videos. This showed how much gender roles and race played a part in the amount of sexual content in music videos.[24] In the article “Race, Body, and sexuality in music videos", it is explained how men actually appear more often in music videos than women do. Men are usually portrayed as “powerful” and “aggressive” characters. Consequently, women occupy female stereotypical roles in these music videos and are usually seen as passive and are objectified in this manner.[25]

See alsoEdit


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