Cummings: JLo’s new song uses sexism, promotes strong feminist

Kelsey Cummings

There’s been a lot of press lately surrounding Jennifer Lopez’s music video for her new hit single “I Luh Ya Papi.” A mere two weeks after the video’s release on Vevo’s YouTube channel, the video has already amassed more than 17 million views and countless remarks about its liberating feminist focus. Lopez’s video reverses the role of dominance and objectification in the music industry, calling out the absurdity of what has become “normal” in our society. And though Lopez certainly isn’t the first to rebel against sexism in the music industry, her A-list identity and Latina heritage allow her to represent an audience other feminist pop stars just haven’t been able to reach.

Though music producers have been dressing up [or undressing] women in skimpy outfits and costumes for decades, it wasn’t until the release of Robin Thicke’s controversial “Blurred Lines” video that people once again began to question it. Blasted as a “rape song,” Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” upset quite a large number of music fans; some fans even went so far as to create an online petition to keep Thicke from performing at the Juno Awards show in Canada this year. While his lyrics have spawned much of the upset, the music video is what truly got the controversy going.

In order to appeal to a varying age range, the video is forced to have two versions: one with half naked girls and one with women wearing much less. Both videos feature women dancing around Thicke and fellow artists Pharrell and T.I., though the explicit version shows women with no tops at all. The video follows the typical pop music video format: a number of barely-dressed women dancing around or doing sexual actions near a single man or group of fully clothed men. For years, this has been the music video formula, yet this year, Lopez decides to turn that equation on its head.

Her video features not a slew of bare-chested women, but bare-chested men. Always with no shirt and almost always wearing a Speedo, Lopez’s sexually objectified men are replacing the normally sexually objectified women. These men are shown doing a number of things: lounging about on couches or boats, rubbing themselves against a car as they wash it, getting groped by Lopez’s female dancers and walking slowly as the camera focuses in on certain sexualized body parts. In this video, Lopez and her female dancers play the dominant normally male-led roles while the men are reduced to sideline objects.

However, Lopez was not the first to try this. A group of women from Auckland University created “Defined Lines,” a feminist YouTube parody of Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” Their video too put men in a barely-clothed, submissive role while the women sang of women’s rights and chauvinism. Though the video contained no more nudity or inappropriate messages than Thicke’s clean version of his song, “Defined Lines” was flagged for “inappropriate sexual content” and removed from YouTube for a time before being restored.

While more recently attempted by other big name artists like Lily Allen and Beyonce, these attempts were hailed as less than strong, and Lopez arguably appeals to a slightly different audience than these other women. While Allen and Beyonce are able to appeal to white and black audiences respectively, Lopez’s widespread fame reaches into the Latino/Latina realm as well. Though equally a part of the sexist music system, Lopez hearkens back to her time in the industry through her outfit choices, perhaps a tribute to and parody of the ridiculous measures she had to go through in order to become the famous JLo we know today.

Granted, Lopez’s role reversal isn’t perfect. The featured artist, French Montana, is still a fully-dressed male with background, leopard-clad dancing women during his small portion of the song. But overall, Lopez’s attempt at role reversal is strong. She uses her fame as a platform for a worthy, relevant cause, and in doing so, she’s able to appeal to a huge number of both men and women of varying ethnicities. And while some may blast her for simply diverting the sexism onto another sex, viewers must remember her intent: to shock the audience into recognizing how ridiculous and silly it is to parade women around as nothing but sexual playthings in a music video. Her message rings loud and clear. I certainly got a pretty good laugh.