The video opens up with Aguilera playing an old video game before getting a report from her online psychic that she's going to have a "killer week." And then she does.
Over the course of the video, she's shown in various outfits that are both sexy and fun, playing off a myriad of tropes ranging from the childish to punk to "white trash." With each persona, she successfully seduces a man for an ostensible one-night stand. What looks on the surface to be a playful look at sex positivity and some of the elements of third-wave feminism takes a bizarre twist when Aguilera subsequently kills each of her potential flings in increasingly violent ways. So . . . what's up with that?
The Aguilera ContextThis video makes the most sense when taken into a larger context of Aguilera's work and public persona. She has been a figure of some controversy. Busting on the scene as a teen who was initially indistinguishable from the other pop-starlets of her day, Aguilera did a lot of work to shed her initial image of herself as a "Genie in a Bottle," a young sex fantasy who existed solely to cater to men's sexual desire.
Once established, though, Aguilera's career moves began to hover more and more toward a message of sex positivity and third-wave feminism. Sexy Feminist cites Aguilera as a modern-day feminist icon, noting that she has--even in her early days--championed female empowerment through her songs:
In Christina’s world, women are never reduced to pining for a man or cowering from his abuse. They’re loud-mouthed, opinionated bitches (a title she owns, Tina Fey-style) who get what they want when they want it. It’s a ballsy message Madonna could get behind. She also has a softer side: Her song “Beautiful” is a powerful celebration of individuality and difference, with a video featuring young people of all genders, sexual orientations, and backgrounds, proclaiming their common beauty. No matter how you dress up the package, her message is one of the more feminist in popular music today.She's been a source of controversy for her provocative clothing choices, but she's also been directly combative in rejecting the labels of oppression that come with those choices. Consider her lyrics from "Still Dirrty":
If I wanna wear lingerie outside of my clothes/If I wanna be erotic in my own videos/If I want to be provocative well, that ain't a sin/Maybe you're not comfortable in your own skinAnd while being a sex symbol is certainly something she embraces in her public persona, she has also been very clear that she's in control of her body. In the song "Slow Down Baby" she addresses the desire she might inspire through her performances:
Slow down baby, and don't act crazy/Don't you know how can look all you want but you just can't touchSo Aguilera has given us a series of empowering songs that celebrate the strength of women. While some take issue with the way that strength is tied up in sex and desire, Aguilera seems to embrace her own sexuality as a part of her and something that she owns. We could certainly debate the patriarchal structures surrounding such a claim, but her catalog of music certainly seems to suggest that's how she approaches her performance.
"Your Body"Which brings us to this newest video from her upcoming "rebirth" album. There's certainly plenty of the sex appeal that she's known for, but it's almost a parody of itself. She's clearly playing with clothing, make up, and hairstyles in a way that craft identities for her to inhabit. The demeanor of these personas are playful and light-hearted . . . until they start slaughtering men.
But even then the tone of the video is light. It opens with this warning:
This reduces the men in the videos to props, which is perhaps a nod to the fact that women are often used in much the same way throughout many mainstream videos, be it as nearly-naked background dancers or mutilated bodies strewn around the room for grotesque effect.
What's going on in this video? How does it fit into Aguilera's larger body of work that promotes a feminist agenda?
Sex PositivityWithout a doubt, this is a sex positive song. The lyrics suggest that there is no shame in female desire and that the empowered woman will own her own wants. Some of the very first lines make this clear
So open the box [subtle, huh?]/Don't need no key, I'm unlocked/And I won't tell you to stopShe establishes herself as the one with the agency. She's in control and she could say stop if she wanted to, but she doesn't, so she won't. The lyrics continue to promote an agenda of sexual pleasure.
So don't even tell me your name/All I need to know is whose place . . . It's true what you heard/I'm a freak, I'm disturbedShe knows the social stigma attached to a woman so openly seeking her own sexual pleasure, and she admits that she's a "freak" and "disturbed" for it, but she's happily pursuing it anyway. The men in the picture are truly interchangeable as this is a song about lust, not love, and her own sexual pleasure is the primary goal. In case you had any doubts of that, she gives us this lyric:
If you don't know where to go/I'll finish off on my ownSo the lyrics fit in with her overall sex positive image that's been developing for more than decade. But the images of the video don't quite match this, and it complicates the message.
Body PolicingWhy is Aguilera murdering these men? The one clue that we get in the video is that she's inspired by the cartoons she's watching that are full of humorous violence.
This is further supported by the fact that the murders themselves are cartoonish. Instead of blood and gore, we're confronted with blue goo and glitter spurting from the men's bodies as she kills them.
Another clue that this interpretation may be intentional is the shirt that Aguilera is wearing as she walks away from the car she just blew up with a man inside:
Her shirt says "Fuck the Paparazzi." Aguilera has been a frequent victim of cruel body policing by the media who have scrutinized every pound she gained and every piece of clothing she put on. Perhaps this casual dismissal of men's bodies is a sort of reversal of roles, demonstrating just how callous it would be if men were treated as dispensable and inhumanely as women frequently are.
There are a couple of things in the video that I'm not sure what to do with. For one, I think there are some pretty clear allusions to Lady Gaga and Beyonce's "Telephone," another video that takes a somewhat straightforward song about female empowerment and turns it into a bizarre celebration of brazen sexuality set to a backdrop of violent criminality. (A video that is itself rife with allusions to Kill Bill and Thelma and Louise, films that likewise champion female criminals for their unconventional strength.)
Finally, the very last scene of "Your Body" is our protagonist changing the channel from the violent cartoons and turning to a show featuring Lucille Ball.
In the end, I think that this video is extremely interesting, and I think that Aguilera has definitely placed some commentary on the state of media and feminism within it. I can't say that I'm 100% sure of how that commentary is supposed to operate, but I suspect that she's turning a critical eye on the narrow roles that women are allowed to play and the frequency with which our bodies are turned into props--often with our enthusiastic participation. How this fits in with her larger narrative of sexual freedom and third wave feminism is certainly not without complications.
What do you think? Is Aguilera making a statement about women and the media? Is she telling us to find better role models and, if so, is she including herself in the role models to avoid?