S&M in Music Videos: A History [NSFW]

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The way the music press has been flipping over Rihanna’s risqué new clip for “S&M,” you’d think she was the first musician ever to use bondage or sadomasochistic imagery in a music video. Of course, she’s far from it. Even before MTV, artists used whips and chains to spice up their act. After the jump, we take you from the Velvet Underground to Ri Ri in a brief history of BDSM in music videos.

The Velvet Underground — “Venus in Furs” (1966)

Before there were MTV-style music videos, there was the Velvet Underground — a band that delved fearlessly into mid-’60s taboos ranging from heroin addiction to sexual deviance. Named for the seminal masochist text, “Venus in Furs” is an ode to S&M unlike anything we’ve seen before and since. When the band performed it, they had whip dancers onstage, as captured in this video snippet by experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas, from his movie Scenes from the Life of Andy Warhol.

Queen — “Body Language” (1982)

Black thongs, leather daddies (including, of course, Freddie Mercury), and even, if our eyes don’t deceive us, a bit of erotic bloodletting all have a place in this Queen video. But it wasn’t the suggestion of S&M that made it the first video ever to be banned by MTV — it was the homosexual overtones.

Madonna — “Justify My Love” (1990)

“Justify” my love isn’t Madonna’s only BDSM-obsessed video — but it did kick off her early-’90s kink era. We’ve got men in leather-and-chain harnesses and women in captain’s hats and suspenders. The mood stays mostly light and sexy here. If you want to see things get darker, check Madge a few years later as a full-on dominatrix in “Erotica.”

Nine Inch Nails — “Closer” (1994)

Before he cleaned up, cut his hair, and scored The Social Network, Trent Reznor wanted to fuck you like an animal. Failing that, he wanted to assault your senses — which is just what he did in the video for “Closer.” Amid far nastier imagery (disembodied beating heart nailed to a chair, anyone?), we see Reznor masked, chained, and ball-gagged. Of course, this one got banned, too.

Marilyn Manson — “s(AINT)” (2003)

Everything Trent Reznor created, Marilyn Manson insisted on taking to an upsetting extreme. But, of course, Manson has always had a pretty intense BDSM vibe, and nowhere is it more palpable than in “s(AINT).” It features close-ups of the Antichrist Superstar snorting coke, cutting himself up, tying a pretty, naked lady in some pretty serious knots, and much, much more. Honestly, it’s all pretty gross and gratuitous, but if you really want to see the video, you can watch it here. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Patrick Wolf — “Vulture” (2009)

Remember when Patrick Wolf made the abrupt transition from “The Magic Position” pixie to goth sex fiend? In the video for “Vulture,” we see him bare-assed and tied up in bondage gear.

Devendra Banhart — “Foolin'” (2010)

Who says indie rockers can’t get nasty? Here’s Banhart getting whipped by — and then cuddling — a very large man. And then there’s the leash part…

Lady Gaga — “Alejandro” (2010)

It makes sense that, in her biggest Madonna tribute to date, Lady Gaga has three main preoccupations: Catholic-baiting imagery, objectified men, and S&M. But as far as we can remember, Madonna never actually had dudes with monk haircuts dancing with the ropes tied to their bedposts.

Rihanna — “S&M”

Compared to some other videos on this list, Rihanna’s “S&M” video, with its candy-colored whips, ropes, and ball gags, seems relatively tame. But how fun is it to watch Ri Ri hit back at the tabloid press that just won’t leave her alone?