The Year In NSFW Music Videos

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About this time last year, we ran an overview of some of the more interesting music videos of 2010, videos that would never have been shown on MTV, but nevertheless represented some fascinating and innovative filmmaking. At the time, we noted that “now that we get so much of our entertainment online, and MTV barely airs music videos anymore, the rules have changed.” In 2011, that’s more apparent than ever — and so, we’ve repeated the dose this year, looking at everything from a short film that barely features and music at all to a video that features men with heads for penises. Some of these are raunchy, some of them are disturbing, and some are just plain weird — but they’re all noteworthy, and they all make for interesting viewing. (And, just in case it’s not clear that a post entitled “The Year In NSFW Music Videos” is NSFW… well, it is. So don’t blame us if your boss catches you watching these.)

Eminem — “Space Bound”

This year’s variation on the “Love The Way You Lie” theme, in which Eminem takes the part of a frighteningly obsessive boyfriend, imagines torturing and murdering his girlfriend, and then blows his brains out with a pistol. What a guy. (Also, it’s nice to see that YouTube is like the rest of American society: horrifying violence and misogyny are perfectly OK, so long as there’s no titties!)

Handsome Furs — “What About Us?”

This clip plays perfectly into Handsome Furs’ visual aesthetic, and is also a salutary example of the fact that you can make art/music/film that’s sexy without buying into what Ariel Levy called “raunch culture.” And while we’re talking about censorship, Stereogum did a rather interesting Q&A with director Scott Coffey, who made this video. In particular, Coffey discussed the fact that internet video distribution has allowed filmmakers to make envelope-pushing videos without worrying about having their work censored: “Censorship seems especially arcane and absurd. We’re surrounded by this constant orgy of commercial logos and draconian copyright laws, but a naked body is dirty and somehow threatening and offensive — that’s obscene. We’re a nation of prudes conversely wallowing in pornography. I wanted to make the diametric opposite of porn. What is that? Intimacy. I think. Real feeling.” Word.

Rihanna — “S&M”

Here we have the complete opposite of “What About Us,” a video that’s steeped in porn imagery and, ultimately, conservative ideals. The entire aesthetic around “S&M” is pretty much summarized by the first line of the song: “Feels so good being bad,” which might sound like a declaration of liberation but is ultimately also an implicit endorsement of the wrong-headed idea that there’s something “bad” about sex and/or fetishes in the first place. It’s beyond the remit of this small and light-hearted feature to come up with the exhaustive highbrow analysis that someone needs to write about Rihanna and her apparently symbiotic relationship with sexual violence (cf. “Love the Way You Lie,” “Man Down,” Chris Brown, etc.), and whether it’s justifiable to find this more than a little disconcerting or whether we’re all just being prudish and over-analyzing, and what exactly it all means either way for pop culture and the role of women and sexuality in an allegedly post-feminist world, etc. For now, suffice it to say that — for all that it’s allegedly an extended metaphor about Rihanna’s relationship with the press — there’s a whiff of something unpleasant about “S&M,” and that its accompanying video doesn’t exactly help.

Broken Social Scene — “Sweetest Kill”

Speaking of “Man Down,” in which Rihanna is depicted murdering a lover… Well, here’s a video in which the same thing happens, but it’s from Broken Social Scene, of all people. Only, in “Sweetest Kill,” there’s no suggestion that the woman doing the killing is a domestic abuse victim — she seems to have killed her boyfriend/husband for the hell of it, and spends the rest of the video dismembering him in a manner that Dexter’d be proud of. Not for the squeamish, and definitely not for work.

Duck Sauce — “Big Bad Wolf”

And now for something completely different. If you haven’t seen “Big Bad Wolf,” we don’t want to spoil it for you — suffice it to say, it’s a pretty hilarious and mildly disturbing visual realization of a pretty simple idea: that men’s genitals sometimes seem to have a mind of their own, and also a penchant for getting their owners into trouble. Only, it’s not always just men who suffer from that problem, is it? (The ending is a wee bit gross, though.)

Felix Cartal — “World Class Driver”

If you’ve ever thought that what the world really needs is 65+ version of The Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up,” then rejoice, because here it is! The whole video is pretty fantastic, but the best bit is definitely at about 2:05, where an old man heats up a Werther’s Original in a spoon and then injects it. Honestly.

Artctic Monkeys — “Suck It and See”

Oh, was this why Matt Helders inexplicably made it into the top 10 of NME’s annual Cool List? Does reinventing yourself as some sort of faux-road movie hero, hanging out with a topless girl, drinking home-made eggnog (?), and skipping make you cool? Right. Got it.

Stars — “Changes”

It’s a naked girl! Dancing! And she has a… oh, OK we won’t spoil the end.

Gonjasufi — “Demon Child”

The cartoon breasts make it NSFW, but really this whole thing is like a rather dicey acid trip. Best not to try to explain it to the boss.

Die Antwoord — “Umshini Wam”

Die Antwoord are one of those bands who have a pretty great visual aesthetic, and are generally awesome so long as you don’t have to actually listen to them. As such, the idea of a Die Antwoord short film, which relies a whole lot less on the band’s music than it does on their personalities, is a pretty great idea. Especially if it happens to be directed by fellow oddball Harmony Korine, who casts Ninja and Yo-Landi as wheelchair-bound lunatics with a penchant for paraplegic basketball, smoking joints that make the Camberwell carrot look modest, and firing pistols angrily into the emptiness. It’s a quintessentially Korine-esque piece, shot through with suburban weirdness and non-sequitur humor.

Kanye West — “Monster”

This was undoubtedly the most hyped music video of 2011 — shit, even we bought into the buzz around the whole thing when the initial cut surfaced right at the end of last year — although nearly a year on, the most striking thing about re-watching “Monster” is how stylized and contrived its “controversial” bits seem. Far be it from us to suggest that its protagonists (Jay-Z, Kanye, Nicki Minaj) are similarly triumphs of style over substance, but, well…

UNKLE feat. Nick Cave — “Money And Run”

This is probably our favorite video of the year, and it’s certainly the most thought-provoking and disturbing. It’s a coruscating satire on privileged/upper-class/1 percent-er nastiness that sticks in your mind long after it’s finished. As a visual representation of class divides and general societal viciousness, it’s hard to beat.

Is Tropical — “The Greeks”

Also on the thought-provoking front: this video by French film-making collective Megafore. It looks at how little boys like playing with guns — and while many of us find the glee with which they wield their toy weapons mildly unsavory, it’s rare to stop and think about exactly what it is they’re acting out. This video spells the rather unpleasant truth out in a kind of BugsyMalone-for-the–21st-century scenario, whose violence is all the more disturbing for being presented in suitably child-friendly cartoon visuals, and also for reflecting pretty much exactly what kids see on TV day after day after day.

South Central — “The Day I Die”

“Is this violence pretending to be commentary on violence?” asked Stereogum’s Jessica Suarez when she posted this in one of her much-missed Videos of the Week features way back in January. Either way, this is an entirely unpleasant viewing experience, emulating the viewpoint of a sniper as he guns down a whole lot of people for no apparent reason. On his Vimeo page, filmmaker Steve Glashier explains that he wanted to “leave it to the audience to evaluate their own emotional response to the ‘spectacle before your eyes’ — it might be awe, disgust, amusement, shock etc.” That’s all very well, but for us watching this was kinda like reading American Psycho — you get about halfway though, say to yourself, “OK, I get the idea,” and give up.

Big K.R.I.T. — “Money on the Floor”

Big Freedia would love this. Azz everywhere!

Bonus music-related NSFW-ness: Finally, we would be remiss to omit the reminder that 2011 was the year Michael Stipe’s penis made it to the Internet. If you’ve ever wanted to see it, you can catch a glimpse right here. You’re welcome. Don’t blame us if it costs you your job, though.