Geri Halliwell – “Bag It Up”
None of us should be surprised that a purveyor of casual misandry was also one of the pioneers of the “Girl Power!” mantra. Twelve years ago, as Ginger Spice was launching her solo career, she thought it would be an excellent idea to get some oiled-up hunks in black underwear and pink bunny ears and have them peddle “Girl Powder.” The end result, curiously, topped the British pop charts but proved to be kryptonite for her dreams of American conquest.
Kylie Minogue – “Slow”
Like her music, Minogue’s videography has always sought to celebrate, never vilify. That said, there is a twisted undercurrent running in “Slow” which establishes the implication that without Minogue, the gallery of grade-A men are nothing more than hunks of meat. We’re to believe, after all, that without Minogue supplying a soundtrack, these men would lie motionless.
Jane Russell – “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love?”
Well before Kylie had even registered as a blip on pop’s radar, late actress Jane Russell had upended traditional gender roles in Old Hollywood with one of the campiest musical numbers in history. While most remember 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” the film’s sleeper hit was the Russell-led “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love?”
What she did was unprecedented at the time — which is why her musical number needn’t be as blunt as Aguilera’s. Lean, almost-naked men serving as nothing more than a backdrop to Russell as she laments the lack of eligible bachelors must have registered as strident pop-culture criticism in its day.
Alexandra Burke – “Start With You”
Russell’s epoch-defining sequence did, however, inspire a movement that rippled throughout time, as seen in Alexandra Burke’s video for “Start Without You.” Burke — then fresh from her UK X Factor win — wasn’t necessarily seeking to shift any paradigms or blaze any feminist trails. In fact, the Russell-inspired video was the second version of a clip whose original incarnation never saw the light of day. But for a Simon Cowell-managed act engineered to sell as many units as possible, it was risky — especially in its not-too-abrasive relegation of men to eye candy. To be fair, it wasn’t Burke’s first time pushing a safe-for-X Factor brand of feminism, either.
Sugababes – “No Can Do”
One of the more mind-bending treatments of this theme comes from the third incarnation of the UK girl band the Sugababes. In “No Can Do,” they borrow a cue from avant-garde visual artist Allen Jones. While Jones was known for art that depicted women posing in absurd contortions to form pieces of furniture, in “No Can Do,” the band replaces the contorting women with contorting men, having them twist and coalesce to form stairways, cars, motorcycles, and other objects. The theme is simple: Men live to serve women.
En Vogue – “Riddle”
We also can’t overlook “Riddle” — one of the final hits that En Vogue enjoyed after lead vocalist Dawn Robinson departed the group. The premise is simple: Each member finds that her boyfriend has been cheating on her and, in a revenge-fueled rampage, they storm up to inspire terror by breaking a ton of stuff — cars, flower pots, doors. While there isn’t the caliber of violence akin to “Your Body,” the death stares, the sledgehammers, and shards of glass do accomplish a lot of the heavy lifting, and in a way where dark comedy isn’t necessary to diffuse the tension.
Lady Gaga and Beyoncé – “Telephone”
There’s even some insight in the Thelma & Louise-inspired video for Lady Gaga and Beyoncé’s “Telephone,” in which the latter springs the former from the slammer and then they proceed to poison someone we believe to be Beyoncé’s paramour. It may not be as visceral as Marina Diamandis serving up a severed head on a platter, but with the level of visibility this video enjoyed, even such a miniscule amount of male-directed schadenfreude was enough to make it unforgettable.
Madonna featuring Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. – “Gimme All Your Luvin'” (live at Super Bowl XLVI)
As one of the closest icons we might have to an elder stateswomen of pop, Madonna’s propensity for man-hatery and objectification doesn’t surprise. While she’s dabbled in both — to more racy degrees in the past, to boot — it was her Super Bowl 2012 single “Gimme All Your Luvin'” that made one of the more subversive, if coded statements about men. We have a procession of anonymous, faceless football players whose sole purpose is to buoy the Queen of Pop, and her right and left hands, Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. Moreover, these faceless players take bullets for her, help her get around, and, in general, make her life more convenient. The role of men in this performance echoes their role in the Sugababes’ “No Can Do” video, with the exception that they’re donning football uniforms instead of boxer briefs. Madonna diminishes men on two counts: She dismisses the overall importance of football players by having them step in as literal set decoration. In doing so, she takes a television event known for its notoriously male-skewing viewership and makes it about herself and her ability to reign supreme, no matter who’s watching.