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Tuning In: Christina Aguilera's "Not Myself Tonight"

Two newsworthy music videos from different female pop stars in the same week? I guess I'll have to ask, "why is Sheryl Crow on Cougar Town?" on Monday. Let's get to it.

So, I watched Christina Aguilera's "Not Myself Tonight" which was directed by Hype Williams and premiered on Vevo at 12:01 a.m. this morning. As I had recently written about reported collaborations with Le Tigre and D*Face's cover art for Aguilera's forthcoming Bionic on my blog, I was a bit excited. In addition, the first half of this year has been headline-making for controversial music videos, with M.I.A.'s "Born Free" being the most recent.

I'll preface by saying that if we have to play favorites (which we don't, as I don't like pitting female artists against one another), I'm on Team Christina. Initially, I was hesitant because she was aligned with blond post-feminist teen pop stars like Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, and Mandy Moore. As a high school student and nascent feminist, I was into Björk, Cibo Matto, Erykah Badu, PJ Harvey, and Liz Phair and had no use for the commodification of jailbait. I was also not into "Dirrty" when it first came out, but its confrontational pro-sex message eventually won me over.

I'd also point out that the clip shows Thai graffiti that says "Thailand's Sex Tourism" and "Young Underage Girls" which did not win me over. This gets at some of my issues with Aguilera's past racial appropriations. While I enjoy the clip for "Fighter," directed by Runaways' Floria Sigismondi, it trades in Orientalist imagery. Also, though "Can't Hold Us Down" is a duet with Lil Kim that's critical toward double standards and celebratory of female sexual autonomy, the video shows Aguilera, who is part Ecuadorian, playing an amalgamation of a chola and a b-girl to the point of minstrelsy.

However, once I heard that voice, I knew something more was going on.

More to the point, I knew that the young woman behind that voice was often singing about agency and self-possession. As Aguilera's matured, this has only become more evident as she's built a family and forged a career largely on her own terms. Also, while overstuffed, I liked Back to Basics, which boasted "Still Dirrty" and "Candyman"; the clip for which Aguilera co-directed with Matthew Rolston.

I am excited about Bionic despite concern that I don't see Le Tigre, M.I.A., and Santigold's producer credits. Polow Da Don was behind lead single "Not Myself Tonight," a derivative but enjoyable dance track bolstered by that voice. The song hasn't made much of an impact on the pop charts. Will the music video create interest?

We'll see how the blogosphere treats it in the coming days, but I'm inclined to say "no." The content is "provocative," but nothing we haven't already seen. Frankly, we've seen much of it before elsewhere. The chorus line of female dancers "engaging" with Aguilera recall Ciara's "Love Sex Magic," Spears's "3," and Beyoncé's "Green Light." Ms. Knowles also wears the same dominatrix ballet heels in "Green Light." Spears further comes to mind when the camera highlights bottles of Simply Christina, Aguilera's perfume, as the fellow former Mouseketeer dabbles her brand's fragrances in "Circus" and "3." Some of the sets recall the gestures toward Metropolis in Madonna's "Express Yourself." I even read Aguilera lighting the wardrobe on fire as a reference to George Michael's "Freedom '90."

However, Aguilera does seem equally into making out with the tied-up woman and the hunky dude she climbs on top of at the end of the clip. Also, though "Like a Prayer" took place in a church, I don't remember the Material Girl putting on a dominatrix mask in one. Of course, Lady Gaga wears them to press conferences.

Apart from extensive borrowing, I wish "Not Myself Tonight" didn't abide by the tired narrative of women going to the club and getting their rocks off. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but there are a myriad of other ways to depict ladies feeling out of character and liking the experience.

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Comments

14 comments have been made. Post a comment.

You've done it again!

Thanks, Alyx, for another spot-on analysis. As someone who is not too well-versed in music videos, I never would have recognized any of the specific derivations you describe. My initial observations were more basic: Sapphic and S&M dabbling in a pop video? NOTHING unoriginal here! (Although, yeah...the lesbian[ish]ism is surprisingly convincing is this case.)

Aside from the awesome clear trench coat, I agree: this is nothing we haven't seen, and I don't find it that empowering either. The other women are tied up and being spanked, only putting the "M" in S&M, but the men NEVER are. Even when she's sexually aggressive with the guy, he's free to move, and in fact has his hands all over her. Aguilera isn't even fully positioned as a dom, because she's spanking *herself* and is shown bound (while, um, alone. Okay.)

Of course, every video she does might disappoint me after "Candyman." It's a hard act to top.

You've done it again!

Nothing beats "Candy Man" in my book, though I also loved the music video for "Ain't No Other Man."

Good point about how the women are tied up and spanked, but the men are not. Since you made comparisons to how Aguilera's male and female partners are depicted in this music video, I'll also mention a comment my partner made. The shots of Aguilera with her female partner are short and contain many fast cuts. This is stark comparison to her interaction with her male partner with whom the camera lingers on, documents from above, and isn't heavily edited. So it seems to trade in lipstick lesbian imagery merely for titillation, but prioritizes the male-female pairing.

Alyx Vesey

umm, lady gaga?

I think Christina thinks she is Lady Gaga. This is perhaps the most unoriginal, uninspired thing I've seen in weeks.

One word:

BORING!

I totally agree: uninspired and generic. Wanna-be Gaga. She can deny it all she wants, but she is trying to be *exactly* like Gaga. From the costumes, to the bondage gear, to the imagery, to the girl-on-girl action, the red lacy lingere, the man on the bed, the fire, the chain-mail lingere ..... exactly like Gagaloo.

Snooze.

Actually...

I saw more MADONNA (as mentioned in the article) than anything else. Let's remember, Lady Gaga did not invent this kind of entertainment. I enjoyed the video for the Madonna and Freedom '90 references, but that is pretty much all that I enjoyed.
I also agree that there are plenty of other ways to explain a woman's free "not my self" feeling than the way it is shown to us ALL the time in popular culture.

Actually . . .

Yeah, I thought Madonna was a better point of comparison than Lady Gaga. Gaga is on our minds right now, so a lot of people might be accused of swiping from Gaga. However, I'd like to point out that Gaga herself borrows extensively from folks like Quentin Taratino, Stanley Kubrick, David Bowie, Grace Jones, Bette Midler, Maluca, and Madonna. The Material Girl, of course, has never been above thievery homage either.

There was also that period around the release of Aguilera's greatest hits compilation when Gaga was starting to become popular and Aguilera was accused of stealing Gaga's look. I'm not sure if that's true -- Aguilera claimed not to know who Gaga was at the time, which may or may not have been the case. However, I think there's prior instances when people have wanted to pit Aguilera and Gaga against one another.

Also, I thought I might offer some fun examples of music videos that potentially offer a different take on ladies "losing themselves" through dance. One is the alternate version of Gossip's "Listen Up." The other is Yo! Majesty's "Don't Let Go." I love 'em both.

Alyx Vesey

But the difference is that

But the difference is that Gaga says over and over again who inspires here and who she pays homage to, while Agularia blatantly denies any kind of inspiration (as far as I know).

While I won't deny the

While I won't deny the Madonna influence, there are parts of this video that look almost exactly the same to the Bad Romance video--the white costumes with the chains, a lot of the choreography, the close-up shot of her wearing the sunglasses, the going-to-some-guy-in-a-bed-while-wearing-red-lingerie (sure, she doesn't light the bed on fire, like GaGa, but the video cuts between the bed and the closet Christina just lit on fire, which is super-close).

seriously!!??!?

r u serious? or do you just have a part of your brain that doesnt recognise time?? Christina was here before Lady GaGa doing exactly what she is doing now! Dont get me wrong I love lady GaGa but she wasnt here first. If anything your theory is fliped and you have it upside down

I don't consider myself a prude

,really. I'm fine with seeing breasts or a sex scene or whatever, but to me this entire video just seemed like a thinly-veiled soft-core porn set to crappy music. It's like it's just a thing for guys to jerk off to with no artistic value to it.

The Ballet Heels- getting the kink straight

Alyx, just had to point out that the ballet heels worn are NOT dominatrix- in fact they are the opposite. They keep the wearer from being able to stand, and thus are worn by those in a submissive role.

Put the Genie Back In The Bottle

The message of this video was pure objectification. I agree with your article insofar as it says that Madonna, Spears, Moore, and Gaga have done it all before. Yea for making women, once again, sexual objects instead of people. Even if she is "the one in control" that is not what this video will be promoted as. Instead, it will merely be A. using her body to sell herself.

Alyx, you make some

Alyx, you make some insightful points in the article. I'm glad you didn't fall victim to the overly simplified reading of 'Not Myself Tonight' as some of the comments to this article supply in full. Yes, the video plays in the sexual gratification of a young women. And it does blatanly objectfy both sexes. Both are pretty obvious. The Gaga comparisions are superficial at best. Both women have similar looks. But, if Gaga were a red head with freckles, no one would even imagine making the comparisions. Gaga is not the first female artist to invoke hypersexuality to sell a product. 'Bad Romance' and 'Telephone' are creative, but they also reduce the female body to its parts. Yet, Gaga seems to escape some of the more harsh criticism. Bottomline, 'Not Myself Tonight' is just an ok song and Aguilera is capable of better material. I would love to see a more conceptually driven video to acompany a lyrically and vocally powerful song.

Her new song, though...

...is excellent! "Woo Hoo" featuring Nicki Minaj (whom Alyx has also written about) is catchier, more interesting and more provocative than "Not Myself Tonight." Hopefully there will be a video for that one soon.