Justin Timberlake in the full Canadian tuxedo along with then girlfriend Britney Spears. Photo: Jeffrey Mayer
Really, one would have thought that Justin Timberlake had set the bar for ‘terrible things a human can do’ fairly low with this heinous yet hilarious quadruple denim suit in 2001. But fast forward 12 years later and he’s managed to limbo under that with his latest film clip. (I’d link to it but I don’t want to give it any more of the clicks it’s so clearly craving.)
The very NSFW video for his new single, Tunnel Vision, shows the fully clothed singer intercut with images of writhing topless models wearing only beige g-strings. Finally it climaxes with the face of JT being projected onto their naked breasts. Upon watching you’re all but poked in the eyeballs with its blatant attempts at edginess. The clip uses the lazy shorthand of nudity being automatically ‘arty’.
This video comes three months after Robin Thicke debuted a similarly intellectually sluggish clip for his hit Blurred Lines, which was so indebted to the sleazy aesthetic of Terry Richardson that it’s surprising the models weren’t forced to wear aviator frames at some point. In it the clothed Thicke is surrounded by models who wear only beige g-strings – sound familiar? Now Robin Thicke, while having a few chart toppers to his name, is still best known (at least in my social circles) for being the son of the dad on Growing Pains. Is that really who you want to be copying, Justin? For one of the biggest pop stars in the world it seems like you’re scraping the bottom of the creative barrel on this one.
Justin Timberlake's album cover.
These are clear cases of NSFW as marketing tool, hoping to bait us into clicks through gratuitous nudity. Now I have no problem with nudity (I go nude under my clothes ALL THE TIME). But Timberlake’s and Thicke’s clips are so blatantly objectifying. In it the men are completely clothed, since they’re there for their talent, while the women are near naked, since all they have to offer is supposedly their sexual attractiveness. It’s the same thing we’ve seen with the retrograde styling of women versus that of men in both GQ and Esquire, except in those instances the women while lauded for their talent are simultaneously expected to take their clothes off, as if their bodies are the most interesting thing about them also.
There was a similar furore over The Flaming Lips The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face clip in 2012, when collaborator Erykah Badu expressed her anger and dismay over that video, which featured her unclothed in a bathtub and her sister fully naked. It was released without her seeing the final edit and she tweeted in response, “I never would have approved that tasteless, meaningless, shock motivated video”. She also made the very valid point that “just because an image is shocking does not make it art.”
Probably the saddest thing about this clip is that it seems Timberlake is trying a little too hard to get our attention. To have to go to the lazy cliché of showing naked women in an attempt to prove he’s still on the cutting edge of what’s happening in pop doesn’t make it seem like he has much faith in his actual song. If your track is so boring you need to have pictures of boobs all over the shop to sustain interest then go back to the recording studio, don't decide to just make a grotesquely objectifying clip and call it a day. Indeed, if Timberlake’s so into getting clicks for making the ‘risqué’ creative decision to use nudity in his clip, then he and Timbaland should do a D’Angelo and get their kit off instead of outsourcing it. Perhaps his creative licence needs to be suspended.
Now I don’t like to end things on a sour note, unless I’m eating sherbet. So I suppose the consolation for those of us who like our pop confections without a side serving of needless objectification is that Timberlake should probably just give up already as this year’s perfect pop song has already been written. (And no, it’s not from Mr Thicke.) Janelle Monáe’s rather brilliant Dance Apocalyptic is what Timberlake should be worried about. It’s an earwormy upbeat jam complete with a clever video clip that has an entire backstory about a dystopian universe where people wear cages filled with birds on their head and zombies roam freely. Now that’s pushing the artistic envelope, without a superfluous boobie in sight. Take note, Timberlake.