“There’s something dark about this record,” my mate said as we zoomed down the M5, tinny speakers buckling under Justin Timberlake’s newest beats.
Immediately I braced myself for the old Illuminati, devil-worship spiel, and to be fair that was exactly what I got. I disregarded most of it as conspiracy theory, but for some reason the word ‘dark’ stayed with me.
I was a pretty outspoken critic when I first heard Suit & Tie, and even less enthused over Mirrors. Where had my ‘Cry me a river, señorita’ Justin gone? Where was the story here? Why were these new songs so fragmented? I couldn’t work out if I just wasn’t one of the cool kids anymore, or whether Timberlake was genuinely losing his touch.
I listened to the whole record in sequence – the way we played CDs back in the day – and I started to see a musical narrative appear. He was still talking about nonsense, essentially, but musically it was genius. I raved, almost unashamedly, about The 20/20 Experience.
So it was with complete exasperation that I woke up this morning to see the video for Tunnel Vision (which is one of the only weak tracks on the record ) all over my Twitter stream. “EXPLICIT!” yells JT’s publicity team. “NSFW!” cries Mashable. Great, I think, already feeling slightly apoplectic. Still, I’m prepared to keep an open mind about this because hey, the Venus de Milo is hardly U-rated. Art and nudity have been linked for centuries.
I click. Sure enough, there’s a mature, handsome Justin busting his signature suave moves and flashing twinkly eyes…oh, and then there’s a topless woman caressing herself. And a second. And a third. There’s a whole heap of unnecessary nipple going on, and I find myself instantly bored and wondering what advert they must have put out to find the dancers. ‘Lithe, white, perky-breasted, exhibitionist women wanted for worldwide exploitation and complete pointlessness.’ By the end of the video I’m irritated and mildly depressed, made entirely worse by all of them chanting ‘I know you like it’ in an absurd voice until it fades to black.
It’s not the first time in recent months that nudity has hit mainstream pop videos. Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines was about as brash and ridiculous as they come, and some commentators are saying that Timberlake’s latest is simply a mick-take of the ongoing comparison between him and Thicke. But even if it is, it’s a rubbish excuse for artistic vision.
It’s not funny, or clever, or even slightly creative. Instead, it’s another dark step we’ve taken towards music videos and porn being essentially indistinguishable. It’s fairly clear that in a few short years, full nudity in videos will become the norm as long as they whack a NSFW warning on the front of it. Our sensitivity and outrage is already so muted.
“It’s a more nuanced debate,” say the hipster Christians. “OMG you’re so amazing Justin I love you,” says the 14-year-old girl on Twitter, who doesn’t – and won’t – have a clue what it’s like to be respected for anything other than her form.
We did this. With our apathy, and our hosed-down trying-to-be-cool, refusal to get mad. We allowed a world to exist where women get the vote, and are then chained right back up less than 100 years later in under the guise of sexual equality, expression and progress, no less. We’ve let art become a banal attempt at fleeting titillation, to feed our ever-growing urge for satisfaction.
I’m grieved, and I’m angry. And you should be too, because the world we’re leaving to our progenies is one that will give them spiritual asthma and emotional bankruptcy. So let’s do something. Tweet Timberlake, and let him know he should have done better. Start a petition to ban nudity from music videos. Ask Vimeo to take it down. Ask TV channels not to play it. We’ll make a minimal impact, but we’ll have stood for something vital, and perhaps switching our light on in the vast expanse of dark is all that matters.