Music Article

Flesh Forward

Racy music videos -- Madonna, The Bytches, Gerardo, and M.C. Hammer are pushing the limits of MTV and VH-1

Contrary to popular belief, Madonna doesn't have a lock on music-video outrage. Elaborate acts of scandal are enacted with refreshing regularity in this noisy world. True, most music videos have always been no more — or less — alarming than beer commercials, as they belch up their standard cooing babes and cornball rock stars. But amid the dross, a few aberrant gems have always bobbed up. Right now, in fact, a handful of unheralded clips are eagerly working overtime to blur the form's already fuzzy boundaries of taboo.

Take ''Two Minute Brother,'' the debut video from Bytches With Problems. This foul-mouthed duo of female rappers was hatched in defiant reaction to such megasexist male rap stars as N.W.A. and Too $hort. Luckily, their three-week- old debut album suggests they're more than up to the task; a whole Ivory soap factory couldn't wash these ladies' mouths clean. No surprise, then, that among major video outlets (like MTV, VH-1, and Friday Night Videos) only the Video Jukebox Network has so far cleared the clip for airing. That's not because the people at Video Jukebox are First Amendment absolutists; their network (an upstart service programmed by viewer requests) managed to wangle national attention this past November only by opportunistically programming Madonna's MTV-banned ''Justify My Love.'' The Bytches make Madonna's fling seem almost sweet. After a group of loutish guys in a bar boast about anatomically impossible acts they say they've performed on our heroines, the ladies barge in to set the record straight. ''You was screamin' [in ecstasy],'' says one lout. ''I was screaming to keep from laughing in your face,'' shoots back queen Bytch Lyndah. Of course, fans of the record will notice lots of colorful lines have been axed from the clip, but don't worry. The overall tone is still wild enough to leave us aghast.

A similar response should greet the Divinyls' latest clip, ''I Touch Myself,'' which remarkably is already a hit on MTV. This hard-rocking Australian band — fronted by voracious lead singer Christina Amphlett — has been known for making randy records since their 1983 debut, Desperate. The new video may seem prim compared to its lyrics — ''When I think of you/I touch myself,'' a couplet which, if acted out fully, would have any video outlet that played it begging for forgiveness from the FCC. But the clip still manages to center lovingly on a symphony of hands heading south. (The camera cuts away before they reach their ultimate destination). Amid a hall of self-reflecting mirrors, the piece anchors on the writhing Amphlett, her body enhanced by a dress binding enough to hoist her chest nearly to her chin. Still, she's in no danger of being mistaken for just another video babe. Her ornery personality (bolstered by the ultra-catchy music) is too strong for that. In fact, as she strokes the outlines of a curvaceous couch and savagely purses her lips, she exudes more self-determined sexuality than any female video star who's not Madonna. She also matches Madonna's directness. Right at the start, she blurts: ''I love myself.'' How can you not love someone gutsy enough to admit that?

Unless, of course, that someone is fellow self-worshiper Gerardo. Judging by this Latin rapper's debut video (''Rico Suave''), the guy's self-image is bloated enough to make the World Wrestling Federation look painfully withdrawn by comparison. Then again, Gerardo's egomania doesn't come entirely without credentials. As revealed in the video, his chest ripples with muscles, his face suggests a poignant mixture of sweetness and danger, and his rear end is shapely enough to send former MTV boy-toy George Michael back to the gym. No wonder Gerardo is, right now, to music video what NBC news cutie Arthur Kent is to the Persian Gulf war. But his clip (which basically just features our hero gyrating around, leering) is more than just a turn-on. It's a first. No previous male star in video has presented himself in such completely fetishistic terms. Male dancers and featured players in videos may often get the raw-meat treatment (just as they do in TV commercials), but with male stars, the camera focuses mainly on their faces, presumably to suggest a connection with their personalities. This is true even of lead singers from today's pop metal bands, who (from Jon Bon Jovi to Skid Row's Sebastian Bach) have in the age of video become almost miraculously cute. Of course, male rap stars from M.C. Hammer to L.L. Cool J have often flashed just as much flesh as Gerardo. But Hammer's muscles suggest exercise, not eroticism, and L.L.'s authoritative raps present him as someone who does far more with his life than take women to bed. Gerardo, on the other hand, can be imagined doing nothing else. By projecting only sex, Gerardo allows the camera to objectify his body entirely, turning him into nothing more than a remarkably useful object.

Would that M.C. Hammer's latest ego trip (''Here Comes the Hammer'') were so useful. It's meant to be the video equivalent of a theme-park house of horrors. Too bad its sense of overkill provides the only real chills and establishes its credentials for video outrage. This nearly nine-minute epic of emptiness cost some 1.3 million bucks. That may make it the most expensive video ever constructed outside of Michael Jackson's ''Thriller,'' another literal — and figurative — horror show. Here the ever-mugging Hammer leads a posse of friends around a haunted house while drug dealers inexplicably follow in hot pursuit. At one point, his group stumbles into a nightclub eerily lit like the one in The Shining. Then they plunge, Alice in Wonderland — like, through mirrors and into kaleidoscopes, along the way unveiling some expensive — but lame-looking — special effects to theoretically justify the ridiculous budget. They don't. In fact, for sheer wasted dough the clip ranks as the most shocking video now out. It's enough to make Madonna green with envy.

Originally posted Mar 08, 1991 Published in issue #56 Mar 08, 1991 Order article reprints