From Sinead O'Connor and Annie Lennox to Miley Cyrus and Rihanna: What we are watching is the blurring of pop with porn

We can't censor videos, but they do need to be contextualised

Miley Cyrus! I thought I’d get the name out there straight away so you can be done with rolling your eyes. Far, far greater than the sum of her twerking parts, Cyrus has fast become the poster girl for an ongoing debate about pornified pop; raising more interest than the actually naked women in the hideous Robin Thicke video ever did.

After Sinead O’Connor, who has penned a fourth open letter to Cyrus, Annie Lennox is the most recent “celeb with experience” to add to the debate. Listening to Lennox on 5 live last night she made it clear that having pushed a fair few herself she is  “All for boundary pushing” – although going a bit androgynous is small fry compared to swinging naked on a wrecking ball. Or is it?

What Lennox seemed most concerned about is how these videos cross the borders into porn, which she doesn’t think is appropriate for their young fanbase. Porn bothers a lot of people and is one of the focus points of the Campaign for Better Sex Education run by Yas Necati. It’s not covered in schools, yet is available for everyone to watch online. So when Lennox calls for pop videos to be rated like films are, what exactly would be the point? Minus any possibility of content control, what is important is to contextualize porn and the pop that peddles it, and help young people to understand and deal with the pressures it presents.

I remember the release of Madonna’s ‘Erotica’ single when I was pre-teen in 1992. I seem to recall the video being showcased late at night (probably on Channel 4) and for obvious reasons then, never went mainstream. Now of course, I, and anyone with access to the internet, can watch it on YouTube without any warnings or restrictions. Age ratings and parental controls cannot touch young people’s access to the net, if the desire is there.

Back in 1992, knowing I shouldn’t, I watched the preview of ‘Erotica’ via a faked bedtime and my brother’s telly upstairs. Watching it back now, what is really interesting is how far removed from porn it is. Sexy and stylish, it explores gender roles, S&M, powerplay and religion in a song that is actually all about sex. It looks nothing like mainstream porn, as we all clearly know that to look, and is more like a film noir shot in slow motion in the KitKatClub. Yet it got Madonna banned from the Vatican and certainly ticked the boxes of boundary-pushing pop.

The 'Erotica' video is entirely appropriate. Not that this is key. It’s not ‘appropriate’ for me to douse myself in glitter each weekend but I do it anyway. I am all for people doing what they want to (so long as everyone consents).

Beyond Cyrus is Rihanna’s newest video release. ‘Pour It Up’ is so extreme it’s like a parody of porned pop. As a feminist friend on Facebook asked “What next, will Rihanna smear her fanny on the camera?”. While everyone is focusing on Cyrus this stunning example of XXX brainwashing is slipping under the radar; which raises interesting questions in itself. Why are we more concerned about the Hannah Montana star than the Barbadian singer who has, more than once, been on the receiving end of extreme domestic violence yet seemingly advocates the gangster/hoe lifestyle that perpetuates female subjectivity?

I do not advocate censorship in creative terms but I am all for raising awareness of the damaging effects of the pornified sexuality seen in these videos; sexuality based entirely on male dominance and female subjugation. While porn has branded sexuality, selling it back to women in the guise of empowerment, the reality of it is far from sexy, and is it fast becoming mainstream. When Lennox was working her masculinity back in the 1980s she was genuinely stepping outside of the box – not simply writhing neatly within it. But no boundaries are being pushed in the Cyrus/Rihanna videos. A million twerks away from deviance, what we see is women toeing the line.