Friday, July 23, 2010

Subversive Music Videos: Major Lazer's "Keep It Goin' Louder"

            The lyrics to “Keep It Goin’ Louder” are evocative of many scenes from other hip-hop songs. The song tells a story, from both the male and female perspective, about going to a bar and being captivated by a particularly attractive stranger. If one were to imagine how a music video would illustrate this, the familiar images of hypersexualized women gyrating in next to nothing would probably appear. And, indeed, Major Lazer’s video has four women doing just that. However, the thing that sets “Keep It Goin’ Louder” apart from formulaic, mainstream hip-hop videos is that the women dancing have distorted faces and Rubenesque figures. Using the familiar motif of the “video girl” and altering it in a way that makes the women appear inhuman allows Major Lazer to subvert the message of objectification that usually exists in hip-hop videos.

            The women typify “video girls” are usually black or Latina women that defy in every aspect of their appearance what the average woman looks like. Much like the waif ideal for white women, women of color are presented with an impossible standard of beauty to live up to. Video girls have small waists, large breasts, and even larger behinds. They have long hair, light skin, and wear next to nothing. Their job in the video is to move seductively and nothing more. The presence of these women in music videos commodifies female sexuality and presents unrealistic depictions of sex and beauty. Major Lazer’s video takes this idea and undermines it by presenting disfigured faces that are equally unattainable. The musical duo also feature the bodies of normal to heavy set women, something that would never be seen in a music video, but which is seen every day in real life.

            Perry argues that, “The women [in hip-hop videos] are often portrayed as vacuous, doing nothing but swaying around seductively…extremely rare are any signs of thought, humor, irony, intelligence, anger, or any other emotion” (Dines and Humez 137). This is exactly what happens in Major Lazer’s video. The dancing that takes place in the video is unusually stilted. The women rely on shimmying their breasts and shaking their butts in order to move. They dance “in a two-dimensional fashion, a derivative but unintellectual version of black dance, but more reminiscent of pornographic male sexual fantasy…” (Dines and Humez 137). “Keep It Goin’ Louder” satirizes formulaic hip-hop videos by presenting the same motif, but with disfigured women who depend on hypersexual moves in order to dance.

            Major Lazer’s purpose in making a video that undermines the norm is to illustrate the prescribed nature with which hip-hop videos are produced and to effect change. By challenging messages of objectification, they show other musicians that foregoing stereotypical “video girls” can be just as economically and viable as including them. Thus, if more artists choose to take this path of omitting beautiful and vacuous women from their music videos, it could change the way in which hip-hop videos are made. It could even promote the inclusion of women who represent a more realistic image of beauty into mainstream music videos.

            In “Hip-Hop Honeys and Da Hustlaz: Black Sexualities in the New Hip-Hop Pornography”, Mireille Miller-Young asserts that,  “Through the repetition of deviant practices by multiple individuals, new identities, communities, and politics emerge where seemingly deviant, unconnected behavior can be transformed into conscious acts of resistance that serve as a basis for a mobilized politics of deviance” (285-286). Major Lazer’s subversion of beauty and sexuality in hip-hop videos was effective because it was shocking. It used both ordinary imagery, like the body shapes of the women, and grotesque imagery, like the distortion of their faces, in order to send the message that the scantily clad women seen in mainstream music videos are portrayed as inhuman. The more that depictions of women in hip-hop deviate from what they are now, the more that new definitions of “video girls” will arise and take hold. The presence of women not being degraded in music will redefine the ways in which videos are made.

            “Keep It Goin’ Louder” undermines hypersexualized music video motifs by both taking part in and deviating from them. Major Lazer presents four underdressed women dancing provocatively, as they would in any other video, but they show a more rotund body, which would never be found in any other mainstream hip-hop production. They also deform the faces of the women, making them appear grotesque. This conveys the idea that the objectification of “video girls” is dehumanizing. By challenging the formula with which hip-hop videos are made, Major Lazer allows others to do the same and confront what it means to be a musician in a world of sexism.

Works Cited:

Major Lazer. “Keep It Goin’ Louder.” Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do. Downtown, 2009. Music Video.

Miller-Young, Mireille. "Hip-Hop Honeys and Da Hustlaz: Black Sexualities in the New Hip-Hop Pornography." Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism. 8.1 (2008): 261-292.

Perry, Imani. “Who(se) Am I? The Identity and Image of Women in Hip-Hop.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text- Reader. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication Inc., 2003. 


  1. Good job Cara!
    -Great example of a video that subverts hegemonic ideologies.
    -Backed up each point with a relevant quote from the text.
    -Was easy to follow and stay on topic with the thesis

    -talked just about misogyny and over coming that. I think a point or two also could have been on how the video goes against the hegemonic structure in our society.
    -There are only four paragraphs that include analysis this seems a bit short. Another point or two could be made to lengthen the post.

  2. Cara-
    You chose an interesting video for this assignment and made an argument that was quite unique.
    I am not sure if I can see the subversive effect of the disfigured women in the video as you're arguing. The main issue here is that the women are indeed, still women, and dismembering, distorting, and piecing together body parts are still part of a dominant ideology about women as commodities.
    The point about the women being "inhuman" was a bit shockingly made repeatedly in your post. In many ways the inhuman depiction you describe is emblematic of a subhuman portrayal of women in the "hegemonic" videos you're comparing Major Lazer's to.
    I could see how you saw the depiction as artfully unique, but in watching the video, the women's role is hard for me to understand as something that's subverting the dominant misogynist ideologies.
    I think the biggest issue here was less related to your ability to analyze the video, and more related to your choice of video to analyze. There just wasn't enough to analyze in the video (even if the argument about the distorted women as subverting the normative video girl image is valid) because so much of it doesn't buck convention.
    If you run into something similar (choice of analytical this case, the music video) in the future, please let me know so I can assist you in finding a specific area to analyze. It's much easier to ask about topic changes and work on one that would be more analytically conducive for the assignment.