J. Lo's new music video for "I Luh Ya PaPi" is out, and it's the most fun — and, blessed be, actually effective — media commentary via music video to emerge from the lurid swamp of pop culture in recent memory.
The video opens with J. Lo sitting on a couch with two friends while some lame old record label guy presents his various music video concepts. All of them suck, and J. Lo and friends reject them all derisively. After a minute of this, one of the women notes, "If she was a guy, we wouldn't be having this conversation at all." From there, the question is raised: "Why do men always objectify the women in every single video? Why can't we, for once, objectify the men?" It's a very good query, and so J. Lo's friends set out to answer it themselves, through an elaborate fantasy sequence that begins with the narration, "It could start with her on the bed with a bunch of naked guys, for no reason!..." and ends with, "And then we could be the entourage that does nothing!"
And thus we are treated to J. Lo on a bed with a bunch of naked guys, which cuts to a graceful shot of a sleeping man in boxer shorts that looks straight out of the recent "Groin Gazing" fashion spread. From there, we follow J. Lo to the pool, where oily men in Speedos abound, to the driveway, where shirtless men seductively wash J. Lo's several cars (and their abs sometimes), to the yacht, where more men in Speedos abound and occasionally make little twerking motions.
Significantly, J. Lo and her friends/backup dancers are the ones with the agency here: the video is framed as an elaborate joke-fantasy narrated by them. This is the exact opposite of Lily Allen's "Hard Out Here" video, which tried — and failed — to make the same sort of commentary on the objectification of women in the music industry. The reason it failed so utterly was because Allen's finished video ended up reducing her (predominantly black) backup dancers to sexualized props and setting them up as the mindless, gross industry norm against which Lily Allen is the exception, the "real" woman. In her criticism of the racism in the "Hard Out Here" video, Erin Gloria Ryan wrote:
The video's director wouldn't have had to do much to alleviate the problem of silent, sexualized backup dancers serving as a backdrop to Allen. If the point of the visual was to show that the dancers' agency had been taken away and they were used as props and that's just ridiculous that the music industry does that, they could have given the dancers a 2-second backstory.
In the "I Luh Ya PaPi" video the backup dancers don't just get a short backstory. They shape the entire video narrative, laughing in the face of the baffled white record label dude as they do it.
As Margaret Atwood has pointed out, laughing in the face of male power is one of the most threatening things a woman can do. In other words, this video isn't effective because it's the men being objectified, for once: it's because the women are laughing the entire time they're doing it. It's actually fairly subversive not to treat "sexy" with the grave seriousness our culture normally does, especially when media representations of women often try to reduce them to their "sexiness." Pointing out how totally ridiculous objectification often looks, and doing so effectively, is a big deal — it takes the very obvious message of "WOMEN CAN OBJECTIFY BODIES, TOO!" (duh, we know) and turns it into an interrogation of the way in which we, as a culture, consume people and images.