Women and Property Damage in Music Videos
Wow, it’s been a super long time since I last posted, hasn’t it? Just … super. And I will catch up on my Supernatural coverage someday. Probably. But for now, here’s a post on a few music videos from the previous decade. Because that’s fun.
Sometimes, in pop music and/or in the music videos that accompany pop music, women take out their aggression (against men) on inanimate objects (frequently belonging to men).
I would like to take a moment to examine this phenomenon.
One of the most popular targets of female aggression in music videos is The Car. See:
- 2005: Shakira, “Don’t Bother”
- 2006: Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats”
- 2008: P!nk, “So What”
- 2008: Jazmine Sullivan, “Bust Your Windows”
OK, OK, so technically the Carrie Underwood one is a truck. The parallel still holds.
Women in music videos have also been known to commit acts of property damage against things that are not automobiles. See:
- 2004: Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone”
- 2008: P!nk, “So What”
- 2008: Jazmine Sullivan, “Bust Your Windows”
You will note that there is some overlap there. I guess sometimes vehicle vandalism is just not enough.
A couple sketches and video-by-video breakdown of this phenomenon under the cut:
Since U Been Gone
performed by: Kelly Clarkson;
written by: Max Martin and Dr. Luke;
video directed by: Alex De Rakoff
The plot of the video for Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” is simple: Kelly trashes her ex’s apartment. (And I’m going to go ahead and use the artists’ names to refer to the characters they portray in these videos. Note that this is for simplicity’s sake only, and that I am fully aware that the singers are distinct from the characters they play.) This video is very efficiently designed, with Kelly systematically trashing the apartment in question one room at a time. She starts small, with the bathroom, and moves on to the closet, the bedroom and finally the living area, which looks to be a combined studio and living room. As the video progresses, the messes that Kelly makes in each space increase in size, and the material damage she does reaches its peak when she slams a framed photograph into a coffee table and destroys both objects. It’s like a virtual tour, but with vandalism.
These scenes are, of course, interspersed with clips of Kelly performing on stage, singing about how “free” she feels now that her ex is no longer around.
Significantly, the apartment appears to be a shared space. Though the place has what looks to me like a ‘bachelor pad’ vibe going for it, the closet is divided into ‘male’ and ‘female’ sections–and Kelly only takes scissors to the more strappy, female-identified articles of clothing.
Because the more important audience for Kelly’s reign of destruction is not her ex himself, but her ex’s new girlfriend. At the end of the video (what would be the “reveal” on one of those home makeover shows) it is true that we do not actually see the new girlfriend’s reaction to the trashed apartment. However! We do see the shocked expression of Kelly’s ex as he turns his head towards his new girlfriend. This strongly suggests that The Ex’s big concern is how his new girlfriend will react to the antics of his old one. Will she be frightened away? Will she judge him? Will she refuse to help clean up the apartment, even though they are clearly cohabitating? Who can say?
Whatever the new girlfriend’s reaction, Kelly sure looks pleased with herself. Without much reason, to my mind, since her behavior in the video is petty at best and the video as a whole reads like a surprisingly orderly series of tantrums. While I’m not saying that more is the answer here, it is a bit toothless that none of Kelly’s apartment modifications are permanent. After one good–if admittedly long–cleaning session, there won’t even be a trace to signify that Kelly was ever there.
Also, I’m not a big fan of the trope in which women redirect their feelings about men who have treated them poorly to the new objects of their ex’s affections. I mean, there’s nothing in the song to indicate that this new girlfriend did anything to Kelly personally. Why are her clothes the ones getting cut up?
And speaking of that trope that I hate:
Before He Cheats
performed by: Carrie Underwood;
written by: Chris Tompkins and Josh Kear;
video directed by: Roman White
“Before He Cheats” has that trope written all over it.
There are two main arguments in Carrie Underwood’s song, “Before He Cheats”: one in the verses and one in the chorus. The argument of the verses basically boils down to, ‘That new girl is pathetic and terrible.’ She’s a “frisky,” “bleached-blond tramp” who “can’t shoot whiskey” or a “combo” (verse 1). She sings karaoke the “white trash” way and has the audacity to announce it when she’s “drunk”–which is apparently some kind of mating call as far as Carrie’s ex is concerned (verse 2). That frisky bleached-blond white trash karaoke-singing non-liquor-holding tramp.
And it’s not like Carrie knows this woman. In fact, the lyrics suggest that she does not even know whether or not this woman exists. The first line is, “Right now, he’s probably slow-dancing with a bleached-blond tramp.” The tramp and all of her attributes are strictly hypothetical.
Both the video and the lyrics do indicate that Ms. Bleached-blond is the person Carrie’s beau is cheating on Carrie with. So that at least establishes some motive for Carrie to target her. However, I would find all this slut-shaming slightly more appropriate (not that slut-shaming is ever really appropriate) if it were clear that this bleached-blond woman knew about the man’s relationship with Carrie. But that’s one thing that the song never makes clear.
The second argument of the song–the argument of the chorus–goes something like this: ‘He doesn’t know it, but I destroyed his truck. Here’s how I destroyed his truck. This will possibly keep him from cheating on other women but he definitely won’t be cheating on me.’
Yeah, it’s a truck, and if there’s one thing Scattergories has finally drilled into my skull, it’s that a truck is its own category of automobile, and not a kind of car. But I was trying to do a thing with those lists earlier, and “One of the most popular targets of female aggression in music videos is The Motorized Vehicle” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Anyway, this particular motorized vehicle is the dude’s truck, and Carrie destroys it.
More to the point, she destroys it systematically. Carrie destroys a truck the same way Kelly trashes an apartment: step by step. She lays it all out for us in the chorus:
That I dug my key into the side
of his pretty little souped up 4 wheel drive,
carved my name into his leather seats …
I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights,
slashed a hole in all 4 tires …
Carrie wants us to know not just that she has destroyed this truck, but that she has destroyed every part of this truck. And she certainly wants the guy to know that she’s the culprit, or she wouldn’t have signed her work. Bold move for someone engaging in vandalism (which is a felony, by the by). Somehow I don’t think she’ll be off the hook if four-wheel-drive guy gets law enforcement involved.
carved my name into his leather seats …
Hmm. If only the vandal had left some kind of clue.
The truck is even more destroyed in the video than it is in the song: in the last shot we get of it, its body is all beaten and twisted up, suggesting that Carrie at some point decided that targeting the paint job, tires, seats and headlights was somehow insufficient. (Admittedly, the truck does look pretty fake in that final shot. Maybe the director wanted to assure us that no actual trucks were harmed in the making of this video?)
In the last few shots we see of Carrie herself, she’s walking down an empty street and things start spontaneously exploding around her: streetlamps, electric signs and windows, mainly. I’m not exactly sure how to categorize this, as Carrie does not seem to be destroying these things deliberately. (And now I really want to make some pithy comparison to Stephen King’s Carrie, but I still need to read that book/watch that movie.) However, Carrie is certainly framed as the cause of all the explosions. I suppose this sequence is intended to make us think of Carrie as some kind of avenging goddess; her wrath is such that destruction simply follows in her wake.
Um, how does that even happen?
Hey, if Carrie’s an avenging goddess, does that mean she won’t have to face felony charges for the truck thing?
performed by: P!nk;
written by: P!nk, Max Martin and Shellback;
video directed by: Dave Meyers
This is probably my favorite music video in the lineup. And I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with the reasons why.
Of all the objects that P!nk destroys, damages or disturbs in the “So What” music video, only one–the car–belongs to a man she knew before the video’s opening. This young gentleman and his new bride appear in their “Just Married” getaway car right when P!nk mentions an ex–suggesting that he may in fact be an ex of some kind. However, the new groom appears pleased to see P!nk, and surprised by her negative reaction, so it’s also possible that he is just someone she happens to know, and it is her resentment toward all happy couples that leads her to egg and punch his car. (And where did she get the eggs? Did she go shopping earlier in the video or does she just carry eggs around on the off chance that she will encounter happily married couples? Personally, I hope it’s the latter.)
And the man who is more clearly P!nk’s ex in the video is Carey Hart, her honest-to-life ex-husband, here making a guest appearance.
P!nk throws a guitar around at a music store, but does not seem to damage it. She cuts down a tree that has “Alecia and Carey” carved into it (referring to herself and ex-husband Carey Hart), but I’m not sure who actually owns the tree in question. For all I know, it’s her tree. Or maybe they carved their names into someone else’s tree. Anyway, I’ve got no proof that it’s Hart’s. The last few things she destroys–her own hair (which she sets on fire), pillows and a folding bill of some kind–all seemingly belong to her. The hair definitely does.
So, overall, P!nk is not doing much that will affect her ex directly. (The one possible exception being her announcement in the lyrics that she’s “not gonna pay his rent.” Which seems less vengeful and more normal. Why was she paying his rent in the first place?)
And this works for me, because neither the song “So What” nor the music video for it is about petty vengeance. The only revenge that the song embraces is the revenge of living well (“So what / I’m still a rock star”). And the video? Well, the video is basically about how P!nk’s breakup has led into her undergoing a prolonged nervous breakdown–and I like that.
I like that, as the song extols the virtues of moving on, the video shows a person incapable of moving on or letting go–a person barely holding on, who laughs one second and cries a second later, chainsaw in hand.
This portrait of someone who is trying to live defiantly, joyously and publicly, while all the time dying inside, reads as very real to me.
And the reason it reads as very real is that, much like P!nk’s character, I tend to direct my own aggression inwards. Now, P!nk’s actions in the video are big and bold and public and destructive, but they are for the most part self-destructive, and not made with the goal of hurting someone else in mind. It’s not that her actions are victimless. She pushes the clerk in the guitar store, attacks the newlyweds’ car and cuts a tree down onto a neighbor’s fence. (She also, inadvertently, gives some guys a couple of bottles of urine. Hey, she didn’t know, OK?) However, with the exception of the newlyweds, none of these people are targets.
The only consistent victim of P!nk’s aggression in the video is P!nk herself. Guest star and real ex Carey Hart comes off really well by comparison, only showing up in scenes in which he and P!nk appear to have a friendly, teasing rapport. P!nk is not out for blood, here.
But P!nk’s self-directed aggression–and how relatable I find it–is a little disturbing. Why does it seem so natural for a woman to hurt herself after being–or at least feeling–hurt by someone else?
Bust Your Windows
performed by: Jazmine Sullivan;
written by: Jazmine Sullivan, Salaam Remi and Deandre Way;
video directed by: Jonathan Mannion
Jazmine Sullivan’s “Bust Your Windows” would probably be my favorite song on this list if Shakira’s “Don’t Bother” weren’t also on this list. (What? I can have preferences.)
Anyway, “Bust Your Windows” has that smooth, sultry R&B sound going for it, and it’s really pretty. It was also, of course, famously covered on Glee, as are most current(ish) songs which reach any degree of popularity. Unlike Jazmine Sullivan’s music video performance, Amber Riley’s Glee performance actually includes busting windows out of a car. Making the Glee cover the more literal version.
Jazmine destroys many things in the “Bust Your Windows” music video and, oddly enough, a car is not one of them. Now, there is a car in the video. It is shot from the right side when it first appears and then shot briefly from the front. The right side windows (both front and back) are clearly undamaged. It is possible that the windshield is broken, but it doesn’t look particularly broken. Whatever damage, if any, that car has suffered is not obvious. And we certainly never see Jazmine herself in the act of busting its windows.
However, the song does tell us that Jazmine has busted said windows and–like Carrie–signed her name to the deed: “signed [her] initials with a crowbar,” to be exact. Yes, these spurned women are dedicated to ensuring that their cheating menfolk–and presumably the police–can identify them with ease.
Note to anyone contemplating vandalism of a motorized vehicle: (1) Don’t vandalize in the first place. Chances are good the risk is not worth the reward. (2) If you do choose to vandalize, don’t sign your vandalism.
So, Jazmine busts windows in the lyrics, at any rate. Her destructive behavior in the video, however, is more akin to Kelly’s in “Since U Been Gone” than it is to Carrie’s in “Before He Cheats.” Jazmine, like Kelly, is setting up a scene.
She starts by spray-painting a red line neatly across a wall art installation of three paintings. From there, she moves on to dropping three wristwatches, again neatly, into a fish tank. Then she empties a bunch of wine bottles onto a table and breaks a collection of wineglasses. Then she tumbles a record collection down the stairs. Finally, she creates a trail (of broken glass?) that leads into the bedroom. The trail continues up onto the bed, where Jazmine has displayed her rival’s underwear, which she found earlier in the video. The message is clear: ‘You cheated on me, I know about it and here is the evidence.’
While I am not entirely clear on the layout of all the rooms in the “Bust Your Windows” music video, I like to imagine that all of Jazmine’s little moments of destruction (and they are little moments, controlled and subtle) combine to draw the eye from the foyer, to the paintings, to the fish tank, to the wine-drenched table, to the vinyl-strewn stairs, to the bedroom’s Still Life With Panties. It’s just more elegant that way.
But, if I think that the “Since U Been Gone” music video is toothless for the way that Kelly goes around throwing tantrums and making messes like a little kid, without doing any real damage–then what does that make the music video for “Bust Your Windows”? For, at the end of “Bust Your Windows,” segments of the video are rewound, literally undoing all of Jazmine’s installations of controlled chaos. The spray paint is erased, the wine bottles and glasses reconstitute themselves and the record collection tumbles back up the stairs. We don’t see the wristwatches jump out of the fish tank, but the implication is still that this has all been Jazmine’s elaborate fantasy of property damage, and that no actual damage has been done. The Still Life With Panties (an expressive moment of creation rather than destruction) is the one trace that Jazmine leaves behind.
Like P!nk’s video for “So What,” then, Jazmine’s “Bust Your Windows” depicts a woman who does not act out her aggression on others. In spite of the song’s lyrics, the Jazmine in the music video is restrained and subdued, lashing out only in her imagination. While I freely admit that it’s this very containment of Jazmine’s pain that gives the video its power, there is something frustrating about a revenge-themed music video in which revenge is erased–literally.
performed by: Shakira;
written by: Shakira, Lauren Christy and The Matrix;
video directed by: Jaume de Laiguana
“Don’t Bother” is probably my favorite song on this list. It also has the dubious honor of being the only song that I have turned to as a ‘breakup song’ during an actual breakup. (Adele’s “Someone Like You” wasn’t out yet.) You helped me through some tough times, “Don’t Bother.”
One of the things I really like about “Don’t Bother” is that Shakira never trash-talks the Other Woman. There are no “bleached-blond tramps” here. While Shakira clearly resents the Other Woman, this resentment actually comes out in a painful awareness of all of her rival’s good qualities. This new woman is “[more] than [he] deserve[s],” and personally, I think that ‘You left me for someone wonderful and I’m trying to be OK about it’ is a much more interesting sentiment than ‘Your new girlfriend sucks.’ Though, much like Alanis Morisette in “You Oughta Know,” Shakira can’t resist pointing out that she’s better in the bedroom. (“I’m sure she doesn’t know / How to touch you like I would.”)
There’s something really interesting going on in terms of class when Shakira compares herself to this Other Woman. The first few verses of “Don’t Bother” are devoted to describing this person, and we learn the following things about her:
She’s got the kind of look that defies gravity
She’s the greatest cook
And she’s fat free
She’s been to private school
And she speaks perfect French
She’s got the perfect friends
Oh isn’t she cool
She practices Tai Chi
She’d never lose her nerve […]
We know that this woman is slender and poised, with “gravity-defying” attributes (presumably breasts), and that she hones her body and mind with Tai Chi, a martial art designed to promote relaxation. We also learn later in the song that she’s “almost six feet tall.” She’s an excellent cook and she’s fluent in French, so this woman is at least well-educated and possibly well-traveled to boot. Some of her education came from private schooling, so she has probably had access to money at some point, and she may have come from a wealthy family.
The implication is that this woman is taller, slimmer and better-educated than Shakira, and that she comes from a more privileged background. Even Shakira’s “win” in the bedroom department aligns with a long, patriarchal tradition of marginalized women (in terms of race, class and ethnicity) being touted as more sexually adventurous than their more privileged counterparts.
So, what does the song “Don’t Bother” have to do with property damage?
Well, nothing, really. But it’s rather the crux of the music video.
Shakira crushes this guy’s car. At a junkyard. With a car crusher. (Apparently this machine is actually called a car crusher. A specific name for a specific purpose.)
And not just any car, but a 1967 Ford Mustang GT500 (or at least a replica thereof), which is apparently a Big Deal if you know stuff about cars. (I do not, but even I can tell how expensive and well-maintained a car like that would have to be.) By the end of the video, that GT500 is a twisted mess. This car-destroying is so violent and so visceral that it reads on-screen like a murder. A murder of a car.
Which is appropriate, since clips of the car’s tortured, being-crushed body cut to clips of its owner’s tortured, twisting body, which spasms at each insult to the car. Which is visually quite interesting and also shows some talent on the part of the dancer portraying Shakira’s male lover, who calmly sleeps through his body writhing in agony.
I’m pretty sure Shakira murders the guy by destroying his car. Because the guy and the car are apparently one, and you can destroy one by destroying the other. You could say it’s … er … vehicular homicide, of a sort. (::coughs::)
So, Shakira’s “Don’t Bother” music video is the only video in the lineup in which property damage is restricted exclusively to cars. However, its destruction of a car is the most thorough. Oh yeah! And it’s also the only music video in the lineup in which a woman’s destruction of a man’s car kills the man through sympathetic magic.
Shakira’s “Don’t Bother” music video is the most aggressive and violent of the lot. Interestingly, it is also the one that most sexualizes its female protagonist. The shots of Shakira performing with her guitar show her getting sprayed with mist, which causes her wet clothing cling to her body. She is also very physical with her lover, at times embracing him and at times rubbing her breasts, cheek and even her bare foot sensuously over his back. And a lot of the embracing (and some of the solo singing) takes place in the shower, so we again get to see Shakira in wet, body-hugging clothes. Shakira’s lyrics, too, of all the songs covered in this post, are the most sexual and suggestive.
This all makes me wonder if the “Don’t Bother” music video is operating on some kind of inverse correlation of violence to sexuality, in which the more violent Shakira becomes, the more that violence must be ‘paid’ for with her own sexual objectification in order to placate an assumed male gaze.
But it’s hard to say. While there is a sexiness to Jazmine Sullivan’s smooth vocals and to Carrie Underwood’s avenging goddess schtick, “Don’t Bother” is the only one of these videos in which the singer is made an overt sexual object for the male gaze. This might have something to do with the violence of the video, but it might also be a simple result of the fact that her song is the only one that sets up the speaker as more sexual than her rival.
The Property Damage Scorecard
You know I love me some charts, so this should come as no surprise.
Here is a breakdown of the objects damaged, destroyed, disturbed and/or vandalized by the women in these music videos:
|Since U Been Gone||bathroom: products & fixtures||closet: clothes||bedroom: bedclothes & pillows||living area: vinyls, CDs, painting, photo, shelving, coffee table, blinds|
|Before He Cheats||the seats of the truck||both headlights of the truck||the body of the truck||Also streetlamps, signs and windows (somehow)|
|So What||car (video only)||guitar at store||tree||own stuff: hair, pillows & money|
|Bust Your Windows||car (vocals only)||3 paintings||3 wristwatches||wine & wineglasses; the furnishings/carpet under the wine||vinyl singles|
|Don’t Bother||car (video only)||also presumably the man himself through sympathetic magic|
Even though I grouped them together for the sake of this post, I am still not sure what these five videos, examined together, tell us about women and property damage in the media. Except (1) it’s a thing that shows up once in a while and (2) we are being encouraged to celebrate and revel in women’s destruction of property without thinking through its potential legal or moral ramifications.
Now, is this because women are seen as inherently nonthreatening, and therefore their destruction of property can be seen, by extension, as a charming or sexy reflection of their own overemotional overreactions? (Girls will be girls. Or perhaps: bitches be crazy.) Maybe the idea that women will only enact violence upon material objects is intended in and of itself to reinforce to the viewer that women are ultimately non-threatening. Or maybe the displacement of women’s rage against men onto material objects is supposed to provide a female audience with the opportunity to indulge in music industry-sanctioned, non-violent revenge fantasies–with Shakira’s sympathetic-magic murder being an odd outlier.
Maybe it’s a ‘have your cake and eat it too’ kind of phenomenon. Maybe the message is that women can be angry, aggressive, powerful, avenging goddesses–but they/we won’t hurt anybody. Not really. Not physically and not directly. And even when there is an element of violence to women’s revenge, it’s strictly fantasy–death by sympathetic magic à la “Don’t Bother” not being a terribly plausible fate–and all in good fun.
Or maybe–and I struggle with this–there really is something “empowering” going on here. After all, that’s the party line, isn’t it? That these female forces of destruction are “empowered”? At least, I think that’s what the party line is supposed to be. (Strong Independent Woman, anyone?*)
And I admit that there is something satisfying about the fantasy of women being able to express anger openly, and act upon that anger, without fear of reprisal or repercussion.
I think that these videos may, as a group, reflect an earnest attempt to portray women as powerful, while at the same time revealing narrow, culturally-driven assumptions about what power looks like.
If you’ve got an opinion on this phenomenon, feel free to share. I’d be interested to hear other people’s takes. Also, if you know of other music videos that deal with women and property damage, I’d like to hear about them. My list here was based on stuff I’d happened to have heard about already, so I’m sure I left some relevant videos overlooked.
* * *
* The “Strong Independent Woman Jingle” is from Lindsay Ellis, The Nostalgia Chick’s August 2012 review of “The Worst (and Least Awful) Female Superhero Movies,” which can be watched here.