Christina Aguilera is staging a comeback. Though a tremendously successful pop artist from the late 90s through the middle of the last decade, Aguilera has not released an album since 2006, and the music scene has acquired new stars in her absence. With her new disc, Bionic, coming out next month, she needs to do something big to recapture the public’s attention in a crowded market.
In her recently released video for the album’s first single, “Not Myself Tonight,” Aguilera uses a common tool of the female pop star who wants some extra press: getting sexy with another woman.
Female pop singers are constantly trying to prove how sexually adventurous they are, deliberately positioning themselves as fantasy material for a still male-dominated society. It’s pretty surprising if a female pop star does a video in which she doesn’t appear practically naked.
To see how necessary “scandalous” displays of sexuality are for a woman to make it in current pop music, one need look no further than Miley Cyrus’s new video “Can’t Be Tamed,” a clear attempt to transition her teen queen image into an adult career through bondage gear and sensual writhing.
More and more, women in pop music are using bisexuality to signal their libidinal wildness, placing lesbian sex in a category with stripping and sadomasochism. These pop stars are often very clear about the fact that their girl-on-girl encounters are naughty novelties. The scenes of Aguilera rubbing up against another scantily clad woman are interwoven with clips of her in fetish wear, with lyrics like “I’m doing things I normally won’t do” reinforcing the idea this is atypical, particularly risque behavior.
Perhaps the most obvious examples of using lesbianism to shock and scandalize are the Madonna/Britney Spears/(and once again) Christina Aguilera liplocks at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards and Katy Perry’s ode to recreational bisexuality, “I Kissed a Girl.” The VMA kisses were clear attention grabs, a symbolic passing of the scandal from one generation’s female sexual provocateur to the next’s, meant to shock an audience, not express actual sexual attraction between the three women. “I Kissed a Girl” features this judgmental comment on Perry’s girl kissing behavior: “It’s not what good girls do/ not how they should behave.”
Female pop stars, though their record and ticket-purchasing audiences are largely female, still rely on the male gaze when designing their imagery. When Christina Aguilera gets raunchy with a woman in a video, she is not expressing her own sexuality or presenting female-female relationships as an acceptable possibility, she is catering to the large amounts of men who enjoy watching two extremely feminine women kiss and to the large amount of the population who still sees homosexual relations as dangerous and shocking.
She is implying that being with another woman is the kind of thing women might experiment with when they’re feeling particularly wild but not the kind of behavior that fits into normal, respectable sexual conduct. This and other pop culture displays of lesbian tourism promote the idea that sex between two women is always scandalous.
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Carol Quinn (May 5, 2010)
Nicole Jensen (May 5, 2010)
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PsychCentral (May 5, 2010)
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Last reviewed: 5 May 2010