From Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here” through to Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, an arguably disproportionate portion of 2013 has been spent watching, dissecting, and discussing controversial music videos. The argument against them filters into several categories. The general response is usually something along the lines of “This is awful, it’s too naked, too sexy, and degrading to women”. To which some post-feminist will usually think-piece out a response along the lines of “but what’s WRONG with a bit of female nudity? It’s empowering!”. Eventually, after some privilege checking and intersectionality, the argument filters down to the kids.
Are the videos affecting children? Should they be banned? The Guardian asked women that are Miley Cyrus’s age what they think about her music videos. But 21-year old women aren’t Miley’s audience, her videos are watched by girls and boys much younger than her. With this in mind, we interviewed some kids and here’s what they had to say:
Fabian Smith-Williams, 14
Noisey: What do you think of Blurred Lines?
Fabian: It's standard. There's a lot of music videos that are worse than that so it's not really affected me.
What videos are worse?
Nearly all rap videos.
Some people say the "Blurred Lines" video is inappropriate, what do you think?
if you don't understand the whole meaning of Blurred Lines it's fine, but if you understand they're saying the blurred lines between rape and whatever, then it becomes inappropriate.
Where have you heard that interpretation of the song?
I had the Guardian out and was reading it.
What do you think the video means?
Women are items, something you possess, like money.
Do you think you would have watched "Wrecking Ball" if the video hadn't been so controversial?
I would have because it's Miley Cyrus. Even if I don't like her, I still want to see what she comes out with next.
What does the video make you think of her?
She's trying to be rebellious, there's no structural reason behind anything she does.
Do you think she's doing what she wants?
It's a bit of her and her management. She thinks she can't become a proper artist without going to the extreme.
Does it affect the way you think of other girls?
Nah. Obviously she's an icon, but I wasn't looking at girls differently after I saw that video.
Have you seen kids copying Miley's twerking?
Twerking was happening before Miley. This is going to sound really racist, but white girls have now started doing it.
I don't think that's racist, she's got a certain audience. Have you seen twerking in rap videos?
Yeah, it happens all the time. Have you seen the Lily Allen video?
Yeah, what do you think of it?
I think it's really funny. She's laughing at it, it's like slapstick, a parody.
What do you think of the lyrics?
They're good. Mainstream people don't tend to do anything insightful, and that's why I like Rizzle Kicks and Lily Allen, because they're making a different sound and trying to do something more than make money.
Do you think that someone your age should be able to watch these videos?
Yes, if their parents don't mind them. I don't know if you know how videogames work but if you go to the store to buy one you've got to be with an adult. There should be a pin where if your parents want you to watch the videos they can give you the pin.
Violet Jacobson, 12
Noisey: What do you remember the most about the Blurred Lines video?
It was all very oversexualised. When I saw the parodies I was happy that someone had taken the piss out of them, because boys are just disrespecting girls in the videos.
How did you feel when you watched the video for "Blurred Lines"?
I just feel it's sad that girls feel they have to - because I know I've done it in the past - taken some photos that reveal so much just to get attention.
Do you think the men are involved in that as well?
Obviously, they're told by the music director of the video that that's a certain way they have to be, but it would ruin their job if they didn't do the things that they were told to do. They are making the women look like animals rather than people.
Do you think age restrictions on videos would be a good idea?
I would feel like I was missing out, but if there was a restricted age on it I would not click on it.
What does the "Wrecking Ball" video make you think of Miley Cyrus?
I used to watch Hannah Montana when I was little, so it was like the biggest change ever. If that was a normal person on the street it wouldn't be a problem because that would just be them growing up, but because she's famous there's pressure on her to look and be a certain way. It's probably really hard for her. I do really respect her for being herself.
Do you think kids are going to copy what she does in the videos?
In a taking the mick way, I dressed up as her for Halloween. People just laughed.
Harry Willis, 16
Noisey: What did you think of the Robin Thicke video?
Harry: He was overcompensating for something. I don’t get offended by much. They were trying to annoy and get the attention, and it worked.
Do you think the men and women in it are on any kind of equal footing?
It’s obviously degrading to women: the way that they’re dressed and presented, and it seems symbolic that they don’t talk.
Did you notice it was a female director?
I did not know that! Ha!
It’s the same director as the Miley Cyrus “We Can’t Stop” video.
I quite like the “We Can’t Stop” video.
That one caused a lot of controversy too.
Miley Cyrus is only doing what Britney was doing ten years ago. She’s a Disney girl, and you’ve got to break that. I understand why it got controversy, the whole message behind the song is doing ecstasy, getting drunk and having parties. It’s not something you want to see Hannah Montana do.
What do you remember as the most controversial part of that video?
The chip skull and when she cuts her fingers and all this pink goo comes out.
It’s interesting that the twerking became such a big thing when she’s also chopping off her fingers!
Twerking was all over social media before that. What she did was clever; now when you say ‘twerking,’ people think of her.
Do you think these videos affect expectations of what girls around you should look like?
I think Miley looks a bit unhealthy. I have a healthy perception of what women should like.
Have you seen people your age copying what they’ve seen in Miley’s video?
Before “We Can’t Stop”, twerking was a bit like “oh sluts do it”. Now it’s more a take the mick out of Miley thing.
Katie Thurston, 17
Noisey: What do you remember the most about the Blurred Lines video?
Katie: Obviously the girls. The way they’re objectified by the men, they’re not treated as people.
In the "Wrecking Ball" video, do you think Miley is doing what she wants?
I think she’s doing what she has to do to prove herself. She’s trying to get attention from Liam and obviously moving away from Disney. I still really like her.
Have you got a defence worked out for her?
I reckon she’s obviously trying to find ways to deal with things and it’s her way of coping. I’d stick up for her. If Rihanna did a video like that no one would say anything.
Do you think the video affects what you think about women’s bodies?
She’s confident in herself, which is a good thing.
Do you think there’s a big risk of children copying what they see in the video?
Definitely. And that's not what everyone should be doing.
What do you think meaning is?
I think she’s obviously hurt.
Does the “Pour It Up” video make you think more or less of Rihanna?
Because all her videos are so controversial it doesn’t have the same impact.
Do you think that videos like this should be age-restricted?
It’s obviously inappropriate for young people but I still think it’s more fun than anything else
Do you think there’s negative impact on children watching these type of videos?
Yeah, girls watching it think “This is the way you should look, you’re not worth any more than your body”.
Have you seen Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here”?
Love it. It's brilliant. I think it’s a good point to prove. It’s showing different bodies, not all size 6.
People have had a go at her because although she’s taking the mickey of what’sdone in other videos, she’s also repeating it. What do you think?
It’s ironic, she’s got that because the women are all different sizes, shapes and appearances.
Do you think Lily Allen’s video will change anything?
I think it’s such a big problem now that no one's going to see past [the alleged racism]. If a man puts twerking girls in his video, they’re a brilliant person and if it’s a woman, she’s not worth anything.
What’s the best video you’ve seen in regard to its treatment of women’s bodies?
Lily Allen’s video was a bit too much, but in general she is a strong female figure standing up for what is right. In some aspects, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga and Rihanna are role models, confidence-wise, but they take it to extremes that make you feel uncomfortable.
What would you like to see more of?
I don’t want to see people wondering around looking at exterior. I know that gets people’s attention and I don’t see it straying from that, but it would be nice to have a change.
Noisey: Have you seen the video for “Blurred Lines”?
Grace: I watched it once, I found it quite boring.
Have you downloaded the song?
So why's the video boring?
It was just girls dancing around and men standing there.
Do you think Miley Cyrus is doing what she wants to these days?
Yes. Because her act or whatever at the VMAs… Whoever is in charge of what she does…I can't imagine that they would have been happy with her doing that. I thought it was rather inappropriate.
What do Miley's new videos make you think of her?
She does what she wants and doesn't really care about what anyone thinks of her.
Do you think all this female nudity affects what you think of other girls?
No, just what I think of her.
What do you think the “Wrecking Ball” video means?
Isn't it about her breaking up with Liam whateverhisnameis? Probably just that she's heartbroken or whatever and that she's going a bit off the rails.
Have you seen Rihanna's “Pour It Up” video?
Have you seen JT's “Tunnel Vision” video?
Have you seen Lily Allen's “Hard Out Here” video?
What do you do, do you have a life?
What would you want to see more of in music videos?
I really like music videos that look like they're home videos and not like it's all been staged.
What would you say if you weren't allowed to watch any of these inappropiate videos?
It wouldn't bother me.
What about Lorde's "Royals", what do you think about that video?
I really like her music, that's the only video I've seen of hers. I thought it was quite cool, I liked it. It wasn't like a normal kind of music video, it was a bit random and mismatched in places.
Do you think seeing all these naked women affects the way girls view their own bodies?
I think some girls, yeah.
You say some girls, do you think there's a reason why you seem above it?
Probably because some girls want to be like Miley Cyrus and like those other famous girls. They want to do everything they can to look like them and be like them. I think it affects some girls more than others.
Do you think you have different role models?
I'm obsessed with Beyonce but I'm not sure, I wouldn't say I've got a role model.
Would you say you're more influenced by people around you?
So, what did I learn? Young people are not only exposed to the music videos that’ve become 2013’s folk demons, they’re also exposed to all of the conversations going on outside of the videos. Unlike my youth, which was spent staying up until 11pm to watch Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrrty” video on The Box, and maybe asking someone at school the next day if they’d seen it, today’s youth are sharing videos constantly, and involving each other in immediate conversations.
When Kristen Stewart was found to have cheated on Robert Pattinson, it wasn't the press calling her a trampire, it was kids online. As much I'd like to think, as a journalist, it's me and my peers curating content and it's the kids who are shaped by the media we feed them, kids are curating their media consumption in ways we never did. Their opinions on a music video don't stop forming when the screen fades to black, but grow outside of the video.
My selection of youngsters may lean toward the well-read, the ones who've got great influences from somewhere, have access to newspapers and think to read opinion columns. The ones whose parents could be bothered to fill in the permission slip for the interview. But now that teenagers' social circles are broadening beyond those they know in real life and on to the internet, what’s not to say that some of the children I interviewed cannot pass on their enlightened ideas?
However, it’s not all positive. The children were so aware of the bad things in the videos, and they knew they deserved better. A couple of interviewees were just bored. I’d like them to watch music videos for fun, not just so they can go on to dissect, mock and question them. But then, what’s not to say that these videos are helping the kids grow up for the better?
Follow Sophie on Twitter: @SophWilkinson
Read more like this: