Nolan: I really didn’t want to hear a song called “I Luh Ya Papi,” but I finally broke down and checked out the first single from Jennifer Lopez’s upcoming tenth album, and you know what, Ashley? The video is hilarious, but it also wastes no time attacking the depictions of women in music videos—which, as you remember, is kind of our favorite topic.
Ashley: Yes! I hope this becomes a genre. “Gender-swapping pop videos with commentary on the objectification of women,” putting it in Netflix terms.
Nolan: Don’t forget the strong female leads!
Ashley: Totally. So this video starts out with our strong female lead, Lopez, in a pitch meeting for her video shoot for “I Luh Ya Papi.” Danny from the record company pitches locale ideas—let’s shoot at the water park! at a carnival! at the zoo!—as Lopez and her two friends reject each idea, laughing harder at every proposal. “If she was a guy, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all,” one friend interjects.
The other adds, “They would seriously have her up in a mansion with all these half-naked girls, or maybe even in a yacht! You know how they stage you in a yacht scene, champagne, drinking—”
“Why do men always objectify the women, in every single video?” the first friend asks. “Why can't we, for once, objectify the men?”
“The video can start with her on a bed with a bunch of naked guys,” the second friend says, “for no reason!” And they laugh. Then the video begins in earnest with Lopez on a bed, with a bunch of naked guys, for no reason, and it goes on to “objectify men” with aplomb for three and a half minutes.
Nolan: Pointing out that music videos objectify women isn’t exactly breaking news, but it's a topic that's still worth discussing. When music videos glorify treating women like objects, it sends the message that it's similarly okay to ignore a woman's humanity in real life, and these depictions, as we learned with Lily Allen, often have racial stereotypes attached to them.
But the pitch meeting in "I Luh Ya Papi" adds a new angle to the perennial conversation. Objectification is so normalized that it becomes the standard—even when a man isn’t the designated center of attention. They’re producing a Jennifer Lopez music video for a song off her tenth album, not casting some unknown girl to be an extra in another rapper’s video. And yet, Lopez’s options are pretty much the same: a water park (so she can be wet and in a bathing suit), somewhere with puppies (because if she can’t be sexy, she has to be cute), or a zoo… so she can, uh, seem exotic? So she can be tamed? Perhaps Danny just thinks J.Lo looks good in animal prints. (And she does!) But perhaps that’s just all Danny and real-life record executives know.
Ashley: I think it makes a great point about how often women are literally decorations in music videos—props, even, or scenery, rather than characters. There’s that wonderful shot where there are two gorgeous guys sunning themselves on beach chairs on either side of Lopez, and I found myself gawking at them and wondering what they were there for: Like, “Are they… gonna do something? Are they seriously just lying there?”
But then I realized: When I see a girl in a bikini just lounging around in the background of a music video, I barely think twice about it.
Nolan: Don’t forget the car washing. Have we ever seen a music video in which men strip down and get sudsy that wasn’t meant to be a total joke?
Ashley: I thought that was especially smart, given how common that trope is when it’s women.
Nolan: The video manages to point out how surprising and weird it is to see men doing absolutely nothing in barely any clothing without ridiculing men or women themselves, which is actually harder than it sounds. I’ve talked about this before, but one of the most famous “Blurred Lines” parodies from last summer pointed out that reversing the gender roles of music videos is often disservice to everyone involved.
“It's our opinion that most attempts to show female objectification in the media by swapping the genders serve more to ridicule the male body than to highlight the extent to which women get objectified,” wrote Seattle-based burlesque troupe Mod Carousel on their video page. “We made this video specifically to show a spectrum of sexuality as well as present both women and men in a positive light, one where objectifying men is more than alright and where women can be strong and sexy without negative repercussions.”
I do think “I Luh Ya Papi” passes that test, but I suppose that test requires you to be on board with the idea that there can be a healthy, productive way to objectify people.
Ashley: There’s one thing I do think she could have addressed more effectively, if she wanted this to be a full-blown critique of your garden-variety rap video—and maybe she didn’t. Some of the uncomfortable power dynamics in rap videos come from the fact that the men are fully clothed and the women are mostly naked. In this video, the guys are pretty naked, but J. Lo isn’t exactly “fully clothed,” either.
Nolan: Do you think that takes away from her message?
Ashley: I do, a little bit. The stereotypical “guy in music video surrounded by naked girls” isn’t dressed all that “provocatively,” to borrow a phrase from my mom, right? Usually he’s wearing something flashy and expensive, but not revealing.
My favorite laughably absurd example of this is Ludacris’s “Area Codes,” from 2001. In “Area Codes,” all the women are dressed in things that are generally designed to expose how pretty their body parts are. And look at what Luda’s wearing, in contrast—can we even tell whether he has body parts?
This J. Lo video, on the other hand, has women in very little clothing surrounded by men in very little clothing—which strikes me as really fun and sexy, but not all that poignant.
It’s worth saying, too, that there’s nothing wrong with Lopez looking gorgeous in the video. I’m not mad that she looks hot. It’s just that we all know she can look just as gorgeous in a designer sweatsuit (a la Rick Ross) or in a Lakers jersey (a la that Ludacris video), so she easily could have borrowed one of those looks to make the point more obvious while still looking fabulous.
Nolan: But she does wear a sweatsuit in the video, doesn’t she? What’s she wearing around 2:28?
Ashley: True. She does, briefly, and it works! I just wish there were more of it: It’s one of about 10 outfits, and in the other approximately nine of them she’s only a little less naked than the guys who are getting “objectified.” For a video that seems to—in the intro, at least—equate being "half-naked" with being objectified, that seems like a misstep.
Nolan: I agree it would have been a better video if J.Lo had just rolled out of bed and declared, “I woke up like this.” To me, though, her outfits don’t take away from the point she’s making, because by also being dressing sexy, she’s clarifying that not having a lot of clothes on is not the same as being objectified, and that you can dress in a way that some would consider provocative without doing so for the enjoyment of men around you.
What does take away from the video, I think, are some of the shots with featured rapper French Montana, who is neither naked nor interesting. I wasn’t paying much attention to his part of the music video because, frankly, his verse adds little to the song, I was just reading Lily Rothman’s take on the video over at Time, and she directed my attention to the shot of the two dancers writhing around him:
[A]ll the tropes Lopez set out to mock come right back. The part where he stands there (fully dressed, unlike the speedo dudes) while Lopez struts around him in short shorts is one thing; it’s her video, she’s choosing what to wear, she’s supporting the featured artist on her track, and presumably she wants to look sexy—so that’s how she does it. It’s a little bit of a strange choice considering the video’s theme, but, sure. The thing that really stands out is that there are also two backup dancers who act as decorative objects for his appearance. They don’t play characters, they don’t really show off any particular dance skills, you can barely see their faces—it’s pretty much a textbook case of the “video vixen” objectification that’s derided in the video’s intro.
The bathing suit grab, I’ll admit, also took me out of the moment a bit.
Ashley: Yes! Me too.
Nolan: Obviously the guys don’t seem to mind too much, but they also don’t just let it hang out each time it happens. Up until that point, it seemed liked these Speedo-clad dudes were both aware of their function as eye candy, but still plausibly having fun. But as the near-ass grab shows, there’s a difference between ogling at hotties with bodies who willingly disrobed and then actually trying pulling off their clothes repeatedly despite some degree of protest. It feels a bit silly to worry about their consent here because it’s not usually men who are manipulated into taking their clothes off by people with more power and professional contacts, but I also thought this video could have made the same point out without that scene—that you can reverse these ingrained, gendered tropes without having to embarrass anybody. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe I’ve seen a similar tug on a woman’s bikini so many times in music videos that I would have missed it again if it hadn’t been the other way around.
Ashley, do you think this music video is supposed to model an alternative for other music videos that are looking to dismantle the industry’s double standard? Or is it supposed to make us feel a little gross about what goes on in other music videos that we’re totally immune to? Is there a way for objectification to happen in music videos that isn’t harmful?
Ashley: I think it’s both a slyly scornful comment and a template for the future. I guess I feel both shamed and empowered by it, if that answers the question.
It makes me a little upset to realize the extent to which I objectify women in music videos, for one thing. Realizing just how much I notice when a man is a decoration, and don’t notice when a woman is a decoration, is troubling. But it also seems like the video could be saying, “Hey, there’s nothing wrong with bodies being sexualized or objectified as long as it’s not just limited to women’s bodies.” And like you said, Nolan: The men—and most women in rap videos—are there voluntarily, after all.
And it makes a difference that in this video the women seem to be appreciating these bodies—with the exception of the kinda-rude bathing-suit tug, I generally get the feeling that it’s non-malicious appreciation for bodily beauty. “Appreciation of beauty” rather than “objectification” is probably something this video conveys better than a traditional male-centric rap video might, since it’s clear that this is a parody and everybody in this video is in on the joke.
The last time we chatted about a music video with a message about women’s objectification—Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here” video—our conclusion was “great intention, flawed execution.” I’m content to say this, too, has its small flaws, but overall makes a point worth making. What’s your takeaway?
Nolan: Agreed. But her loss for not including puppies. Everybody loves puppies! I luh ya, puppy.