As the Beatles progressed through their personal artistic journeys, they took us along for the consciousness raising ride. The Rolling Stones were raunchier, with "Lets Spend the Night Together", a shocking subject for a single in those days. Nirvana indoctrinated us to the world of dark grunge with their shadowy, uninhibited "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video. Yeah, it was cool but you couldn't help but notice the pervasive pain buried in those lyrics. Tori Amos spoke for young women with her Little Earthquakes debut, putting the music world on notice that women were claiming their artistic voice. Alanis Morissette took things a big step further with her angry "You Oughta Know", turning Tori's notice into brazen entitlement. What happened at the American Music Awards last night took brazen entitlement to a new level.
Janet Jackson started things off, a hip-hop Pocahontas, with a long medley of her hits beginning with "Control", a harbinger of things to come. She danced and sang her way through it with competence and confidence, a feat for a woman in her 40's. She grabbed her crotch firmly a few times, a puzzling trademark she shares with her famous brother, and threw in the grabbing of a man's crotch which caused quite a stir in one of her videos back in the day. I was just proud of her for getting through the marathon medley and didn't really take her that seriously. She was a trailblazer and it is good to remember that through her music she gently helped women get in touch with their sensual side.
Admittedly it was hard to take Shakira all that seriously either. Who doesn't still think of her as the one who used to do the faux belly dancing? But that was when her hair was really wavy. It's straight now and she seems to have given up the one trick pony image for something a little more mainstream. Her performance did introduce us to the legions of dancers, her own forming a small battalion, who wore little black panties throughout the evening.
The combination of Kelly Clarkson singing a real ballad in a classic black gown with strings accompanying her and knowing that Carrie Underwood was going to perform later fooled me into thinking that maybe the little black panties were just a Shakira theme. Carrie is known for her soulful country ballads and her gorgeous dresses.
But then Rihanna showed up in a video intro on some kind of metal slab, nude, with painful things being done to her while restrained. She then appeared live on a giant metal wheel, spikes on her shoulders and bracelet, wearing a body suit that looked like her jammies, except that it was skin tight and the white stripes alternated with her bare body. She had the name of her album Rated R tattooed on her throat. Later her shoulders lit up with red laser lights and she kept saying "so hard" over and over, obviously the song title.
Carrie, not to be outdone apparently, appeared with writhing girls in even smaller black panties than those worn by Shakira's battalion, only she added boys in black to surround her. (Think Rosemary Clooney's big nightclub solo in White Christmas featuring a very young George Chakiris as one of the back-up boys in black). Later the boys and girls worked out on chairs which included legs up in the air and lots of stroking from above. Carrie wore what resembled a gold and black curtain of some sort that reminded me of Scarlett's dress in Gone with the Wind, only a lot smaller. (I still can't figure out why her boots were silver instead of gold but that's neither here nor there.) The dancing girls were having their way with the boys, using them for their pleasure and then rejecting them, a sexual theme that was laced throughout the evening.
Lady Gaga was predictably over the top featuring a flesh bodysuit, floor writhing a la Madonna, glass smashing, piano flaming, liquor bottle breakage, and gas mask wearing violinists. Even if she was trying to make a sexual empowerment statement, it was lost in all the special effects. No harm, no foul.
J Lo put a more literal spin on female sexual empowerment using a boxing theme complete with a ring, a fight announcer, and male boxers. She had the men remove her robe, grabbed her crotch (albeit a little half-heartedly compared to the veteran crotch grabber Ms. Jackson), repeatedly threw the boxers off her, fell on her bottom (but on a perfect music cue and featuring a quick recovery into the dance break), and changed her outfit with the help of her boys into spike heels and a little gold skirt at the end.
But who knew the piece de resistance would come from Alicia Keys, promoting an album called Element of Freedom. She arrived by video on a motorcycle and then appeared live in a black cat suit with a metal jacket and a chain belt with some type of medallion pointing down between her legs, singing about feeling her departed lover touching her in bed. She and her girls lined up against a brick wall, performing a roundhouse pelvic thrust that was much more aesthetic than the usual back to front thrust, prompting the LA Times Music Critic Todd Martens to describe it as West Side Story inspired, calling the girls "cute to boot". While all this was going on, a man appeared at the top of the brick writhing wall, dressed in all black including an open overcoat with a beanie stretched down tight over his ears, and began to writhe himself. He turned away from the audience and opened his overcoat, flasher style. He then leapt down to confront Alicia, circling and crouching around her, trying to lean into her intimate space. She rejected him with a hand gesture. But he persisted. Finally, inexplicably, she turned around and left with the shadowy man, disappearing behind the brick wall, leaving the cute West Side Story girls to dance without their leader whose voice continued to be heard. She then appeared on a rising platform seated at the piano in less clothes than when she left. She finished her song from high above the stage, one errant camera angle revealing that she was strapped across her thighs onto the piano bench, presumably for safety purposes but on an evening like this, who knows.
My husband watched this performance unfold and said in a matter of fact tone that this was a rape fantasy. My grown son disagreed, saying the shadowy man was obviously the vision of the lover she was trying to forget which was why she rejected him with the hand signals at first. Why then, I asked, did she go behind the brick wall with him and then rise up in just her backless cat suit? He couldn't explain that part. Neither can I.
I'm all for sexual empowerment and so forth, but not so much for a man full of sexual innuendo lurching off a wall and taking a woman behind the wall from whence he came. It is left to our imagination as to why they were going behind that brick wall, but the intent seemed pretty clear. And this on a Sunday evening prime time network broadcast with music stars that young people are dying to see, to emulate. There was enough sex and raunchy clothing and bleeped out lyrics and body parts and suggestive movement during this show to overwhelm any young woman trying to figure out her budding sexual identity.
Ah, but then came the long awaited non-American Idol debut of Adam Lambert. Looking slippery in grey lame (say "lahmay"), he was an equal opportunity sadist, dragging men and women around by collars and leashes and devices attached to their crotch, although it was clear that he had far more interest in the sometimes blindfolded males. How do I know this? Because he allowed one of them to simulate oral sex with him, kissed another long and hard on the mouth but in all fairness, he did allow one woman to massage his crotch. All the while, he kept saying "can you handle what I'm about to do". And, of course there was the mirror pointed towards the audience so they could see the shock on their own faces. And even in a crowd full of music royalty, there was a heavy pall over the place when he finished. Oh, Adam, what have you done? And where do you go from here? I guess you have empowered young, gay boys to flaunt their sexuality. Is that a good thing? I could recommend a therapist and then maybe you could go back to dazzling us with a good Tears for Fears cover.
Since these are the awards the fans vote for, it was interesting to note that 5 of them went to young Taylor Swift who couldn't be there because she is rehearsing a Wembley Stadium show in London. So she stayed up past her bedtime to accept her awards on camera, including Entertainer of the Year. She hugged her young friends, dancers from her show probably, expressed appropriate shock and disbelief, and was gracious in her thank you's. If Taylor had performed live at the AMA's and received her accolades in person, how might that have changed the tone of the evening? And would her fresh, youthful appearance and song themes have been a much needed balance to all the black panties and sexual antics? The fans obviously love and support her and the courage to be who she is at this stage in her life. Gosh, I hope she doesn't become a dominatrix in a few years.
And there was the female favorite, hunky Keith Urban, smiling in his black jeans and somewhat sparkly western shirt singing "Kiss a Girl", bubble gum country. He won Favorite Country Male and adorably thanked his lovely wife Nicole Kidman, whom he referred to as "baby girl" and their daughter Sunday, saying how much he loved them.
Imagine if an alien landed outside the auditorium Monday night and snuck in for a peek at our culture by watching the AMA's. What impression would the alien have of women? And our society in general? If the alien had an entrepreneurial spirit, he would immediately go into women's lingerie, preferably little black panties.