Headbangers’ Brawl is a weekly column where Metal Insider’s contributors take a moment to debate and analyze opposing sides of a topical issue occurring in the world of metal and/or the music industry.
Last week, Mastodon revealed their latest video for “The Motherload,” which featured a handful of Atlanta-area dancers twerking while the band was playing. Before you could say “I like big butts and I cannot lie,” there were already people decrying it as sexist and misogynistic. It concerned the band enough that Brann Dailor defended it, and then one of the dancers in the video did as well. The band are choosing to comment on it via a shirt design, but there are probably many that still find the video offensive. We figured we’d bring back the Brawl by asking what our contributors think of it.
Bram: I think we’ve come a long way as far as treatment of women in metal. Sure, there are still some publications that traffic in sexism to sell magazines, but we’ve come a long way from Tawny Kitaen doing splits on a Jaguar. Mastodon admitted they were trying to parody ‘90s videos, and while there are plenty of hip hop and pop videos with women twerking, there are precious few metal ones. Also, given that Mastodon’s videos are always a little odd, it’s hard not to look at this as something that was done tongue in cheek.
That being said, I can understand why there might be some women that would be offended, but the one that spoke on behalf of those at the video shoot sounded strong, confident and powerful. And as someone that’s logged time as a DJ at gentlemen’s establishments, there’s absolutely an argument to be made that these women are owning their sexuality. No one made any of these women be in the Mastodon video, and it doesn’t appear that any of them feel exploited by it. In fact, Mastodon might have made some new fans from the whole experience.
Nick: I’d just like to put this out there: after spending most of the song focusing on slow-motion ripples from said twerking, the solo break explodes into a kaleidoscope of asses. Let me run that by you again. Kaleidoscope of asses. If you’re the kind of person who can look at something that absurd and think to yourself, “Yeah. Yeah, this was clearly meant to be taken seriously as some kind of statement, and I’m offended,” you really need to just cancel your internet subscription, turn off your TV, and never leave your house again, because you’re probably not fit for human interaction in any capacity if you’re that easily upset.
I don’t know Mastodon personally. They seem like nice dudes. I’m just going to go out on a limb and assume they aren’t sexist or racist, just to cast a general opinion that a fair amount of humans aren’t horrible. I imagine the women in question would be doing something actually offensive if that was the aim, rather than just acknowledging that twerking is a thing, which is essentially what’s happening in the video. There was borderline nothing sexual about it.
Here’s the important thing: if you read the response to the whole controversy from Jade, (a dancer from the video) they all had a blast! A bunch of dancers from all walks of life and offshoots of the profession got together and enjoyed themselves doing something that they initially weren’t sure what they were getting into. A bunch of strippers and ballet dancers. That sounds like unity rather than division, if the metal community truly feels the need to be so hysterically melodramatic about it.
The point that I’m trying to make here is that even in a culture where we’re basically just fishing for things to get all worked up over, you should probably just pass go on the ass kaleidoscope if you’re looking to kick up a social justice crusade. If I had a big ol’ butt, I guess I’d probably be twerking all over some Napalm Death jams. So the point I really want to make here is, “who the hell cares?”
Zach: It would be one thing if today’s mainstream was filled with ass-twerking videos that essentially put women on display as objects, but… oh wait, MOST of today’s mainstream videos do that:
And it’s not even like “The Motherload” is the first video in recent months to mock this objectification:
Sure, I agree that having a twerk-a-thon in the video wasn’t necessary “necessary.” But the fact people are making such a big stink over something that’s obviously poking fun at a recent trend in pop culture is as ludicrous to me as the video itself. Yes, it’s not the greatest message Mastodon could be presenting to a younger audience… but what are the chances that said younger audience is actually being introduced to such images via Mastodon (and haven’t already been exposed to it via the videos above already)?
Kodi: I’m pretty amused that it took twerking in a Mastodon clip to suddenly hear this mass outcry over sexism in music videos. I was just reading an interview The Fader did with Sisqo on “The Thong Song,” which suggests he’s something of a pioneer in pushing the envelope to what he dubs the modern “smorgasbord of ass” represented by music videos today – so clearly, this is not Mastodon doing anything first. It’s just them trying to mess with your perceptions, which is basically what they’ve spent their whole career doing, and this time they struck a nerve that seems like it was confusingly numb back when Lil Jon’s career first took off. If the argument is about butts in a video, 2 Live Crew beat everyone to that anyway; if it’s about sexism in a video, then somebody call Robert Palmer (is he still alive, by the way?) and tell him his backing band would appreciate keeping their dignity.
Yet with all of that already out there, why is it that the outcry seems so specifically confined to this? Perhaps it’s in the way that it’s portrayed – Mastodon is pushing “asses on acid” to a hypnotic, gratuitous height, and that combined with the fun it’s poking at a music video trope seems like too much for the press to swallow without some hand-wringing. At the risk of hating on asses (which are awesome, really) and sounding like the no fun police, maybe that’s just because the loudest complaints are from people confounded they weren’t outraged sooner. Now that “The Motherload” has a music video, twerking isn’t easily tossed off as something that’s just a thing dancers do – but specifically an objectification many videos feature to get WATCHED – and that makes it highly inconvenient to consider. So at the end of the day, how do we burn Mastodon for taking our blinders off?
Seth: I think we’re in agreement with, “Eh, Mastodon chose to do this?” But a bunch of dudes trying to answer “is this sexist?” is part of the overall issue. Like old white dudes in Congress writing legislation about women’s reproductive rights.
Sure, if we come to the consensus “this isn’t sexist,” what did we accomplish? While the adult women in the video had no problem with it, what about the 14 year old Hispanic or African American or Asian girl who is just getting into metal, and maybe picking up a guitar for the first time? I wonder if they “get” how satirical Mastodon is being?
Matt: Well it’s certainly bizarre, that’s for sure. Offensive? I guess one could make the argument that twerking in a Mastodon video is different than having it in, say, a Nicki Minaj or Taylor Swift video because the latter is all about empowerment and whatnot. With Mastodon it’s more about…just randomly having it there. But I don’t think it’s sexist. It’s not like the women in the video were grinding against any of the band members with their butts or anything. Hell, they had their own dance battle, which was pretty awesome.
What Jade said in her post about the video is pretty much the last word in my opinion. If the women had a good time and are proud of their work, let them be. Don’t talk about them like they’re just a bunch of butt jiggling strippers who don’t know any better, because that’s actually being sexist. You can find plenty of other other music videos out or even just songs that are much more degrading toward women than in this video. I mean, where was this uproar when Attila put out their video for “About That Life”? Ugh, I hate myself for even mentioning them in the same post as Mastodon.
Chris: Is there something sexual on display in this music video? Yes, of course there is. But here’s a thought – it’s a MUSIC VIDEO, a form of media that has been falling by the wayside for the past decade, and is only kept alive because YouTube keeps changing their settings so that more music videos can be shoved in your face every time you log in. Supposedly inappropriate content in music videos has been a flash-in-the-pan media hot button for years – anyone remember how riled up the public got when Alanis Morissette showed up naked in her video for “Thank U”? These days, music videos have to be controversial in some way in order to get any attention by websites or publications, because they’re not getting noticed any other way. In most respects, Mastodon is just following the tide of proven practice with music videos, and as everyone else has pointed out, they’re hardly the first artist to feature gratuitous amounts of asses in a video.