“Prepare the audience for maximum impact,” Jennifer Lopez warns in the opening, eternal seconds of her “Booty” video with Iggy Azalea.
But how quickly could we forget the maximum impact of another booty-centric, twerking, girl-on-girl music video recently, Nicki Minaj's “Anaconda?”
Watch each, and below I make an analytical comparison — a booty battle if you will — of what it is to see two female superstars shake their famous derrieres.
“Booty” has an inordinate amount of dancing booties without heads or faces in the frame. This may not mean much on face (derp!) value, but the literal removal of the personal, the name to a body, is a disembodiment. The interchangeability of the women renders the bodies as objects.
I would contend there is an important distinction here: that Iggy Azalea and Jennifer Lopez are, in no way, the same person.
Watch Nicki Minaj's eye contact with the camera, and the confrontational eye contact between the dancers and her and the dancers. Lopez uses lots of eye contact with the camera, but — again — that whole no-face-all-body thing. She and Azalea have lots of contact, but not of the eye variety.
The women with the big booties in J-Lo's song are referred to as Her, or She. Nicki Minaj is all about the “me.” Lyrically compare the first person versus the third person.
Lyrics in “Booty”: “So much booty, she could supply the demand / I wanna take that big ‘ol booty shopping at the mall / I wanna pick it up and put that booty in my car… Have you seen her on the dance floor… All the sexy girls in the party / Go and grab a man, bring him to the dance floor.”
Lyrics in “Anaconda”: “He can tell I ain't missing no meals / Come through and f*ck him in my automobile… Yeah, he love this fat ass Yeah! This one is for my bitches with a fat ass in the f*cking club.”
The object “booty” is not Lopez'. She is admiring others' and gazing at them on other people, while she is flaunting her own for you, a disconnect between voice and performance. She has become sole proprietor of the booty commodities on the dance exchange floor, others' booty as objects one can load into a car.
Minaj, meanwhile, has agency over her own “fat ass” and she will f*ck you in her own car, thankyouverymuch. And she will join the rest of “you” (you know who you are) on the floor momentarily.
This. This cringe-worthy line in “Booty”: “It”s his birthday, give him what he ask for
(Let me show you how to do it).” Girl, it's YOUR birthday, and you should get what YOU ask for. Lopez again takes the POV of the watcher, and then issues the instruction. She is both the objectifier and the object, which under other circumstances could be quite interesting, but packaged in a white swimsuit in a room that always rains.
Visually, these videos are far apart. Minaj's island of misfit girls is playful, hypercolor, cartoonish; she cracks fun at workout videos, and French maid costumes, and Tarzan/Katy Perry's “Roar.” The lighting gets serious and the costumes subdue when she's giving Drake's Lil Drizzy a new lease on life as he's sitting in that chair and dying to touch and hold the booty. His reaction to her skillful lap dance, at the very least, is pretty funny.
Director Hype Williams features Azalea and Lopez alone in the video, mostly in black and white, in dark, small and wet corridors with no decor. Lopez is seen popping her gum, playing with a cigarette in her mouth. They're both soaked, with Surfbort-ready hair, and in white wet clothes, to class up the joint.
These are both videos with beautiful women in mostly-undress. Yes, they both conform to tried/tired music industry's standard to sexualize its female stars, and particularly their women of color. At first glance, these are extremely similar in lock-eyes with the male gaze (though lyrically, they're miles apart). The slapping of each other's butts, twerking, the explicit girl-on-girl performing for the sake of the viewer (although, I've already mentioned the first-person and third person POV switcheroos, lyrically)…
Azalea and Lopez' performances, out of the context of their own songs, would be fungible with many other pop/R&B/hip-hop videos. It's generic. We don't even know Lopez' stake in this song since she's not even really lip-syncing.
Nicki has Nicki all over it. And Nicki's song and video is about straight-up f*ckin'. I can't even say “love-making” or “sex” here because it'd seem to miss the point. It is raunchy and pointed at the pointy parts. She has feelings about your banana and would like to share it with you, in word and deed. And then there's choreography somewhere in the mix too, I don't know how or why, I passed out a few times so I can't say for sure.
Lopez — world-class dancer — doesn't really dance here. It's sexy, but I thought this was about booties on the dance floor and now I want my money back. They both have the stalking-cat-floor-move, however.
Nicki Minaj and her troupe twerk to a rap song you can dance to, sampling one of the best-known fat butt anthems slash rap songs of all time. Jennifer Lopez and Azalea twerk to a dance song with a rap verse in it.
There's a connecting-of-the-dots between hip-hop and twerking; historical white co-option of the black artform; and the musical diaspora in which we live in 2013/2014. A lot of that conversation occurred when the term “twerk” became known to your mom, courtesy of Miley Cyrus and her mid-tempo dance-pop song “We Can't Stop,” which featured her black dancers cordoned off from the white party. Disassociating dancing from a culture of origin still plays as naive now (which is part of the reason Taylor Swift's usage of various dance crews in “Shake It Off” was particularly EFFECTIVE, but I digress). Azalea, who is white and from Australia, has already taken heat for her own adoption of a practiced Southern rap drawl which makes her and Lopez' “Booty” a little harder to watch — when normally it's been so darned easy to watch butts!
I don't think “Anaconda” is a perfect video, it's got its problems. It also works on a couple of differnet levels — I think it knows the field it's playing on, and gives it all a real good game. Jennifer Lopez also knows that game, too, and even actively rolled her eyes at it in “I Luh Ya Papi,” mocking the male dominated brainstorming sesh at record labels that scheme to litter every video with half-naked women doing all the twerk work. But here she is, playing along again, with a song and video that doesn't even dare to be strong.
Check out an analysis of recent “thick girl” anthems — including Meghan Trainor's “All About That Bass” — for more on big booties and music videos.