Oh, Sisqo. First of all, let me say thanks for remaking the “Thong Song.” It brought back many fond memories and will undoubtedly continue the 2017 wave of remaking jams that dominated my high school years and will crush the airwaves this summer to the point of oversaturation, much like DJ Khaled’s “Maria, Maria” reboot, “Wild Thoughts.”
So, here’s the thing. We need to talk about this video.
Getting straight to the point, it’s lacking in diversity, to use the nice term. To be more blunt, it’s a song with the line “dumps like a truck, thighs like what” in it, and there seem to be only slim white girls in the video. This is obviously going to be a problem soon.
I’m trying to address this before the wolves get ahold of it, because if things reach the fever pitch they sometimes do, then there will be essays. There will be tweets. You will be dragged to high heaven and back. But I don’t want that, not at all. I just want to make some observations and provide some gentle guidance, for future reference, in case you decide to remake the remake in another fifteen years with whatever futuristic listening device beams the videos directly into our brains.
In 2000, when the original “Thong Song” was inescapable and ubiquitous and was quite possibly at least partially responsible for the popularity explosion of Victoria’s Secret and Frederick’s of Hollywood, Sisqo took to South Beach for a vibrant, colorful celebration of the derriere-exposing clothing article with his silver hair and his white cargo vest and a bevy of the most beautiful vixens working the video circuit at the time.
While there was obviously some consternation over the clear objectification of women’s bodies, specifically their behinds, it wasn’t the first time hip-hop had crystallized the worst compulsions of hyper-masculinity (and we haven’t remotely reached any point past them). Despite that, the women in the video were clearly having fun, displaying agency, and to tell the truth, weren’t all that inappropriately dressed for a song specifically about a type of bikini that women had already been wearing for a good decade before, of their own free will.
Sisqo and his Def Jam cohorts were surrounded by twerking beauties in many scenes, but for most of the clip, the women were just engaged in completely normal beach party activities: Volleyball, tanning, and frolicking in the waves. The ladies of the “Thong Song” visual were fittingly scantily-clad, oiled-up, and noticeably, reflected a variety of skin tones and ethnicities.
However, in this new video, it’s clear that there are some differences. Of course, this might have been expected. After all, the new “remake” is technically a cover by JCY (pronounced JUICY), a Norwegian EDM production trio consisting of Oslo DJs Chris Welsh and Patrick Hauge and Norwegian Grammy-winning producer Alexander Austheim. As such, their aesthetic taste probably runs more to Electric Daisy Carnival girls than Southern American hip-hop video vixens.
With that being said, the new video features an odd choice of venue for its opening scenes: A private skate party at a blacklit roller rink, which… huh? All I could think of while watching the sequence is how many people I’ve seen slip and fall at roller rink parties (shout-out to Skate Depot, R.I.P.), and how badly skinned these poor ladies would end up should they suffer the same fate. Again, these women don’t look unhappy to be in their surroundings, they aren’t being groped by sweaty dudes, and they seem to be having a good time, it’s just weird.
Fortunately, in the latter half of the video, the party relocates to a more fitting venue; yet again, Sisqo hits the beach with his boys, his girls, and a volleyball for some fun in the sun. This time, though, the party seems a lot more “exclusive.” There are fewer girls, to be sure, but what that highlights is the monochromatic nature of the casting. There appears to be only two brown-skinned Black women, and I only found them after several viewings; they both appear for a split second each, and one is conspicuously positioned at the rear of a formation consisting of mostly European-looking brunettes. There is one pair light-skinned curly haired “ambiguous” girls, but their tone is a lot closer to the brunettes than the braided, brown ones. It’s also telling that they receive more screen time than either of the Black girls. And all of these women share the same slim body shape, with no sign of “dumps like a truck” on any of them.
The fact remains, despite the best efforts of some slightly more conscious-minded hip-hop artists, the industry standard is still to foreground fairer skin tones as “pretty” and to omit or reduce anything else to the point of near-nonexistence. It may seem like a silly thing to get upset over — “Black women should be objectified just as much as Anglo women!” — but we say it over and over again: Representation matters! It’s clear that these women are selected for these videos because they represent a standard of beauty; the omission of variety of color, hairstyles, and body shapes implies that those women who don’t fall into the narrow range of types represented aren’t beautiful.
When it comes to a genre like hip-hop that originated from and still signifies Black culture, that lack of Black faces, bodies, and hairstyles signals that mainstream western culture continues to only value our culture when we aren’t included in it. Our music is fine, as long as it’s being reiterated through musical types that we’ve already been filtered out of (remember, Black folks invented house music too) and performed by fair-skinned, blue-eyed artists like Justin Bieber and Katy Perry. Our hair is cool, but only when the Kardashians are rehashing it and Vogue is renaming it; it’s the same with voluptuous hindquarters and thick thighs. All of which continues to reinforce that American and European cultures have yet to come to terms with the negative ways in which they view Black people, celebrating what they can borrow, but never the neighbor they borrow from.
The “Thong Song” remake video is just another example of this; it’s hardly the only one, or even the most important. But we still have to call it out, and ask artists — especially Black artists like Sisqo, who originated the song being rehashed by the European artists who populated their video with mostly European girls and cut around the few Black girls who made it in — to use their voices and platforms to create equity in representation of beauty standards. It can be overt, but it can also be as subtle as just making sure the brown girls get more screen time than a split second cameo in a music video about butts.