Normally, I probably wouldn’t pay attention to a Jennifer Lopez music video. There are certain pop songs I know that I’ll have little desire to actively seek out, by virtue of hearing them being played on the radio over and over again. But when I saw the headline “Jennifer Lopez ‘Objectifies’ Men,” referring to her music video for “I Luh Ya Papi,” I knew I had to watch it. The video is a shot-for-shot parody of a stereotypical, male gaze-y hip hop or R&B video, only with the genders reversed. It is, for the most part, a refreshing inversion.
The video kicks off with J.Lo and two of her female backup dancers discussing music video ideas with someone from her record label. The women are obviously in control of this meeting; all the ideas he throws out are trite and overplayed. Finally, one the dancers asks, exasperated, “Why do men always objectify the women in every single video? Why can’t we, for once, objectify the men?” The scene fades into Lopez’s dream sequence, which plays on popular music video tropes. There are gratuitous shots of men (and their groins), women being fed in the pool by scantily clad members of the opposite sex, J.Lo taking up space, dominating, and dancing on a lavish yacht.
Now, I enjoyed most things about “I Luh Ya Papi,” from the fashion references to her older music videos to her dancing (I am eternally jealous of her dancing) to the way she takes creative control in the opening minute of the video, laughing in the face of some dude from her record label. It is so powerful that her backup dancers speak and actively construct the plot, that Lopez seems like a BAMF and absolutely the one in control, that the word objectification is even mentioned by name. But the message is muddled the moment that rapper French Montana enters with two girls in matching clothing flanking either side, dancing against him as he raps, one eventually writhing on the floor.
Maybe it’s tongue-in-cheek, but I’m not banking on it as a form of subversion. In a video that draws attention to the ridiculousness of certain tropes, showing a rapper interacting with women in a way that would generally not be parodic is uncomfortable, even if it’s unintentional. But that’s always the question, isn’t it? Pointing out female objectification sounds great in theory, but is far more difficult to execute successfully. Is there any way to parody the sexualization and objectification of bodies without feeding into it, in some way? Last November, Lily Allen’s “Hard Out There” took a stab at satirizing the music industry, to tempered success. (She inadvertently was plunged into a discussion about the music industry and gender and race.) Lopez’s video has a more playful, fun take, and certainly isn’t as controversial, but it’s not without its problems.
Of course, it isn’t up to Jennifer Lopez to change society’s ideas about female bodies — and the “is she or isn’t she a feminist?” discussion gets pretty old, pretty quick — but this video does a fairly good job of drawing attention to the fact that objectification of female bodies is an issue in the media and the music industry at all. Lopez makes her overall message crystal clear (one presumably borne from years of frustration), but maybe her lighthearted approach went a little too far.
Never mind the jarring French Montana interlude, but maybe the point would come across better if the men in the video didn’t seem really pleased at being objectified, like they were so damn happy to have women pawing at their bodies, especially during the dancing scenes. Like it or not, society still values male pleasure over female pleasure. So while Lopez has the power, it still seems to serve the men, if only a little bit. And when the critique is to objectify men, how many people will see it as a prompt to stop objectifying people, period? (Some people — like, um, the Magic Mike cast — deny that women can even objectify men.) Lopez doesn’t offer an alternative in “I Luh You Papi.” And that’s OK, we weren’t asking for it. But maybe that’s her music video part two.