Can music videos help save the porn industry?

On the Internet, the lines of pornography are blurring.

Mar 1, 2020, 8:13 pm*

Internet Culture

Music is probably one of the last things you think about when you’re watching porn. But despite porn’s history of featuring kitschy, synth-heavy soundtracks, the largest porn site in the world announced last week that they are starting a record label. Billboard reports that Pornhub is launching Pornhub Records, hosting a competition to find the “ultimate” Pornhub anthem. The winner will receive a $5,000 budget to produce their own video, which will then run on Pornhub.tv with a guarantee of half a million views.

While the porn industry and music video might seem like strange bedfellows, the link between pornography and music videos is fitting. If you watch any YouTube compilation of the “sexiest music videos,” you’d be hard pressed to spot the differences between them and the sort of softcore porn found on premium cable channels. As an art form, music videos have a long history of keeping sexual imagery at their center but in the last year, they have reached a level of explicitness that falls somewhere on the blurry line between erotica and porn.

When Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” video was released, for example, her unabashedly feminine sexuality “broke the internet,” as Amy Lam of Bitch declared. But many fans on Twitter took it a step further, suggesting that the video is Grade-A masturbation material:

Shakira and Rihanna’s video for “Can’t Remember to Forget You” had a similar effect on the Internet. Although some critics shamed the sexy duo for catering to a heterosexual male gaze through a display of “faux lesbianism,” plenty of queer women were not complaining. Trish Bendix of After Ellen reacted to the video with a breathless declaration of “Oh my!” and Tumblr promptly broke down the entire video into its constituent GIFs.

Almost any major music video made in the last year might best be watched between the sheets. Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea’s new video “Booty” made a big splash because of the way in which these two stars gyrate their butts against each other. Miley Cyrus’ “Adore You” showcases the pop star rolling around in bed while repeatedly slipping her hands down her panties. The video for “Partition” includes some particularly stirring dance moves from a near-naked Queen Bey.

On the male side of things, Kanye West‘s “Bound 2″ shows the rapper having simulated sex with Kim Kardashian as he drives a motorcycle through the sky. And, of course, Robin Thicke’s controversial “Blurred Lines” video features topless models in nude thongs prancing around male artists. This list could go on and on.

Porn and music videos still occupy distinct social and artistic spheres. Pornography is culturally stigmatized in the mainstream, whereas music videos are still interpreted as a legitimate form of cultural expression. Porn’s primary goal is to encourage masturbatory gratification whereas music videos, while often titillating, do not necessarily have that same intentionality behind them.

Despite their differences in genre, however, this year’s music videos are beginning to occupy a visual landscape that straddles the boundaries of how we think about the two. The music videos of 2014 don’t have penetration, and they don’t have “money shots” that characterize porn, but they do have a fetishistic attention to visual detail and an intense fixation on close-up shots of sexualized body parts in motion. “Anaconda” may be the closest thing our era has to its own Deep Throat.

But while a new genre of explicitly pornographic music videos would seem like a logical progression from the mainstream music videos of 2014, Pornhub Records is unlikely to be the sort of place where this new genre could flourish.

Certainly, their debut music video certainly leaves a lot to be desired. Earlier this summer, Coolio partnered with the site to promote the then-forthcoming Pornhub Records with a new video called “Take it to the Hub,” in which the rapper sports a Pornhub hat and a Pornhub muscle tee while rapping about Pornhub against a backdrop of bouncing butts and bosoms. Aesthetically speaking, “Take it the Hub” is basically a bizarro world version of “Blurred Lines” shot on a much lower budget with an overwhelming amount of product placement.

In light of this flagrant self-promotion, it’s hard not to interpret Pornhub’s turn to music as little more than a marketing scheme that falls in step with their past attempts to stay relevant in an evolving industry. With the porn industry in economic decline as a result of internet piracy, Pornhub has repeatedly attempted to normalize pornography by positioning their site in the center of mainstream culture. Earlier this year, Pornhub launched a series of marketing strategies including a safe-for-work national ad campaign on television and in print and a “Pornhub Gives America Wood” initiative that promised to plant a tree for every hundred videos watched in the “Big Dick” category. These are just two items on a long list of marketing schemes that Pornhub has deployed to maintain profitability in the era of torrents.

Given the way that music videos cloak their own lasciviousness under the guise of cultural expression, it seems that Pornhub has chosen a suitable genre to latch onto as part of their continued bid for relevance. Not long ago, however, the entire music video genre was on the ropes. According to Time, MTV cut down on its airing of music videos by nearly seventy-five percent between 2009 and 2012. But the Internet has saved the music video and sexed it up in the process. Now that the music video is enjoying a comeback, Pornhub seems to be shamelessly latching itself to a new rising star in an attempt to keep its own brand afloat.

Tellingly, Price told Billboard that the new label will be “looking for content that will appeal to our demographic” on an “ad-based network.” While the synthesis of porn and the music industry sounds like an appealing idea, the quality of Pornhub Record’s content will likely be limited both by Pornhub’s focus on marketing and their tendency to cater to their core demographic.

Music videos produced for the Pornhub platform aren’t likely to be very diverse, either. According to the analytics website Alexa, PornHub is currently the 46th most-visited site in the U.S., and one with a predominantly male audience. Coolio’s “Take it the Hub” is, thus, an unsurprising attempt to appeal to this presumably heterosexual male demographic.

In describing Pornhub Record’s musical vision for Billboard,  Price banks on the heterosexuality of his audience, presenting the exclusion of “boy bands” as completely self-evident. But it’s easy to imagine a homoerotic boy band music video finding a place in pornography, provided, of course, that the band’s members are eighteen or over. If Pornhub Records continues to play it straight with videos like “Take it to the Hub,” the porn music video genre will also be frustratingly homogeneous.

But while PornHub Records’ focus on marketing and its target demographics might pose a problem, it’s still exciting to imagine a future in which these two increasingly overlapping forms of entertainment—pornography and the music video—come together in some form. If musicians who don’t want to stray away from nudity and explicit content could find exposure for their work on a site like Pornhub.tv rather than a site with content restrictions like YouTube, the pornographic music video could be an intriguing new media format.

It would be exciting to see pornography and the music video come together on a platform that was less marketing-driven and more focused on a wider audience. For now, though, maybe the music in porn will finally get better.

Photo via Anaconda/VEVO 

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*First Published: Oct 2, 2014, 12:00 pm