The best lesbianish music videos


Despite the fact that my father
refers to them as “chewing-gum for the eyes,” I admit I love watching
music videos. A good video can make me like a song I wasn’t that keen
on when I heard it on the radio; a really bad one can put me off a song
I thought I liked. But they have to be bad indeed in order to get me
to switch off altogether.

Despite all that, I’m aware
of a pervasive lack in the majority of music videos. Where — amidst
all the heterosexual bumping and grinding and declarations of love —
are the lesbians? It’s not like there is a lack of successful out
lesbian singers. Melissa and k.d.
and Tegan and Sara — they’re all out there. But when it
comes to being “out there” in their videos — not so much. Possibly
under pressure from their record companies, these singers tend to compensate
for their openly gay status in life by keeping their songs and videos
carefully gender neutral. In the video for their song “Speak Slow,”
Tegan and Sara even appear in bed with men — although to be fair,
it’s made pretty clear that they are friends rather than love interests.

So where does that leave lesbian
visibility in music videos? Every so often, a lesbian couple or two
will appear briefly in the video of a (presumably) straight singer who
wants to demonstrate his or her gay-friendliness. Vanessa Carlton
has them in her video for “Hands on Me.” Katie Melua has them in her video for “Call
Off the Search.” Ex-Spice Girl Emma Bunton has one in her video
for “I’ll Be There.” British singer Tom Baxter has one
in his video for “Better.” If you’ve ever seen the video for the

Nicole Kidman/Robbie Williams duet “Somethin’ Stupid,”
you’ll know that Nicole has a split-second moment where she looks
like she might switch teams. But by and large, that’s what these appearances
are: split-second.

Of course, you can always find
the occasional straight male singer who uses “lesbian” imagery or
suggestiveness in his videos in a clearly voyeuristic way. Fifty
’s video for “Candy Shop” springs to mind. As does Robbie
Williams’ threesome in “Come Undone.” The video for U.K. dance
band Ultrabeat’s “Pretty Green Eyes” basically consists
of three exotic dancers “performing” lesbianism for the benefit
of the fat, ugly male singer who sits and watches them. Justin Timberlake’s
for “What
Goes Around … Comes Around” has guest star Scarlett Johansson

exclaiming — with boring predictability as well as without much conviction
— “I like girls.”

In the past 25 years,
though, there have been a few music videos that not only feature lesbianish
relationships prominently, but also do so in a way that makes it feel
like they’re not designed (exclusively) for the benefit of straight
male viewers. Here are six of my favorites:

1. Prince,
“1999” (1983)

What saves the two ambiguously
gay women in this video from being just the usual straight male window-dressing
is that a) the camera cuts to them repeatedly, b) they are actually
involved in the song, with the brunette apparently playing the keyboard
and both women singing, and c) neither of them gets involved with men
at any point in the video. The fact that Prince is such a sexually ambiguous
creature himself helps — I’m willing to believe that he put them
in the video as a nod to sexual diversity, and not just to build up
his own reputation as a stud. And I’ll admit it — I can’t resist
a blonde in a military cap.

2. Prince,
“Diamonds and Pearls” (1991)

Not only is the song itself
a bit of a bisexual anthem (“If I gave you diamonds and pearls/would
you be a happy boy or girl?”), but once again, Prince prominently
features a lesbian couple without trying to get involved with them himself.
At one point, in fact, the camera cuts from Prince with his own female
love interest, to a shot of the two women — suggesting an equality
between heterosexual and homosexual pairings, and indicating that the
love described in the song could refer to either of them.

3. Jill Sobule,
‘”I Kissed A Girl” (1995)

I’ll admit that this song
is a bit on the cutesy side for me — but with its unambiguous lyrics
and lesbotastic video, it definitely deserves a mention. All the same,
it’s a bit striking that although we repeatedly hear Sobule
claim that she kissed a girl, someone involved with the video’s production
evidently decided that it would be too much for us to actually see
her doing so. Overall, the video is a bit like Kissing Jessica Stein,
without the kissing.

4. t.A.T.u.,
“All The Things She Said” (2002)

Ironically, it took a couple
of straight girls to break the kissing taboo. Yes, the teenage Russian
“lesbians” are fake (as I realized the first time I saw them on
the cover of Maxim magazine, shortly after they released this
video), and yes, that’s annoying. But besides providing a welcome
— and extremely popular — break in the endless stream of heterosexually themed
videos, “All the Things She Said” still seems an amazingly powerful
song to me for anyone who’s ever been a teenage queer. The lyrics,
with their combination of anguish and defiance, ring true — and the
video’s ending, with the two girls striding off together hand-in-hand
in the rain, is instantly iconic. Now if only more lesbian movies would
end that way.

5. Britney Spears featuring
Madonna, “Me Against the Music” (2003)

In the wake of the success
of “All the Things She Said,” Madonna evidently decided she was
going to get in on all the lesbian action — kissing both Britney
Spears and Christina Aguilera

during a performance at the 2003 VMAs, and then releasing this lesbian-inflected
duet where the kiss is almost repeated. Yes, it’s essentially more
straight girls exploiting “lesbianism” for shock value and chart
success. But with gay icon (and rumored Sandra Bernhard ex)
Madonna as one of the duo, the video does have a smidge more lesbian
credibility than it might otherwise have — plus, the energy between
these two powerful women is crackling, and Britney looks hot in a suit.

6. The Ditty Bops,
“Wishful Thinking” (2004)

They’re not anywhere near
as well-known as t.A.T.u. or Britney and Madonna, which unfortunately
limits their mainstream impact. But with this video, you get to see
a bona fide lesbian couple — Abby DeWald and Amanda Barrett,
who make up The Ditty Bops — singing a love song in which they are
unambiguously addressing each other. To which I can only, wistfully
say: More of the same please, music industry.

Finally, there’s a video
I love that doesn’t quite fit in with the others I’ve mentioned.
The music is dull, the male singer is sleazy, and there’s no actual
lesbian relationship featured, so why am I recommending Roxy Music’s
1982 release “Avalon” to you?

Well, because the tall, slender,
unapproachable blonde pirouetting around in the video is none other
than the now-out British lesbian actress Sophie Ward. And there are worse ways to spend
four minutes than in wondering whether she may be the most beautiful
out lesbian ever to have existed.

Are there any important videos
I’ve missed? Do you love or hate my choices? Let me know in the comments.

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