When Marianne Faithful attacked Miley and Rihanna
The 1960s icon has criticised the pop stars, but she was no stranger to scandalising the older generations
Never one to choose a gentle understatement when a twin-barrel shotgun blast is an option, Marianne Faithfull has reignited the debate about sexuality and pop music with her attack on Miley Cyrus and Rihanna.
Accusing the two foremost female artists of the era of behaving like 'sluts', Faithfull, heritage rock's crotchety grand dame, says desperation to succeed has caused them to compromise their dignity. She looked at Miley and Ri-Ri waggling their bottoms and their tongues in their videos and was just flabbergasted. Is this what you have to do to catch a break nowadays?
"I cannot understand that way of thinking," she says. "They want to be so much in the music business that they're prepared to make complete fools of themselves."
Her intervention may be intemperate - are we allowed use the 's' word any more? - and yet it is also timely. The retina-searingly saucy video accompanying Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea's new single 'Booty' has lit a touch-paper under the discourse about female artists and the centrality of sexuality in their work. In terms of flaunting your lady bits in a promo, how far, we wonder, is too far?
On the other hand, Faithfull's broadside will strike many as slightly rich. After all, as a product of the '60s, the singer is surely no stranger to scandalising older generations. Admittedly, high-grade booty-shaking was unheard of 50 years ago. Still, artists of the period were accomplished at tweaking the sensibilities the moral majority in other ways.
Consider Faithfull's good pals The Rolling Stones, whose music, now and then, flirted with tastelessness. Roll your eyes all you like at Miley and Ri-Ri - you won't catch them delivering a song half as unsettling as the Stones' 1968 hit 'Stray Cat Blues'. "I can see that you're 15 years old," croons Mick Jagger, all of 25 at the time. "No I don't want your ID." Equally creepy was Led Zeppelin's 'Sick Again' wherein Robert Plant barked, "Lips like cherries and the brow of a queen/Come on, flash it in my eyes/Said you dug me since you were 13". These are songs that leave you craving a cold shower, to power-wash the ickiness away.
Explicit pop videos, meanwhile, have been a fixture from the 80s on. In this part of the world, the very first video to be banned was Queen's 'Body Language', deemed unsuitable for public consumption due to 'homo-erotic undertones' Twelve months later, Duran Duran's 'Girl On Film' was censored because of sequences of topless women wrestling in the mud - surely as tawdry and tasteless as anything assailing our eye-balls today. And what of Madonna, whose career was built on moral outrage, no matter that the sexuality was generally implied rather than rubbed in our face?
"I grew up watching Madonna - she did some pretty extraordinary things," singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor told me in response to a question about sex in pop recently. "She was wearing conical bras, had a book called Sex with naked pictures. She was the original really."
We should also acknowledged that female artists are nowadays in control of their sexuality. They do not dance in the background, pouting vapidly in the style of Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines' video. They're the ones in command. If they wish to give voice to the sexual part of their identity - and provided it is done in an appropriate environment - who is Marianne Faithfull, or any of us for that matter, to scoff?
"Some individuals find my [songs] shocking," Iggy Azalea told me last year. "Then, people find a lot of stuff shocking. There are those who find sex before marriage shocking. I'm being myself. I'm aware people consider [the music] sexual. I agree. I'm a sexual person.
"I'm expressing feelings that a lot of women want to say. These women exist and think these things [about sexual self-expression]. Not all women, but a lot. Somebody should say it."
As the debate rumbles on, perhaps we ought to consider the role parents play. Artists such as Azalea are as entitled to be as sexual as they wish. However, parents have a duty to ensure their kids are not exposed to inappropriate messages.
"What's happened is that there are artists who are extremely sexual but are also relevant to young kids," singer Marina Diamandis (of Marina and the Diamonds) told me last year." You have Nicki Minaj and Lady Gaga - they can't dress for four year olds. At the same time, they have songs four year olds like. It's up to the parents really. Some of these singers want to be grown up artists. You know… if you have a problem with it, well don't buy your kid a Rihanna record."
Everyone - Marianne Faithfull, Miley Cyrus and Rihanna alike - would surely agree with that.