Entertainment

10 Milestones in NSFW Music Videos

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This is why private browsing was invented. 

Frank Ocean's new video for "Pyramids" is many things: dark, druggy, and partially-filled with John Mayer, to name a few. It's also very unsafe for work, which got us thinking about how lately, music videos have been getting a whole lot more… not-safer for work. Now, this isn't exactly a recent trend: whether it's Duran Duran putting "Girls on Film" or Nine Inch Nails getting "Closer," artists have been pushing the boundaries of what's "acceptable" in a music video for as long as the medium's existed. But the internet has pushed this trend into hyper-drive — which is why we're looking at the best (and worst) of NSFW music videos from the past five years. Please note, we excluded videos that fit the NSFW tag because of violence. We've also assigned each film a rating from 1 to 10: 1 being "filthy, immoral smut we're disgusted was ever shot" and 10 being "tasteful, European-grade artistic nudity."

Sigur Rós, "Gobbledigook" (2008)

Although Sigur Rós could easily be on this list for this year's "Fjögur Píanó" (affectionately referred to around the office as "Shia LaBeouf's Penis"), that video just seems like it's trying too hard. There's something wonderfully unforced and primal about "Gobbledigook;" it looks like the kids from Lord of the Flies ironed out all the wrinkles in their society by the time they hit adolescence and got down to the more important business of drumming, fornicating, and frolicking. Where they got those cigarettes and socks remains a mystery, though.

Rating: 8. Once you get over the fact that it's a bunch of naked twentysomethings, the nudity becomes an afterthought, and you just start thinking about how much fun they're having. A great marriage of sound and visuals.

Flying Lotus, “Parisian Goldfish” (2008)

Then, of course, there's this, clip, directed by Eric Wareheim (of Tim & Eric fame). We're at a loss for words regarding this one. Just watch it and then spend the rest of your life trying to forget the faces that gentleman makes. 

Rating: 1. It's tasteless, terrifying, and completely unappealing. But we bet you watched it twice.

Girls, "Lust for Life" (2009)

We know, we know: hipsters. But there's a deeply felt and unforced joy to this clip that radiates from every frame, an attitude that perfectly reflects lyrics like "Oh I wish I had sun-tan / I wish I had a pizza and a bottle of wine." (Also, someone uses someone else's penis as a microphone. That has to count for something.)

Rating: 6. Like an American Apparel ad, this clip is trying too hard, but it will still give you an erection.  

Matt & Kim, "Lessons Learned" (2009)

Otto Arsenault's clip for one of indie rock's most adorable couples is a tribute to the joys of being naked in Times Square. In February. Okay, so… "joys" might be a little strong, but it's still a great video — the pair's wide-eyed joy at their surroundings is palpable, and wonderful. The last shot, of course, is probably what made this video so widely shared; it's a classic (albeit a bit disturbing) bait and switch.

Rating: 7. There isn't very much eroticism to the video, which is what makes it work. It's not sexy nudity, it's freeing nudity, which can sometimes be better.

Erykah Badu, "Window Seat" (2010)

This clip was inspired by Matt & Kim's video for "Lessons Learned," and it's pretty similar, thematically. Of course, Badu was filming her video at the site of JFK's assassination, and she was doing so without a permit, so naturally she got hauled into court over the whole thing, and was forced to pay a small fine. Honestly, we're not quite sure what stripping naked and being fauxsassinated has to do with groupthink, but we'll take Badu's word for it. 

Rating: 7. Like the Matt & Kim clip, this video's nudity is more focused on the mind than the loins. 

Handsome Furs, "What About Us" (2011)

To be honest, we're not quite sure what the point of this video is. (Night vision is scary? Nothing good ever happens in a hotel room that cost less than $75?) It doesn't create much in the way of a cohesive storyline, and it seems to really only be a series of arresting images. But… we can't stop watching it. Weird.

Rating: 6. Though it's more artful than purposefully titillating, this clip does seem like it's just trying to throw "shocking" images at the viewer without any cohesion, which detracts from its impact.

Duck Sauce, "Big Bad Wolf" (2011)

Bizarre as it is hilarious, this video takes one joke ("Sometimes I think it's got a mind of its own!") past its breaking point, until it stops being funny, then starts being even more funny. By the end of the video, as offensive and decidedly not-for-mixed-company as the whole thing is, you realize that you haven't seen any naked breasts or genitalia, and that's what makes the whole thing so genius.

Rating: 7. It's not really arousing at all, but it's a riot, and proof that you can do things with nudity (implied or otherwise) beyond titillation.

Rihanna, "S&M" (2011)

 

This is a cautionary tale. Yes, it was banned in eleven countries, and yes, it was age-restricted on YouTube, but Rihanna's clip for "S&M" is about as toothless as it is regressive. Not only does it combine some very tired sexual imagery (oh, you're eating a banana? What could that possibly signify?) with the idea that BDSM interests are "bad" (vis-a-vis the line "'Cause I may be bad, but I'm perfectly good at it"), but the whole thing video is a candy-colored nightmare less arousing than seizure-inducing.

Rating: 3. This video is the girl in the back of tenth-grade math class talking loudly about how much sex she did with her boyfriend over the weekend. He's like, nineteen, and he's really good at it.

Sébastien Tellier, "Cochon Ville" (2012)

Sébastien Tellier's "Cochon Ville" is essentially a disco-lit Bacchanal with some really specific (and terrifying) fetishes: feet, milk, disco-ball penises, and gun fellatio. Oh, and Tellier occasionally makes terrifying "I approve of all this" faces like this one. But, notice the contrast between this and Rihanna's video: one is all play-acting and smoke and mirrors that ends up being completely undistinguishable from every other bit of neon titillation out that year, and the other is a carefully-considered series of images that are by turns arousing and horrifying, but ultimately very memorable.

Rating: 6. It's really weird and kind of terrifying, but it's certainly got a unity of theme to it.

Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra, "Get It Back" (2012)

Amanda Palmer is a polarizing figure in the indie-rock community, but there's no denying the artistry of this clip: stop-motion animation is tedious, complex stuff, and the visuals in this clip must have been no picnic to pull off. But "Get It Back" is as much a clever case of marketing as it is a visual showstopper: Palmer is probably canny enough to realize a new video tagged "NSFW" because of her own nudity is more likely to get eyes on it than a new video promoted because it uses a century-old form of animation.

Rating: 8. It's classy, impressive art that just happens to have a naked lady at the beginning. A great way to earn your NSFW stripes without being tasteless.