Lately I’ve been revisiting Robert Palmer, The Power Station, and mid-80s to early 90s Duran Duran. For some reason. It may have something to do with Duran Duran’s Liberty being the first CD I ever got. Again, for some reason. I’ve been offsetting this with Daft Punk in the car, so I can pretend I’m in Tron.
(Aside: The first tape I ever got? New Kids on the Block’s Hangin’ Tough.)
So, there’s probably two reasons for my Miami Vice-rock renaissance.
1. Glossy production aside, Power Station drummer Tony Thompson rocks it.
2. When my parents split up in the mid-80s, my dad moved to West Palm Beach and lived the single life for a while. One artifact that I wish he’d kept from this period was a glass he got from a night club called Banana Max. The glass was cylindrical, opaque, beige, and made out of (three-dimensional) naked women. Aside from a rock that he découpaged with a photo of Raquel Welch and my grandfather’s April 1970 Playmate of the Month jigsaw puzzle mounted on cardboard (both in my possession), this is the weirdest item owned by a male family member that has, in opposition, shaped my feminist beliefs.
The glass is also a document of its era. If you don’t have one, a copy of Riptide is the next best thing. And this is where Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” music video comes in.
As a feminist, I have trouble with this music video for one big, obvious, highlighter-yellow reason. It’s so blatantly sexist. The models who comprise Palmer’s backing band are normatively beautiful, musically inept, interchangable, ornamental, passive, and blankly spectacular. They’re kinda like a Busby Berkeley chorus line, only on sedatives and with visible nipples.
And yet. I can’t let this one go so easily. It’s an indelible image that is simple and yet iconic in design (it’s so effective that ”Simply Irresistible” and “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” only mildly revise the concept). Thus, it’s also easily replicable. When you put “Addicted to Love” alongside another lexicon 1980s video like, say, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” it’s much easier to match (many people, including Jackson, tried and failed to reach or exceed that video’s epic proportions).
It’s also an easy concept to subvert, which is my primary interest. I’d like to highlight a few instances where women take on “Addicted to Love” and, in the process of recasting and reconfiguration, potentially disrupt the original music video’s sexist aims.
The one most of us probably all know is Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like A Woman,” which shows the singer flipping the script. Twain is Palmer, and she’s accompanied by a group of beefy, bronzed, eyelinered boys in mesh shirts and leather pants. While I think the clip’s clear limitation is that the switched-gender roles only go so far when it glamorizes and sexualizes Twain via skimpy attire in a manner similar to the girls in the original video, I do enjoy its winking, campy sensibilities (i.e., visible male nipples, having one of the boys lick his lips just like one of the girls in “Addicted to Love”). Also, I kinda read her backing band as gay.
Blink and you miss it, but Britney Spears also plays Palmer in a Pepsi ad from the early 2000s (start it at :57).
Kinda interesting. She’s got a shaggy wig and a suit on, which could potentially queer her. However, the cut of the jacket and dance moves highlight her breasts, reifying her femininity. Also, she has no contact whatsoever with the (female) background dancers. To me, this further emphasizes that “Addicted to Love” was an iconic video of the 1980s and fails to do much to subvert the original video or the singer. That she’s only in a suit and tie for ten seconds before going back to tight ensembles that show off her decidedly feminine torso furthers this claim. Britney and Pepsi are just trying on Palmer — they aren’t doing anything new or different with him; just using him to sell Pepsi.
There’s also Beyoncé’s “Green Light,” which I mentioned in an earlier post. She positions herself as both Robert and a member of the chorus through her costuming, queers her interactions with the chorus through choreography, and showcases an all-female band who are clearly playing their instruments.
And let’s not forget Kim Gordon, who covered the song as part of Ciconne Youth (a Sonic Youth-related project that, alongside Palmer, also championed and mocked Madonna — how very art school of them). This version makes me wonder what would happen if one of the girls in Palmer’s “band” let down her hair, smeared her make-up, snatched a microphone, and used Palmer’s song to mock him.
Also, my friend Curran posted the video in the comments section, but it’s too good not to mention in the post. Michelle Shocked sent up the music video in 1990 with “On the Greener Side,” taking the queerness, campiness, cleverness to the next level. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Curran!
In sum, when ladies put on the Palmer drag, we might a broader sense of how women can turn being spectacle into a position of power, as well as a position containing multiple possibilities for the performer.