Porn-Inspired Pop Divas Should Wear More Clothes

Notes from the fashion apocalypse.
Oct. 23 2013 11:45 PM

Pop Stars Are Dressing Like Porn Stars

Enough!

MIley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus performs during the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas on Sept. 21, 2013.

Photo silhouette by Slate. Photo by Steve Marcus/Reuters

Scotchgard your skorts. Disinfect your nylons. Purell your disco purse. It’s getting skanky out there … AGAIN!

Simon Doonan Simon Doonan

Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.

I’m referring, of course, to the new wave of porn-inspired pop divas who are attempting to sell records by flaunting their private areas and jiggling their fleshy assets with unprecedented abandon.

How did we all get so yeasty and slutty? Why have we chosen to live in a world where hoochie hotness is the only currency? How much is that dildo in the window, the one with the waggly bit on the end?

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In order to answer these important questions, we need to go back, way back, to a time when hookers were hookers and pop singers were pop singers and never the twain did meet:

Los Angeles. It’s the late 1970s, and I am watching the girls working the end of my block on Sunset. Wearing bikinis and heels, even in the pouring rain, these drug-addled sex workers are a sorry sight. Donna Summer’s big hit wafts from a passing car:

Bad girls, sad girls
You're such a dirty bad girl
Beep-beep, uh-uh
You’re bad girl, you’re sad girl
You’re such a dirty bad girl
Beep-beep, uh-uh.

Over the subsequent decades, something weird happens. The sad part evaporates, but the bad part lingers. The spotlight focuses upon skank style and begins, slowly but surely, to fetishize, glamorize, and exalt anything remotely connected with pimping, hooking, and stripping. Porno chic is born. Suddenly, shockingly, ball gags are the new fanny packs.

Christina Aguilera
Christina Aguilera performs in 2002 in New York.

Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images

Two decades after Donna Summer’s Bad Girls, in 2002, Christina Aguilera releases her album Stripped, which includes the track titled “Dirrty.” A David LaChapelle–directed video suggests that Ms. Aguilera might well be in need of a medical intervention. Or maybe there is a Taser lodged in her vagina? Either way, she appears to be suffering from some kind of erotic epilepsy. It is a “me-so-horny” act that makes the chick in Full Metal Jacket look like Maria von Trapp. Aguilera’s record company responds to criticism by claiming that their artist was “reaching out for something more real.” The way the video made it look, that “something” was a dose of the clap. No offense.

At the time I sent up many warning flares. I cautioned the world about the effect on Aguilera’s tween audience. Little girls are not supposed to be thrashing around like cracked-out pole dancers. Instead they should be skipping around the lawn in a Ralph Lauren-ish backyard, wearing little bonnets and starched Bonpoint sundresses and singing songs like “Mabel, Mabel, Set the Table.”

Ever eager to see things from both sides, I also cried foul on behalf of the strippers of the world. Their choreographic repertoire was, courtesy of La Aguilera, being hijacked by little girls. Ditto their clothing. When the entire female population starts dressing and acting like a bunch of strippers, how, pray, are the strippers supposed to dress to attract attention? Loss of earnings! Hello!

After Aguilera there was, give or take a wardrobe malfunction or two, a comparative lull in the porno-pop action. In the intervening years singers like Adele (very Maggie Smith playing Miss Jean Brodie) and Lily Allen (sneakers with maxi skirts) and Florence Welch (pre-Raphaelite patio gowns) strenuously avoided dressing like sex workers. Porno style migrated temporarily away from pop music and found a new petri dish: reality television. Shows like Bad Girls Club and I Love New Yorkthe participants said charming things like, “I’m so ghetto my pussy smells like menthol”—provided a welcoming skank-friendly environment.

Rihanna, Miley Cyrus
Rihanna, left, and Miley Cyrus

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker/Slate. Photos by Getty.

The reality show milieu could only contain the stripperfest for so long, and now it’s BACK! And nastier than ever. A second wave of porno pop is currently raging across our screens, and Doris Day it ain’t. We are descending into a hoochie hellhole. And most young people—particularly those young gals who cut their teeth on Aguilera’s G-strings—are totally unfazed. Everything seems “totes norms” to them. In fact, so inured are they to our oversexed culture that, when they discover the artists of yore on YouTube, they are totally dumbfounded by the lack of throbbing, overt sexual hotness. Yes, that gal Dusty Springfield has a great voice, but why isn’t she showing more cleavage and buttcrack ? Siouxsie Sioux, Nina Hagen, and Debbie Harry were all so creative, but why all the clothes? Why the lack of pasties? And Joni Mitchell? What’s with the caftans and long skirts? Is she covering up a skin complaint? And that belter Janis Joplin? If she was so wild and groovy, how come she kept her velour, tie-die pantsuits on? The least she could have done was pull out one of her boobies.

If you think I am exaggerating about the current pornsplosion, then you probably have not seen the new erotically sinister, description-defying Rihanna video, the one for her current hit “Pour It Up, which has been viewed more than 56 million times:

(At the time of this writing, Rihanna is generating more ink. After having viewed a sex show in Phuket, Thailand,  during which a lady pulled live animals from her hoo-hah, RiRi tweeted about what she saw, and the promoters were all arrested. Happy entrails!)

And then there’s Britney’s latest offering, entitled “Work Bitch”:

Here our gal BritBrit has taken on the dual role of whore and sadistic oppressor. She dispenses profound and caring nuggets of advice while thrashing other women with whips—You want a Maserati? You better work, bitch!—after which she dynamites large groups of fellow hookers, blowing their bodies to smithereens. Simone De Beauvoir, Kate Millett, and Germaine Greer, eat your hearts out.

Call me crazy, but I always thought of clothing, however minimal, as a simple system of nonverbal communication. It allows us to telegraph whatever we want to the outside world.

A twinset and pearls indicate a certain conservatism. A leather catsuit screams, “I’m a hired assassin!” An Issey Miyake cocoon suggests that you might be an architect or a pretentious poet. And dressing like a porn-slut indicates, loudly and clearly, that you are more than willing to give head in the stationery closet. What does that have to do with being a songstress?

A cursory glance at these porn ’n’ pop mélanges will leave you wondering where it will all end. How far are we from the day when singers will record their songs midshag? Not very. The next time Miley Cyrus appears on an award show, she will doubtless unzip a dude’s pants and go the whole hog. And then what? Bestiality? Not with my Norwich terrier. No way. Put him down, Miley! He’s too old for you, and he’s not in the mood.

Come back, Lawrence Welk! We miss you.