R&B music videos have evolved quite a bit since the slow, single shot performance based videos in the 1950s. Contemporary R&B music videos visually portray sexual lyrics through story based videos, dance videos, or themed videos. The jazz, gospel, and blues rhythms of early R&B music evolved as it blended with pop, rap, and hip-hop genres to create contemporary R&B. With its quicker and/or more pronounced beats and rhythms, contemporary R&B music videos have much faster cuts to a wide range of scenes to match this beat. These cuts got more and more advanced over the years, showing overlapping and fading images like in Miguel’s “Sure Thing” video and quick, neon flashing lights and graphics like in Kanye West’s “All Of The Lights” video.
Contemporary music videos also tend to be less performance based, as opposed to videos from the early 1900s. While contemporary R&B music videos most often do cut to a significant number of scenes of the artist singing, they also incorporate a wide variety of other scenes, from Diddy Dirty Money walking alone in a huge, barren desert in “Coming Home” to Kelly Rowland dancing in a large warehouse in “Motivation.” Rowland’s video also portrays the over sexuality and sexual confidence expressed by the majority of R&B artists in their videos. Sexuality is a central theme in nearly all of these videos, and is reinforced through the lyrics of the music, the beats that the artists and backup dancers dance sensually to, and the provocative costumes that the women featured in these videos wear (whether they are the female artists or are unknown girls who male artists are singing about). The videos have also evolved in that they advocate contemporary club and hookup culture. Nicki Minaj’s video for her song “Beez In the Trap” involves many aspects prominent in contemporary music videos, including many fast cuts, bright lights, and overt female sexuality that highlight provocative and profane lyrics and prominent, dance provoking beats.
As the years progressed, the way that women were portrayed in the genre changed drastically. When the videos moved away from being solely performance based, women were used by male artists as the sexual objects that they were singing about. Still appealing to a predominantly African American audience (although it is more diverse in modern times), these women are frequently African American also, and have large curves that are shown off by scant, sexual clothing. They are often featured dancing provocatively, reinforcing their purpose in the video as emphasizing the male artists’ ability to have lots of sexy, beautiful women surrounding him, for example in Akon’s “I Wanna Love You” music video. Women’s role as sexual objects is reinforced in the lyrics of these music videos, such as Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow” in which he says outright: “bitch I own you.” The female dancers in the video visually reinforce their objectivity.
Female R&B artists are usually portrayed as very sexual in their own videos as well. However, instead of being a man’s sexual object, these women exude sexual confidence and ownership of their own sexuality. These women also tend to have curves, promoting a healthy weight, unlike many other genres featuring female artists (for example, pop artists like Taylor Swift in music videos like “I Knew You Were Trouble”). Artists like these portray unrealistic weights and are so thin that they appear unhealthy. This is not the case for most female R&B artists. A great example is Rihanna, one of the most popular R&B female artists today, and who is considered by many popular culture magazines to be one of the world’s sexiest women. Like many other female R&B artists, her outfits and the dancing she does in her music videos (which match the beats and lyrics of her music) show off her curves and establish her extreme sexual confidence. She, as well as other artists like Nicki Minaj, often wear dramatic makeup and unique costumes to set the theme of their videos and portray their sexuality. Rihanna’s sexual confidence and use of costume, dance, and setting to create a theme to match the lyrics and beats of her songs is demonstrated throughout all of her music videos (as well as her live performances), with one example being her music video for “Shut Up And Drive.”
Based on the evolution of this genre, I think that R&B music videos in the future will continue to portray male and female sexuality through catchy beats and provocative dance and costume. This is far from the 1950s music videos showcasing a single man singing innocent love songs to a jazzy tune. I like the provocative edge that the contemporary R&B music video genre provides, and how it seems to push boundaries in terms of portrayal of female sexuality as normal and socially acceptable. I hope that in the future, more R&B music videos for male artists portray female sexuality in a more positive light as well, with less female objectivity. I definitely believe that this genre will not move backwards in its evolution, and that it will continue to push boundaries of how much sexuality is socially acceptable to portray. Thus, I don’t think that the genre should return to its roots. I think that it should continue to expand upon them, and continue to move towards a portrayal of more sexual equality between men and women. Even if it only progresses in subtle ways like more advanced editing and special effects, I don’t think that people will get bored of the genre. If in the future it stays pretty similar to the way it is now, which I believe it will, I think that contemporary R&B music videos will continue to be a very popular genre that continues to be provocative and fun to watch and dance to.