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music videos that mattered *but would be rated 18 if they came out today

Youtube and Vimeo are going to rate music videos in the same way that films are rated due to an increasing number of ‘adult content’ videos from popstars including Rihanna, Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke. Global mums will be thrilled. But what would have...

by Sarah Raphael
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18 August 2015, 3:50pm

There are plenty of films I watched as a child that were rated higher than my rage at the time. The Ring, Mulholland Drive and Saving Private Ryan all scarred me irrevocably, and I couldn't sleep for ten years. But I would think about David Lynch's Mulholland Drive and the themes of fear and sexuality that it brought up, and consider the reality of war that I saw aged eight in that opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. I can't think of a positive spin for The Ring so fuck you Samara, but the point is this: while age-inappropriate, these experiences are fundamental to adolescence.

In the past, people have tried to blame music for all sorts; the serial killer Richard Ramirez cited AC/DC's Nightprowler, the Manson Family Murders were linked to The Beatles' Helter Skelter and early reports of the Columbine massacre pointed to Marilyn Manson for his general gothness. The effect of music on young people is serious, of course it is, but it's not responsible for any of the heinous crimes committed, as the courts rightly ruled. So what is this ban going to prevent? Apart from a cultural understanding of the world we live in, and that particular rite of passage of being shit scared of a film or music video you watch with your friends.

There's a case to be made that these moments of terror or shock or adrenaline, are really quite important for a person's development. At the very least, they become anecdotes… So in favour of watching 18's when you're 15, and 15's when you're 12, and 12's when you're 8, here's a list of music videos we watched as kids that scared the shit out of us, in a good way. What was it for you?

Hattie Collins, Michael Jackson - Thriller

Hands down Thriller by Michael Jackson. It still gives me nightmares today, and while I was definitely too young to be watching it, this was the King of Pop's crucial cultural coming of age. It was all anyone talked about at school for days, weeks, years after....! To not be able to contribute to the conversation was certain social suicide. I watched it at my friend's house cos her mum didn't giveth one fuck. Not too many years later she let us watch Nightmare On Elm St with a bottle of Thunderbirds. The memories of both terrify me to this day.

Steve Salter, Aphex Twin - Come To Daddy

I remember flicking through the channels and pausing the moment a warped, evil spirit flickered on screen and repeated, "I want your soul, I will eat your soul, I want your soul," before the gang of child clones attack the estate. It was terrifying but blew my mind. I was 13, home alone and had never seen anything as weird. I've embraced the oddness ever since.

Francesca Dunn, t.A.T.u. - All The Things She Said

Standing behind a fence in their school uniforms, the Russian duo upset miserable onlookers as they passionately snogged in the rain before somehow losing each other in the playground during the dramatic song build-up. The video famously caused controversy for obvious reasons. Were there paedophilic undertones? Was it a beautiful depiction of two young girls in love and the struggle of overcoming ignorant homophobic views thrown in their direction via the blank stares of the crowd that thought it worth standing out in the rain/snow for? I was 12 when this came out in 2002, and though I probs felt awkward because it was super sexy, I like to think that the deeper message came across too.

Charlotte Gush, Eminem - Cleanin' Out My Closet

This video came out when I was 15 and was possibly the first exposure I had to the issue of poverty in rich nations, as apposed to the charity appeals about Africa I had seen on TV. Dealing with neglect, mental illness, domestic violence and drug addiction, it made me consider how little I knew about the home lives of other kids at my school, and to cut the ones who were difficult to get on with some slack. Although Eminem talks about drugs and violence, he doesn't glamourise them, and situates them within the web of problems fuelled by poverty.

Sarah Raphael, Prodigy - Smack My Bitch Up

The video actually was banned from MTV when it came out in 1997, at a time when the word "Bitch" in a song was enough to make parents weary, and as for the rest… It was shocking, it still is, and I was well aware that I was way too young to be seeing someone shooting up in a toilet, girls dancing topless in strip clubs and "scenes of a sexual nature", but Coyote Ugly was PG-13 so make your mind up. The video challenges the idea of how a woman behaves and challenges the viewer's conceptions of gender, which, in the context of the gender conversations we are having as a society today, was pretty ahead of its time. A few years ago I interviewed the film's director Jonas Akerlund, who was a lovely, charming man and I was happy to be able to say in all sincerity: "watching your music video was a pivotal moment in my life."

Bojana Kozarevic, Madonna - Human Nature and Justify My Love and Michael Jackson - Keep It In The Closet

For me there are three: Madonna's Human Nature and Justify my Love, and Michael Jackson's Keep It In the Closet. All three basically informed my approach to men… maybe that explains why I'm still single! (I try to emulate them but it seems that Tinder hook-ups don't expect a song and dance performance on first dates). All jokes aside, Justify My Love was directed by Jean Baptiste Mondino and Keep It In the Closet by Bruce Weber, two of my favourite photographers. What makes these videos so brilliant, is their unapologetic sensuality and interplay between different bodies. Each video explores some secret sexual intimacy and ultimately, that sex is human nature. Yet they're tasteful - lit and choreographed beautifully and performed extremely well. Sex is nothing to be shy about, and Madonna, Michael and Naomi - natch, prove that. It would be a shame to think these videos would be controlled viewing because of their content. Let's not keep human nature in the closet, especially when it's shown like this.

Ryan White, ‪Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya, Pink - Lady Marmalade

I'm still not entirely sure why, but the combination of Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mýa, and Pink performing Lady Marmalade in lingerie for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack became something of a fixation for my eight year old self. Any given opportunity to watch Sky TV at a friend's house circa 2001 would result in me mandating The Box be put on, followed by the feigned lack of interest when this video eventually came on. YouTube user BriannaNeal says "This video facilitated my sexual awakening." I wouldn't go that far, but it definitely taught me a lesson in not being ashamed of what I truly like, and 14 years later I will watch the videos of huge popstars unabashedly.

Nick Levine, Madonna - What It Feels Like for a Girl

I stayed up late to watch this video the first (and presumably only) time it aired on Channel 4. It shows Madonna and a random granny she picks up at an old people's home tearing around town in a vintage car and basically being ridiculously badass: they taser a guy and steal his money, they drive straight into a team of hockey players, they blow up a gas station. It's graphically violent, sure, but also darkly humorous and very obviously cartoony. At the time Madonna said the video "shows my character acting out a fantasy and doing things girls are not allowed to do", which I now reckon was a pretty cool thing for my teenage self to see.

Felicity Kinsella, Britney Spears - I'm a Slave 4 U

Christina (with Dirrty) and Britney both shook off their good girl images at about the same time and I couldn't get enough of their sweaty, sexy, crowded music videos that were like the dirrtiest orgies ever.

Ger Tierney, Christina Aguilera - Dirrty

Christina Aguilera's Dirrty was pretty shocking. I was about 19 at the time but it was the first time I'd seen a female artist being so overtly sexual in a video.

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Text Sarah Raphael