Billy Idol's new video, "Hot in the City," is too hot for MTV.
Saying the clip was "basically a bondage-environment video," MTV general manager Lee Masters told Idol's label, Chrysalis Records, to make numerous edits before the 24-hour video channel would play it. In the past week, Chrysalis has produced at least five different versions of the clip, none of which satisfy both MTV and Idol, who nixed several versions himself, saying they were too tame.
Paint Idol red--as in mad. "What's so wrong with my video?" he said last week. "Spirituality and sexuality are two of the most beautiful things I know. MTV is trying to say that my video is dirty and bad. They're trying to control all of an artist's input. . . . Pretty soon every video will be of artists walking through doors, just singing--videos will merely be adverts."
OK, so who wants to be the one to tell Billy that all videos are ads already? Still, Idol has a point. Is MTV getting too old for raunchy rock 'n' roll? Is it increasingly nervous about airing videos that might offend local cable operators--or perhaps the high-rolling ad agencies that provide a big percentage of the channel's income?
First, because Pop Eye has obtained a copy of the offending clip, here's a capsule description. The video features a bare-chested Idol smashing a hole through his neighbor's wall. This allows him to watch a throng of buxom beauties--clad in black-leather tights and negligees--who sway seductively to the beat, occasionally slapping each other on their bottoms. As a finale, one girl is chained to a cross that raises her up to the skylight.
Is this dumb, crude and sexist? You bet.
But has MTV aired dozens of similar tacky videos? Dozens? Maybe hundreds.
So what gives? Chrysalis president Mike Bone thinks he has an answer. "MTV has simply gotten more conservative," he said. "Being from the Deep South, I can see why certain scenes from this clip wouldn't fly. And having dealt with the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center), I understand their concern about how their distributors would react to a video like this.
"But when I was at MTV, discussing this very video, I turned around and saw Duran Duran's 'Girls on Film' playing on the channel. And that clip, which is nearly 5 years old, has a scene involving a woman and a man--which for matters of taste we'll call the 'saddle' scene--which is virtually identical to a scene MTV objected to in our clip.
"What's the difference? They've gotten more conservative. I told Lee Masters that if they keep taking the spice and the provocative elements out of the channel, all they're gonna have left is oatmeal. The provocative stuff is what makes the kids watch."
Masters insists MTV isn't being ruled by its censors. "We haven't gotten more strict or conservative--we're using the same policy that we've had in place for years. In the past two months we've probably viewed 240 clips--and only rejected two out of hand."
However, he acknowledged the often arbitrary nature of decisions made by MTV's program standards department. "It's always a judgment call," he said. "You can't quantify what makes one video acceptable and another in bad taste. If we're being particularly sensitive right now, it's probably because we feel that certain artists and video directors are testing us to see how far they can go--they've actually told us they put in certain images just to see what they can slip past us."
Masters also confirmed that the channel recently dropped Motley Crue's controversial "Girls Girls Girls" video, which many critics blasted as a new low in rock video's long history of sexist exploitation.
"We made a mistake. We got tons of negative feedback from our viewers and we reacted--we took a second look and pulled the clip. In fact, we just met with a lot of video directors to dispel rumors about what kind of videos we prefer. And when it comes to clips full of scantily clad girls, our attitude is very simple--enough already."