Lenny Kravitz, We Need to Talk

This post was originally published last year on a short-lived Wordpress blog I had. I did not write an open letter to Lenny Kravitz more than a year after his cringeworthy music video. Although that does sound like something I would do.

Dear Lenny,

We need to talk about your music video, “The Pleasure and The Pain.”

I should preface this by saying I am the captain of Team Lenny, from Let Love Rule all the way to 2014’s Strut.

I was thrilled when you announced you were going to be in the Super Bowl halftime show and I was annoyed they gave you so little screen time. When you finally booked a show in Southern California, I bought tickets and drove up to LA to see your superb set at the Fonda Theatre.

It is only because I love you that I am disappointed.

“The Pleasure and the Pain” has a nice groove, mixing different guitar textures. The vocal delivery of the verses (listening to some Thin Lizzy around then, Lenny?) and the well-placed background singers are high points.

I was lukewarm when I first saw the video, though. Riding together on a motorcycle is an overused trope and I was put off, if not surprised, by your choice of love interest. Director Dikayl Rimmasch carries over the black and white Fellini-influenced look of “Sex,” your previous music video, whose representation of women is questionable.

Your costar in TPATP is a very thin white woman who appears to be in her early twenties. This, by itself, is fine. It is OK to be young and thin and white. But you’re getting a tad repetitive. Strut’s first video, “The Chamber” has a similar runway-esque female lead and “Sex” features expressionless thin women swaying behind you (both of them Asian, not sure what you were going for there). Although some of your earlier videos do feature women of color, nearly every love interest is remarkably skinny.

Listen, I know you enjoy high fashion and hanging out in France, where thin white women are still very much the ideal, but how about just adding the Arc de Triomphe or something instead?

“The Pleasure and The Pain” is basically a moving thinspiration blog. If you’re not familiar with the term, “thinspiration” refers to the images and blog posts shared by young women suffering from eating disorders. They use the content to encourage each other in their destructive diet and exercise regimes.

Two of the most popular “goals” these young women aspire to are attaining a “thigh gap”

and a “bikini bridge.”

If these were just incidental screencaps, it would be less troubling. But these shots are obviously intentional. These are the images your video presents as sexy and alluring.

Beyond these cringe-inducing moments, there is simply a lot of displaying the woman’s body in TPATP. The song is about accepting the ups and downs of a tumultuous relationship, but there are many shots where we just watch her posing and writhing.

It’s not clear if this display is for your character or for the audience. You keep a more modest image in this video. Maybe you didn’t feel up to starving yourself to the point of your very high shirtless standard. By the way, dude, abs aren’t everything. I’m just one woman, but when I see painfully lean men in music videos, I’m just thinking of the fact that the actor probably feels miserable.

The “Call Me Maybe” dude is so thirsty because he’s been dehydrating himself for maximum rippedness.

Again, there are people for whom this is normal and I don’t want to criticize them, but I also don’t want anyone starving themselves for my viewing pleasure.

Now let’s talk about age. Again, I’ll preface this by admitting that you are fine as fuck. If the casting of your love interest is intended to affirm your own youth and vitality, rest assured, you don’t need it.

There is nothing wrong with being involved with someone older/younger, but with that comes the potential for an unbalanced power dynamic. “The Pleasure and The Pain”’s handling of the age disparity is clumsy at best, creepy at worst. The body language between the characters and the portrayal of the woman as childlike suggest a very paternal relationship.

The video begins with you handling her face. Your character is trying to force her to look at you. This is nothing we haven’t seen before in film, but it still paints you as controlling. Throughout the video, you maintain protective and dominant body language, draping your arm over her, leading her by the hand.

It looks more like possession than partnership.

There are also shots of the woman that emphasize her youth to the point of showing her as childish. She fits right in with a group of kids playing. In a hotel room, she exaggeratedly pulls open the blinds and flings herself onto the bed. There are shots of her curled up in the fetal position. You give her a piggyback ride, for fuck’s sake.

Your character’s dominance over this childlike woman shows a problematic relationship, but not the type described in “The Pleasure and The Pain.” The song implies that the woman is a powerful force or has an untamed personality. The woman in the video just seems immature and moody.

We all expect music videos to feature young, conventionally attractive people. The combination of extreme beauty standards and the bizarre paternal relationship, however, is hard not to notice.

Is it inconceivable that your music video could feature a woman over thirty years old? Or a type of beauty not found on the catwalk?

This video might be so jarring because, for the most part, you seem like a feminist. You have spoken positively about full-figured women and even said girls should run the world. What’s more important is that your band is often evenly split between men and women.

Your drummer, bassist, and backup singers were excellent at the Fonda. We see glimpses of them in the video, but would any of them qualify to be your romantic interest?

People are attracted to many different things and some of us (myself included) have a type. But the type you have been featuring in your music videos conforms tightly to beauty norms that one would hope your decades of experience might give you the confidence to disregard. Your music videos are a representation of you and your work, and the older man watching over a model half his age isn’t a good look.

Although your latest album purports to be about taking pride in yourself, whoever you are, the accompanying images show a very narrow picture of beauty. Do better next time.