Arabs react to raunchy Shakira, Rihanna video

Shakira has been condemned for ‘promoting lesbianism' with Rihanna in the music video ‘Can’t Remember to Forget you’

Hind Mustafa
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Rolling around in bed with another female music star, while smoking cigars, has landed Colombian singer Shakira in hot water.

Shakira’s recently released music video for her new single “Can’t Remember to Forget you” which features Rihanna, sparked a wave of criticism from Arab fans and music industry professionals in recent days.


Shakira has been condemned for “promoting lesbianism” with Rihanna in the video.

“It’s a lesbianist music video, it’s really over [the top],” Fadi Haddad, a Lebanese music video director told Al Arabiya News.

Arab online commenters criticized the music video as well, expressing their shock on Twitter. Shakira, a Columbian artist, took most of the blame because of her Lebanese origins; her paternal grandparents emigrated from Lebanon to New York City, where her father was born.

In an interview last year, the singer credited her “cultural fusion” music to her mixed ethnicity, saying "I am a fusion. That's my persona. I'm a fusion between black and white, between pop and rock, between cultures - between my Lebanese father and my mother's Spanish blood, the Colombian folklore and Arab dance I love and American music.”

Online anger

But the online anger from Arabs over the video has become increasingly evident.

“The world is not as bad as you think… it is even worse than that, #Shakira is a goodwill ambassador and #Israel won a Nobel Peace Prize,” tweeted user @EnG_SG in Arabic.

Other tweets voiced their thoughts about the video using hashtags such as #sex, #lesbian, and #lust, in Arabic.

Negative popular and religious opinion in the wider Arab world, is a large part of the difficulties faced by homosexuals, with Muslims and Christians citing the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as an “example” of moral depravity.

Homosexuality is illegal in 78 countries across the world and is still punishable by death in five countries, which include Iran, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

The video, uploaded on Shakira’s YouTube channel on Jan. 31, garnered more than 88 million views in only one week. It features both artists lying down in bed, touching each other and smoking cigars.

“They are both class A stars, and the song is amazing, but I thought the bed scene was over [too bold], and the hands [touching], it’s really bad,” added Haddad.

Arab artists are known for also using elements of sex appeal in their music videos, and viewers in the region are not completely foreign to the sight of a female artists explicitly expressing their sensuality in front of the camera.

“The Arab world is used to one female artist [appearing in an explicit manner], we also have gay men in music videos, it’s very obvious, but we never have explicitly labeled it like they have done,” Haddad stated.

But are the claims that the video “promotes lesbianism” realistic?

“I do not think that it is promoting lesbianism, as much as it is catering to a male audience which would presumably appreciate eroticism between women,” Lynn Darwich, the Lebanon-based coordinator of the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies – a group aimed at breaking taboos around sexuality in the Arab region – told Al Arabiya News.

“My understanding is based on the performers' rather phallic cigars, coupled with their continuous gaze into the camera, instead of each other. The music industry often sexualizes women for the male gaze, and this video is no different,” Darwich added.

'Killing creativity'

According to Wissam Mandil, a producer of more than 50 music videos in the Middle East and internationally, “a music video should be surreal, it shouldn’t be real,” he told Al Arabiya News.

While explicitly explaining that he was not making a statement in support of, or against, lesbians, Mandil stated: “whether we accept it or not lesbians exist in the Arab world and elsewhere.”

But from an artistic perspective, Nabil Alalawi, CEO of Qithara production, an art production and advertising company, was against mirroring such sensitivities in music videos.

“Stars around the world have to search for a new concept, but I’m against abusing things like social matters because it kills the creativity.

“The difference between art and media is that the first creates something out of scratch, while the other takes reality and portrays it,” said Nabil.

According to him, Arab viewers have the right to express their opinion and now have the choice to watch or stop watching whatever they want, adding: “we are no longer stuck to one channel.”

He stressed that the music video scene in the Arab world is now much better, as “there are many who admire creativity and do not disregard Arab culture.”

However, at the end of the day, “any publicity is good publicity,” Mandil added.

Others agree, saying the video pushes Shakra's own "brand."

“It is difficult to imagine how anyone could perceive Shakira's new video as promoting anything other than the song, the album, her music, her brand,” Tina Richardson, a lecturer in Media Studies at Middlesex University’s Dubai branch, told Al Arabiya News.

“The question we should all be asking ourselves is why are some people so bothered by women being close. If Shakira had featured a male artist in this video would anyone have a problem? Would anyone be discussing the video? Probably not. And that's the point," she added.

Columbian dismay

The raunchy video only provoked controversy among Arabs. Marco Fidel Ramírez, a Columbian councilor launched a petition to ban the video from being aired on national television.

Using the hashtag #PeligroVideoShakira, which translates “dangers of Shakira’s videos,” Ramírez tweeted in Spanish saying the video “damages the moral character of youth.”

But for Richardson, the video “breaks through the clutter” in terms of media messages from such videos.

“There are a lot of media messages out there--a lot of musical artists are putting out new videos all the time. Even established artists have to break through the clutter of all that new content to get to an audience. The video 'Can't Remember to Forget You' uses a familiar genre with an unexpected twist. It is an excellent example of breaking through the clutter.

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