Given the general avoidance of the R rating for most mainstream movies, you rarely see celebrities take their clothes off in the movies anymore. For that, you have to look to…music videos?
It suddenly seems that way, with a rash (so to speak) of bare-skinned star appearances in videos for indie and alternative acts. The most prominent example is a new video by Icelandic band Sigur Ros, which features blockbuster actor Shia LaBeouf stripped down to the Shia LaBuff. A controversial Flaming Lips clip stars fellow musician Erykah Badu--who's doffed her street duds in her own videos before, but not in someone else's. And now there's a Noel Gallagher video that consists primarily of Mischa Barton running around in her undies.
Fans of these nekkid (or semi-nekkid) public figures know what's in it for us. But what's in these visually vulnerable cameos for the stars themselves? The answers may differ on a case-by-case basis:
Notoriety. This may apply most to Barton, the O.C. actress who hasn't been on a hot streak in the movies or on TV lately, but does have a well-established penchant for adding her star power to music videos, with or without outerwear.
Indie cred. Shia LaBeouf is still America's sweetheart, even though he's trying to beef up his status as an actor by moving on from the Transformers series to heavier fare like this August's Lawless. So you won't find that many studios or agents saying, "Shia, please show us your hipster beard…and, sure, while you're at it, your penis." A music video for a cult band is a harmless way to let his freak-flag fly while still protecting the brand, theatrically.
Nothing. That would probably be Erykah Badu's answer, since she's gotten into a very public feud with Flaming Lips over the way the nude footage of her--and of her sister, who is effectively her body double for the more provocative stuff--was used in the Lips' "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" clip. Clearly she regrets the first time ever she saw Wayne Coyne's face.
The just-released clip for Gallagher's "Everybody's On The Run" is by far the most innocent of these three videos: It's basically an extended meet-cute, where fate is dictated by matching leopard-print underwear. Barton is a passenger in a cab driven by the former Oasis member, and when she disembarks, her dress gets caught in the door and pulled off. She sprints off after the taxi through downtown L.A., but Noel, pleased to be doing as little acting as possible, doesn't stop. Meanwhile, there's another mostly naked guy chasing a dude who stole his shoes. Will these two potential lovebirds collide? Hey, does a gun that shows up in the first act go off in the third?
The other stripped-down appearances come in videos that amp up the artiness. LaBeouf does full-frontal nudity--well, full side-al nudity--in Sigur Ros's clip for an all-instrumental track. But if that's all you're tuning in for, be warned: His bottomless scenes are all over within the first minute. His female companion gets more nude scenes, as he draws faces on her chest and carves marks into her bloody back with broken glass. The key symbolism occurs when the girlfriend goes into histrionics over the fact that he has put a favorite butterfly of hers under glass…which you'd think she might have expected from the fact that their bedroom walls are entirely covered with framed butterflies. Then they wake up, and the insect is still alive, on her pillow, as they cavort and carve each other up happily ever after.
Any shock factor associated with that video can hardly compare with the provocation inherent in Flaming Lips' Badu-sung cover of Roberta Flack's classic "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." A seemingly enraged Badu has since tweeted that she felt uncomfortable with a lot of what Wayne Coyne asked her to do on the set, but "I didn't wanna kill your concept… so I invited Nayrok, my lil sister and artist, who is much more liberal, to be subject of those other disturbing (to me) scenes."
So while you do see Badu singing naked in a bathtub, you don't really see that much of her (less than she revealed in her own brow-raising video of a couple years ago, "Window Seat," which had her strolling nude around Dallas). But you see plenty, and we do mean plenty, of sister Nayrok, indulgently bathing in a series of substances that include glitter, blood, and… well, you can use your imagination, or go take a look yourself.
Lips leader Coyne released the video just days after it was filmed, and while Badu initially tweeted that she loved it, she soon changed her tune, claiming exploitation and saying she should have been given a chance to see and approve the edit. "That is equivalent to putting out a security camera's images of me changing in the fitting room," she wrote in an open letter to Coyne."I never would have approved that tasteless, meaningless, shock-motivated video...As a woman I feel violated and underestimated. Hope it works out for ya, Wayne…On behalf of all the artists u have manipulated or plan to manipulate, find another way...And if you don't like it you can kiss my Glittery A--."
Coyne responded sarcastically on Twitter. "We obviously barged into Erykah's house while she was taking a bath and made her sing the song while we filmed it!! It was wrong…You can't see but I'm actually holding a gun to her head making her look at the camera… She didn't know we, six white dudes with lights and cameras, were there." At another point, he seemed to doubt that Badu's outrage was even real, tweeting, "She's a great media manipulator!! I love her!!"
Of course, the cynical view is that everyone involved with any of these videos is manipulating the media to their benefit, however artistic the treatments might seem. There's a history of singers appearing nude or semi-nude in their own videos, from Alanis Morissette's famously Lady Godiva-style "Thank U" in the mid-'90s to Lady Gaga's repeat undressings in the 2010s, with stops along the way for expanses of skin from everyone from Blink-182 ("What's My Name Again") and No Doubt's Adrian Young ("Hey Baby") to bum-baring tween heroine Katy Perry ("California Gurls").
Even more prevalent is the onslaught of actors' cameos in music vids. The most provocative one before now was Evan Rachel Wood's did-they-or-didn't-they appearance in Marilyn Manson's saucy "Heart Shaped Glasses"--with her motivations not exactly hard to suss, since she was Manson's girlfriend at the time. But nowadays you can hardly shake a stick at a music video without scratching a slumming actor who seems to have no ostensible connection to the act at hand. When Megan Fox shows up in an Eminem clip, or Daniel Radcliffe plays drunk in Slow Club's new video, they are conveying to us that they are serious music lovers who have a life and aesthetics outside of their blockbusters and are not just all about the paycheck.
And now, with these latest videos, they're showing us that they are not just all about taking home the wardrobe, either.