Last night at the Video Music Awards, American Idol winner Jordin Sparks veered from the script to defend herself against the incessant mocking of the Jonas Brothers’ vows of chastity by host Russell Brand. “I just have one thing to say about promise rings. It’s not bad to wear a promise ring, because not everybody–guy or girl–wants to be a slut,” she said as an amused John Legend looked on. Sparks is a promise ring wearer herself; she chatted up her no-sex stance in the weeks after winning Idol, and she toiled in the Christian-pop scene before singing in front of Randy, Paula, Simon, and America. But is her dissent, and the somewhat positive reaction it’s been getting in the VMA afterglow, a harbinger of a less sexed-up world of pop music? And was it only a matter of time?
Let’s face it: Culture is in a particularly porny period. Every famous person has had either a sex tape or a rumor about the existence of one out there; Joe Francis continues to roam free; people are adding the acronym “ILF” to the two letters that stand for “vice” and “president” for what I think may be the first time ever; and on the pop side of things, you have the just-now-loosening vice grip of the unsexily “sexy” “I Kissed A Girl,” with its robotic glam-stomp and dead-eyed lyrics, on the pop charts. Could Sparks’ putting her foot down last night be the beginning of a larger cultural pull-back from the hypersexualized world–even, maybe, because sexuality isn’t the marketing machine it used to be, thanks to its desensitizing near-omnipresence?
There is the matter of Sparks’ wording, of course; not everyone who has sex before marriage is a slut (unless they want to be, I guess?). But I wonder if her choosing to use the word “slut” in that particular context was as much a function of her anger at feeling slighted as it was her despondency about what a woman “has to” do in order to present herself in the current pop landscape. Sparks probably wouldn’t have made it to the VMA stage if she hadn’t won Idol, and she definitely wouldn’t have reached it had she gone through the traditional pop-star gears; not very many plus-sized models go the MTV route, after all.
It’s something to think about, particularly as whatever music can be labeled popular right now remains so rooted in being performed by adolescents. I wouldn’t expect a regression to songs about soda shops and teen angels, mind you, but I do wonder if last night represented something of a turning point for at least a few people outside of the Christian-pop world as far as being able to tolerate the hot-pink-outlined, borderline-unerotic “sexuality” that’s the inevitable result of even the most playfully erotic tropes being put through the commodification machine, and that’s so often held up as a quality worth admiring.
Of course, this all could be moot in five years, when Sparks writes a tell-all in which she reveals that her outburst last night was the result of some particularly potent mind-altering substance. After all, in some prominent pop cases, the talk of “virginity pledges” and “promise rings” have been little more than a ploy–and one need look no further than the person sitting next to Sparks in the above photo for proof of that particular concept.