By Bel Mooney
Please don’t take it the wrong way when I tell you that it was Cliff Richard who introduced me to sex.
In 1958, Cliff’s single Move It (described as ‘Britain’s first rock ’n’ roll record’ by John Lennon) topped the charts, and he visited Liverpool on tour — wiggling like Elvis in his shocking pink suit.
I have no illusions as to precisely why that was so exciting. How my friends and I screamed! I was 12 years old.
That memory is an important reminder that the pop industry has always thrived on sexy rebellion.
The fact that my father detested Cliff for his ‘jungle music’ made it all the more thrilling for me.
Why then do I sympathise with music mogul Mike Stock’s condemnation of the pornification of pop?
Because what was once rebellious is now mainstream and inescapable; what was once suggestive is now graphically explicit — and, most worryingly of all, it’s being aimed at a fan base that is getting younger and younger.
Stock (one third of the legendary pop factory Stock, Aitken and Waterman) has publicly attacked pop culture for prematurely ‘sexualising’ today’s children.
He believes it’s all gone too far: ‘These days you can’t watch modern stars — such as Britney Spears or Lady Gaga — with a two-year-old.
‘Now, 99 per cent of the charts is R&B and 99 per cent of that is pornography.’
If an ordinary person came out with a statement like that the critics would be quick to sneer about ‘moral panic’.
If you dare to challenge the ‘anything goes’ conventions of our society you get dismissed as a prude.
But Stock is the man who launched the career of Kylie Minogue and has made his fortune from the business he’s condemning.
Even then, he obviously feels he has to defend himself in advance by adding: ‘It’s not about me being old-fashioned. It’s about keeping values that are important in the modern world.’
Can it really be as bad as he claims?
People like me don’t sit around watching pop videos because there’s no time, and anyway, they’re hardly aimed at my generation.
But it’s the generation they are aimed that has caused Stock’s alarm.
I wrote an article about going to a Pussycat Dolls/Rihanna concert at Wembley in 2006, when I was amazed at the vast number of children in the audience.
They’d been taken by their parents to see an adult show full of pumping music and thrusting dancers: raunch from start to finish.
It was a Sunday night in school term time. No place for children, let alone toddlers.
With that experience in mind, I knew what to expect yesterday when — to investigate Stock’s claims — I settled down to watch a series of Lady Gaga videos on YouTube.
But even I was taken aback by the relentlessness of the imagery — not just sexual, but cruel, too.
The undertones of violence are as obvious as the sex.
Bad Romance contains bondage and grotesque sexual violence; Paparazzi is particularly tasteless with its references to death and disability; while Alejandro is full of jackboots, bondage and menace — culminating in a hideous gang-attack/rape on a nun-type figure.
I don’t deny the theatrical impact or the professionalism of the product. No matter that the choreography is repetitive — all crotch-clutching, writhing and open-mouthed suggestiveness.
No matter that the male dancers have to be tattooed to get the job — this is, after all, rough trade.
No matter that the mesmeric electro-beat is synthetic to a point of mind-numbing tedium.
No matter that the lyrics reach depths such as: ‘Let’s have some fun, this beat is sick/I wanna take a ride on your disco stick.’
The point is Lady Gaga has sold more than 15 million albums and 40 million singles worldwide. She’s a phenomenon — who knows that she must up the ante all the time in order to go on selling.
Even if it means launching yourself into a festival crowd wearing nothing but a fishnet body suit and a pair of tiny knickers, not caring who grabs you.
Sleaze and Gaga are two sides of the same coin, which wouldn’t matter if all this took place between consenting adults.
But any eight-year-old can watch this stuff on the TV or computer — and they do.
‘Mothers of young children are worried because you can’t control the TV remote control,’ says Mike Stock.
‘Before children even step into school they have all these images — the pop videos and computer games, such as Grand Theft Auto — confronting them, and the parents can’t control it.’
Pop music has always used subtle sexual innuendo, but once it wasn’t de rigueur.
Now raunchy R&B and hip-hop seem to have a stranglehold on the market, so that what used to be edgy and extreme is now the commercial mainstream.
One of the results is that female singers are happy to flog themselves as sex objects.
Cher probably started it 20 years ago with the video for If I Could Turn Back Time being briefly banned on MTV because of her outrageous outfit.
Today, a minute black leather thong, buttock tattoo, fishnets and leather jacket wouldn’t turn a hair. Cher and Madonna were the ‘mothers’ of this pop-porn chic.
Even Cheryl Cole (the most sexy woman in the world, according to the men’s magazine FHM) chose to perform on The X Factor wearing boots and bizarre side-split trousers that showed her knickers. Did she need to? No. Cheryl Cole would look beautiful in a boiler suit.
But such porn-fashion infects the majority of pop videos — from Katy Perry’s wide-eyed suggestiveness to Britney Spears’s tired old sleaze.
And therefore it’s on the High Street.
The costumes familiar from pop videos have become (more or less) what every teen wants to wear on a Saturday night out.
Make no mistake, many young girls (and women) believe the only way to look attractive is to look sexy, and to look sexy you have to look trashy.
It’s a short step from that to behaving like, well, trash. That’s a word I intensely dislike (unless applied to the contents of the dustbin), but I use it deliberately.
Sadly, many young women don’t value themselves much higher.
The messages they receive through the screen as children affect their behaviour — and anyone who suggests they don’t is ignorant of the power of advertising and the market.
Last year, a survey published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that teenagers who preferred pop songs with degrading sexual references were more likely to become sexually active.
Note that the emphasis was on ‘degrading’ lyrics — which is a world away from the love (and longing) traditionally associated with pop music, as well as the naughty innuendo of Chuck Berry’s complaint, ‘I couldn’t unfasten her safety belt’ in his 1964 hit No Particular Place To Go.
The research concluded that exposure to raunchy sex in the media could certainly be a risk factor, encouraging young people to experiment sexually at a young age.
I have no doubt that those who defend the ‘message’ of Lady Gaga and the raunchy pop sisterhood will say that their videos make them look ‘powerful.’
After all, a woman made tall by platform boots, dressed in a sci-fi outfit and strutting her stuff can look as if she could rule the world.
But that’s an illusion. The artistes are controlled by a powerful management who know this is all about sexuality — while Cheryl Cole, left, joins in with the over-exposure selling an image.
And the image, handed down to ordinary young girls, is that of a very easy conquest.
That message is, I’m afraid, reflected in too many statistics to bore you with here.
A shocking number of young people are so accustomed to all the varieties of porn (the real stuff as well as its fashionable pop-culture spin-off) they carry its conventions through into their own behaviour.
Boys expect certain sexual ‘services’ from their girlfriends that were once the province of prostitutes. And the girls feel they have to comply — or seem hopelessly strait-laced. It’s nasty.
Like Mike Stock, I wish we could turn back the clock to the time when Elvis’s fully-clothed wiggle changed the history of popular music for ever. But of course, that’s impossible.
Yet I applaud this one man with influence in the music business for speaking out.
For the rest — well, I wish that the producers of music videos would realise that ‘restraint’ is not a dirty word and that selling everything by means of the nastiest sexual message has a long-term corrupting effect on the next generation.
They won’t, of course. But just don’t tell me that doesn’t matter.