Surprise surprise—Miley Cyrus found herself at the center of controversy yesterday, this time for the music video for her second #BANGER of 2013, the ballad “Wrecking Ball.” The main goal of the video was evidently to get writers to exhaust their arsenal for nudity puns, as the emotional nakedness of the video’s beginning was quickly supplanted by the literal nakedness of the video’s middle and end, with a 100% clothesless Miley riding an actual wrecking ball in the clip’s most arresting image. Some found it tacky, some found it cheap, some just found it kinda weird and off-putting, but all were talking about it, which for 2013 Miley is an obvious victory unto itself. (And sure enough, within 24 hours of the video’s premiere, the song has crept back to #1 on the iTunes charts.)
Of course, this kind of media baiting can’t be perpetrated alone, and Miley had a high-profile and incredibly obvious partner-in-crime on this one: Fashion photographer and noted creepy dude Terry Richardson, whose art has always ridden the fine line between titillation and evocation and a lot of other adjectives that are far less artistically credible (and in some cases, far more legally problematic). Terry is mostly known for his shutterbugging, but he’s had some extensive work behind the video camera as well, in provocative shorts featuring the likes of Lady Gaga and Kate Upton (remember that?), and also in a handful of music videos, of which “Wrecking Ball” is the latest and quickly the most infamous.
Here’s a look back at some of Terry’s pre-Miley video work, some of which is pretty good, some of which is kinda creepy, and of course, a whole lot of which is a little bit of both:
JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION, “MAGICAL COLORS” (1999)
Terry’s earliest music video work barely counts as a music video at all, since it’s really just a rapid-fire collection of tenuously connected still photographs—some, but not most, of the actual band—strung together like a moving photo album. There’s a whole lot of weird and totally unexplained imagery, and yeah, some nudity, though often it’s just of some anonymous mooning asses.
Creepy?: A little, though more for the random shots of guns and child abuse prevention center signs than for anything sexual.
Exploitative?: Probably, but at least not for any one person for too long a period of time.
Good?: Sure, in its own way. Not a Buzz Bin-era classic or anything, but it fits the laidback, retro and vaguely sexy vibe of the song pretty well.
DEATH IN VEGAS, “AISHA” (1999)
A much more cinematic entry, “Aisha” features a (scantily dressed, natch) woman running panickedly through the woods from an unseen assailant, which at the end turns out to be Richardson himself. (Don’t worry, he’s just the director on what’s revealed to be a video shoot—how meta.)
Creepy?: Undoubtedly, but again, more for reasons of suspense and horror than the usual with T-Rich.
Exploitative?: Well, there’s no real reason why the fleeing woman couldn’t also have been wearing a bra, but there’s no actual nudity and the woman is clearly of adult age, at least.
Good?: Yeah, paired with guest vocalist Iggy Pop’s serial-killer confessions (“I’M A MURDERER!”), it made for one of the more unforgettable videos of its era, helping to make Death in Vegas stars in the UK, and even getting them a little late-night play on MTV over here.
WHIRLWIND HEAT, “PURPLE” (2003)
The Jack White-approved Detroit garage-rock trio somehow hooked up with Richardson for this video of the band frolicking in the woods with some sort of beardog mascot, a couple extremely enthusiastic female fans and a whole lot of exploding stuffed animals. Ahh, the New Rock Revolution.
Creepy?: Yup. Starts off innocuously enough, but soon enough the pigtailed girls are licking their lips, sucking on candy necklaces and wrestling each other in mud (and fields of teddy bears). Probably something to be said about Chekhov’s Short Shorts here.
Exploitative?: Basically. Those shorts are pretty damn short, and one of the girls (model Kemp Muhl) was only 16 at the time. And honestly, who wrestles in a muddy field of teddy bears?
Good?: Nah, it’s kinda amateurish and low-rent—sorta like the band itself. There’s a reason why you haven’t thought of Whirlwind Heat in a decade, if ever.
QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, “EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT YOU’RE INSANE” (2005)
A naked guy frolicks around a house, including the snow-covered rooftop, with a superimposed pic of Richardson’s smiling face covering up his genitals. That’s about it. Oh, and at one point he also humps a giant teddy bear with Richardson’s face on it.
Creepy?: Needless to say.
Exploitative: Sure, though the guy—apparently T-Rich’s assistant Keiji—does appear to be having the absolute time of his life.
Good?: No, but it wasn’t the song’s official music video or anything anyway. One for the home collection, perhaps.
YOUNG LOVE, “FIND A NEW WAY” (2007)
An attractive model (Kemp Muhl again, though by 2007 she was a legal adult at least) dances around the shirtless Young Love singer Dan Keyes, makes out with him a couple times, and is sporadically chased around the empty black-and-white stage by a dude in a gorilla suit.
Creepy?: Only in its very last shot, which reveals Richardson under the cover with the gorilla-suit guy. So close to getting out unscathed…
Exploitative?: Surprisingly not. It’s hot, but never quite crosses the line into cheapness—even when Muhl is shown naked, she’s tastefully covered up by sheets.
Good?: Yeah, not bad. Just a quality sexy, black-and-white rock & roll video. Herb Ritts would be proud.
SKY FERREIRA, “RED LIPS” (2012)
An underwear-clad Sky has a spider crawl all over her body—yes, all over—while she covers her entire face in red lipstick, which she eventually wipes over the rest of her body as well.
Creepy?: More for reasons of arachnophobia than anything else. And that lipstick thing is a little too Diane Ladd in Wild at Heart for our stomachs.
Exploitative?: Maybe that spider didn’t need to crawl quite as far down as it did? For Terry Richardson, though, it could have been a lot worse.
Good?: It certainly gets the sexiness and danger of the song across, but it’s a little on the nose for our tastes. We expect better from Sky in the days to come.
And did you hear? Up next for Terry Richardson: A collaboration with Beyonce, on her upcoming single “XO.” Pop’s classiest star, matched with its sleaziest director? We have no idea what to expect, but as always with Terry, we can guarantee a whole lot of people will be talking about it.