Mariah Carey: "Up Out My Face"
From the album Angels Advocate (2010)
Video directed by Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon
Mariah Carey's new video, "Up Out My Face," relies heavily on the naughty nurse stereotype. Imagery fusing the profession of nursing with female sexuality has been common worldwide for decades. So even though it's "just a joke!", such imagery undermines nurses' claims to respect and resources, and discourages many promising students from joining the profession, as recent research shows. Carey has always been a musician with an amazing instrument, but she has also been known for a particular way of promoting her work, as described in detail in a 2004 Sonic Youth song about her. That song appeared on the band's Sonic Nurse album, and given Carey's approach to her career, maybe it was inevitable that Carey herself would someday turn to nursing--naughty nursing. "Up Out My Face" is competent but unremarkable hip-hop product from the 2009 album Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. The song itself has no nursing imagery, but in the uninspired video for the song's remix with rapper Nicki Minaj, Carey and her co-director (and husband) Nick Cannon put the naughty nurse right up in our faces. Carey and Minaj appear in skimpy "nurse" outfits, complete with caps, white stockings, and high heels. The song, which will appear on Carey's 2010 remix album Angels Advocate, is actually a kiss-off to a former lover, so it would seem to reverse the standard naughty nurse theme of sexual availability. But the point seems to be to show the ex-lover (and us) just what he will be missing because Mariah and Nicki have moved on. These outfits are an obvious way to do that, but there are countless others. So maybe Mimi could emancipate herself from the naughty nurse stereotype.
Read more below or go straight to our letter-writing campaign!
"Up Out My Face," written by Carey and producers Terius "The-Dream" Nash and Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, presents the singer as a would-be thugette, telling a man who has apparently cheated on her that their relationship is permanently broken, so he should just leave her alone. Some sample lyrics:
That last part is the only mildly amusing part of the original song. Minaj, a fairly skilled Lil Wayne protégé who was not on the original song, adds a little more flavor and aggression to the remix. For example:
In the video, "Mimi" and "Nicki" appear in different costumes, including as dolls breaking out of their boxes, and at other points in evening wear, celebrating. But perhaps the main theme for both stars, particularly Carey, is the naughty nurse outfit: a very short, tight white "nurse" dress revealing cleavage, complete with cap, white stockings, and high heels, all of which enable more effective pouting and preening. The other outfits and props echo the red and white theme established by the nurse image. At a couple points, Nicki applies her stethoscope to Mariah's chest, checking her heart rate. At another point, Mariah pulls a bunch of bills out of her nurse outfit's cleavage and throws them.
Carey reportedly had a lot of fun making this video, and that shows in her interactions with Minaj. But the video is formulaic, with predictable poses and shots, and key lyrics at times displayed in large letters in case we don't get it (by the way, the main idea is "up out my face"!). The liberated doll idea really goes nowhere because there's no suggestion that the man was restraining Mariah; he was just cheating. There are also appearances by a marching band, which plays the song in a reprise at the end of the video (as in the reprise following the original song on the 2009 album). But the marching band thing in pop is not exactly new either, and in recent years it has been an element of performances by artists ranging from Kanye West to Radiohead.
In the end, "Up Out My Face" is a competent urban track, with up-to-date production, an okay keyboard-driven hook, and lyrics whose swagger is generally uninspired and at times ugly. Nicki makes the song more fun, but the tossed-off quality of the video just accentuates what's weakest in the song, reminding us that it can be filed under the heading of what Carey's done for a long time: adopting "street" musical and lyrical elements in order to reach a broader demographic, and and presenting herself sexually in a way that seems pretty gratuitous, a far cry from the inventive musical and visual work of sexually-oriented artists like Madonna or Lady GaGa.
Unfortunately, this "here are my breasts!" approach fits all too easily with the naughty nurse. This video seems to run counter to classic naughty nurse themes, as Mariah is telling a man to go away. However, it still associates nursing with sex, because the singer is showing her ex-lover what he has lost, as the lyrics stress so gracefully ("No you ain't getting it, no you ain't hittin' it"). But could it be that Carey and Cannon are subtly suggesting that the video stars will be "nursing" themselves--or each other, with that hot stethoscope action--back to health after this nasty breakup, moving on to a better relationship? Not likely, especially since there's no suggestion of a need for healing in the lyrics, which convey only bitterness and triumphal vengeance. Or are these "imperfect angels," in "advocating" for all women who have to survive such bad male behavior, commenting on another nursing stereotype (the angel), and even nurses' very real duty to advocate for patients? LOL, smiley face, have a nice day!
So it appears that the naughty nurse outfits are just another sexual cliché, an unimaginative way to help sell the video (that is, the remix album). And the images seem to have done their job: Well over two million people watched the video on YouTube alone in the first couple weeks after its late January 2010 release, and the naughty nurse theme got significant mainstream press coverage, such as in Marcus Barnes's January Daily Mail (UK) article, "Almost forty, but still naughty: Mariah Carey rolls back the years as a racy nurse in her brand new video." That piece also included plenty of naughty nurse still photos from the video.
Pop stars like Mariah Carey can actually use sexual imagery to sell their work without reinforcing the naughty nurse stereotype, which has undermined real nurses for decades, presenting their work as being all about female sexuality. The naughty nurse imagery that continues to permeate global pop culture tells people that nursing is just a tired sex joke, not a profession for educated men and women who need more clinical and educational resources if they are to keep saving lives. So maybe the image could get up out our faces.
Please increase the power of your voice by mailing your letter to:
The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board Members or Advisory Panel of The Truth About Nursing.
The URL for this page is www.truthaboutnursing.org/media/music/2010/mariah_carey.html