While Maroon 5’s “Animals” probably won’t be as big of a hit as Robin Thicke’s consent-ignorant “Blurred Lines,” “Animals” has taken the narrative of questionable consent and doubled-down with a music video that blatantly glorifies stalking and sexual violence against women. No blurred lines here. Lead singer Adam Levine plays a self-conscious, glasses-wearing butcher who stalks a woman for the length of the music video, which ends in a sex scene dripping with blood.
When Levine’s not groping carcasses hanging from hooks and rubbing animal blood on his chest, he’s treating the woman he’s stalking like a piece of meat: like something he has a right to, something to devour. It’s hard for your skin not to crawl with lyrics like, “Baby, I’m preying on you tonight/Hunt you down eat you alive … Maybe you think that you can hide/I can smell your scent from miles” and lastly “So what you trying to do to me,” which puts the blame on the shoulders of the victim.
Levine follows the woman (played by his real-life wife, model Behati Prinsloo) down the street in broad daylight, stands outside her house in the rain, secretly photographs her and develops the photos in his own dark room, follows her into a bar and even lies down next to her in her bed while she sleeps unsuspectingly. She has no characterization outside of being an object of the stalker’s desire.
Several groups such as RAINN and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center have condemned Maroon 5’s song and video and denounced the depiction of stalking as nothing less than deplorable. RAINN said in a statement:
No one should ever confuse the criminal act of stalking with romance. The trivialization of these serious crimes, like stalking, should have no place in the entertainment industry.
Maroon 5’s members, and video director Samuel Bayer, probably thought they were being edgy by making the stalker appear sleek and sexy. But they have only glorified a threatening and frequently violent figure in society and portrayed him as someone who simply cannot resist natural “animal” urges.
Anna Davies over at Refinery29 argued that because Levine and Prinsloo are a married couple in real life, the sexual stalking in the music video is actually artful. To Davies, their relationship renders the situation in the music video as fantasy. In regards to Levine playing the stalker and Prinsloo playing the stalked, Davies wrote,
…even though these roles are disturbing, I don’t think they should be ‘wrong’ or ‘taboo’ within the confines of a safe, sane, and consensual relationship.
Yes, viewers know that Levine and Prinsloo aren’t actually those people. They know that the couple are acting as characters and that the music video itself is fiction. However, stalking is not a fictional act. It’s a crime. It happens every single day all over the world. Stalking doesn’t happen in safe relationships and it certainly isn’t consensual.
Even if Levine and Prinsloo are just trying on roles for the sake of “art,” their art does not exist in a vacuum. Saying that the video is acceptable because they’re married erases the millions of people who are stalked by partners and former partners every year (and sometimes assaulted and murdered). The blood-drenched sex scene at the end of “Animals” is clearly only happening in the stalker’s fantasy, but the marriage of the real-life actors may imbue the scene with a sense of consent for some viewers, which is highly problematic given the violent aesthetic of the video and the plain-old fact that stalking is not consensual and does not yield consensual sex as a reward.
The fact that the gory sex scene comes after Prinsloo’s character rejects the stalker is alarming as well, especially since they do “it” in a shower of (presumably animal) blood and it’s nearly impossible to dissociate the blood from the dangling carcasses, from Levine butchering meat with a knife and from the camera’s obsession with Prinsloo’s body. One can also draw the conclusion that the brutality and sex are intrinsically linked to the stalker’s rejection. When you put it all together, the video is nauseatingly violent.
Even though the outrage and disgust over this particular video will fade in time, it’s important to speak up every time a music video, song, film, etc. is released that glorifies sexual violence and stalking. Maroon 5’s “Animals” won’t be the last. But we must send the message: Stalking isn’t edgy.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Alan licensed under Creative Commons 2.0