In 2006, Justin Timberlake claimed that he had brought "Sexy Back." But he didn't bring it nearly as far back as his latest hit, "Tunnel Vision," does.
The song itself wouldn't raise many eyebrows. Lyrics focus on the metaphor of having tunnel vision to describe how Justin now only has eyes for one woman. "A crowded room anywhere, a million people around, all I see is you," Timberlake tells the woman who has completely captured his attention. "That everything just disappears, disappears, disappears, disappears/Yeah, a million people in a crowded room/But my camera lens's only been set to zoom/And it all becomes so clear, becomes so clear, becomes so clear/I got that tunnel vision for you."
He's equally clear that having "tunnel vision" for just one woman is a new thing for him: "Now that I know the truth, what am I supposed to do?/Changing up and breaking all my rules ever since we met/I'm so gone, I'm so gone, I'm so gone/Just like a movie shoot, I'm zooming in on you/Everything is extra, in the background, just fades into the set/As we ride off into the sun."
It's harshly ironic, then, that while the song talks at length about zooming in on one special woman, the accompanying video features three. And, as was the case in Robin Thicke's recent hit "Blurred Lines," they're all topless and uncensored.
For nearly seven minutes, the video cuts back and forth between images of Justin singing and these three women dancing, often very sensually and suggestively, with the majority of their sexual anatomy on full display. In addition to breast nudity throughout the video, bare sides and backsides are seen as well. (For full-frontal images, the women wear flesh-colored thongs.)
Images of Justin's face are then projected onto their bodies. And the lyric "I know you like it" shows up in big block letters in the background.
It's a message that reflects a much more rancid meaning after six-and-a-half minutes of naked models writhing and arching.
Thicke's "Blurred Lines" was quickly banned by YouTube due to its explicit nudity. And it looked as though "Tunnel Vision" would receive the same treatment. But YouTube made an exception to its typical no nudity or explicit content standard. In a statement made to ABC News, a spokesperson for the Google-owned website said, "While our guidelines generally prohibit nudity, we make exceptions when it is presented in an educational, documentary or artistic context, and take care to add appropriate warnings and age-restrictions."
It's an arbitrary distinction to say the very least. "I guess though Google considers Timberlake a capital-A Artist, they don't feel the same about his more direct-to-DVD doppelganger Robin Thicke," wrote boston.com media critic Scott Kearnan. "And another question: why is Timberlake's video considered artistic, and exempt from a ban, but Thicke's is not? They ba$ically $eem like the $ame video, albeit by two artists with very different level$ of $ucce$$. I wonder what explain$ the di$$imilar perception$ of them."
But beyond the talk about big money, I'm more worried about what this "exception" will do to the future of music videos. Now that Timberlake has opened the door to significant amounts of female nudity in a mainstream video on YouTube, will other "arti$tic" singers start rushing to do the same?
It's a rhetorical question, of course. The answer is a flat yes. YouTube—our online culture's new MTV—will have a very hard time saying no.