Sex in Videos: Where’s the Line?

Sex in Videos: Where’s the Line?, a new special produced by CMT News, debuts Friday (Aug. 22) at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CMT.

Sexual imagery is nothing new to country music. If you don’t believe it, consider the lyrics to the lyrics of Conway Twitty’s “You’ve Never Been This Far Before” or “I’d Love to Lay You Down.”

On second thought, forget the lyrics. The titles alone say it all.

With the flash of guitarist Joe Don Rooney’s bare backside, however, Rascal Flatts took things to the next level in their video for “I Melt.” Even those who never saw the video were enlightened when Jay Leno joked about it during his Tonight Show monologue.

In the new CMT News special, Sex in Videos: Where’s the Line? , journalist Rob Tannenbaum of Blender magazine suggests, “I don’t want to make more of Joe Don’s ass than there is. But his ass in this case stands for a larger question of what’s happening to country music. How much can it evolve and still be country?”

Among those addressing the issue on the special are Shania Twain, Dolly Parton, Sara Evans, Blake Shelton and Rascal Flatts. Many point to Twain as the act who raised country music’s temperature.

Blair Garner, host of the After MidNite syndicated radio show, recalls, “When Shania first hit, a lot of people were thinking, ‘She’s so far out there. This is too much.’ But the interesting thing is … the American public said, ‘This is what we’ve been waiting for.’”

Garner adds, “After Shania, all of the rules changed. If you wanted to be a successful female singer, you needed to be able to look the way Shania does. That message was not lost on Sara Evans. That message was not lost on Lee Ann Womack — or LeAnn Rimes.”

Acknowledging that she did, indeed, get the message while watching Twain’s videos, Evans changed her visual image while releasing Born to Fly. Released in 2000, the project has sold almost 2 million copies to make Evans a major country star.

“Definitely, I used sex appeal on my ‘Born to Fly’ video,” Evans says, “and it changed my career. I can tell you that it makes a huge difference.”

Of course, not everyone is in favor of sexual images in country videos. In a recent poll conducted on CMT.com, about a third of the respondents agree that CMT should not show videos that include nudity. Younger viewers were less offended than older viewers.

“I think the old expression is that a conservative is a liberal with children,” says Ed Vitagliano of the American Family Association. “I think parents, especially, get very nervous about a lot of sexual content on television.” He adds, “I guess in the back of my mind, I always thought that country music was God and country and family, and they were a little less prone in that industry to hype the sex angle.”

Shelton doesn’t pass judgment on the approaches other artists have taken in their music videos. “This is a very competitive business, and it should be based on nothing more than great music,” he says. “But the truth is, that’s not what this is about anymore.

“You have to evolve to survive. And that’s what Rascal Flatts has done. They’ve been the first to take that step and say, ‘Let’s try this. Let’s see what will happen.’ And it worked for them. I don’t care how many people say, ‘No, it didn’t work — because I’m not going to buy their records anymore.’ Yeah, well, you stop, but four more decided they were going to go buy it.”

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.