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Shakira & the sex factor

The video for her new single, She Wolf, has Shakira on all fours inside a cage, wearing a nude-effect leotard, shiny corset belt and very high heels. She whips her hair from side to side, breathing heavily. She mimes licking the bars for a while and then wraps her thighs behind her head.

This video’s had 35 million views on YouTube. At 32, Shakira is now the fourth wealthiest woman in music, after Madonna, Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand, with a fortune estimated at £23m.

How to square this, then, with the fate of Kandy Rain, the girl group that became the first act to be voted off this year’s X Factor? Slammed by the judges for being too “provocative”, Kandy Rain found the public to be equally unforgiving. Am I the only one who found it faintly surreal to watch these young women being told they didn’t stand a chance in today’s music industry because everyone thought they showed too much young, toned flesh and should have dressed more “demurely”?

I’m confused. Do we want pop stars to be sexy, or not? (There is, obviously, a vast differential in the quality of songwriting in the case of Shakira v Kandy Rain, but we shall leave that aside just for now, on the grounds that both acts are, on their very different levels, as much a visual act as an aural one.) Often, the furore around female singers and sex is couched in terms of their being too old (Madonna) or too young (Britney Spears circa 1998) or too thin (any of Girls Aloud) or too fat (Britney Spears circa 2007). But what happens when the women in question are of respectable age and BMI?

Sex still sells, but these days it’s a crowded market. As Kandy Rain have just discovered the hard way, raunch culture has made the once-potent commodity of glassy-eyed hip thrusts in stilettos such an everyday element of pop culture that we can’t even be bothered to pick up the phone and vote for it any more.

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