The Great Twerk Debate


I’ve got a new pleasure, and it’s not guilty. The metal band Mastodon’s music video for their new song, “Motherload”, started a great twerk debate, and I am in love with all of it.

Mastodon became a bit of a progressive metal staple by loading albums full of stories often fantastical and deeply personal. Their recent music video for their song “Motherload” shattered any expectation. Mastodon managed to fuse classic esoteric 90’s music videos with pure, raw twerk. It is a bizarre video with an even more bizarre debate around it.

To summarize, the video is full to the brim with odd images of vaguely pagan rituals. The first forty seconds or so start the whole thing off like it was any average Metal music video. Strange robed men with pale skin slowly carry an old bell. The screen pans over to scantily clad women from just off-screen start full on booty clapping. Black veined and half naked men stand completely still. In front of them, the twerking continues in slow motion. The camera catches every ripple of flesh as they connect to form a wave of continuous movement.

Everything happens with little connection to everything else. The weird Metal imagery and the twerking never connect, one just happens in front of the other. By the end, the video cuts in between shots of the band playing and the women dancing. There’s even a part where one of the dancers twerks so hard that the video falls into a psychedelic kaleidoscope of spiraling booty shaking. Unlike in other music videos the dancers do not exist to affirm the band’s collective virility. The dancers and the band perform separately, but in the same area. It really is confusing.

Mastodon only just joined the ass obsession, but Metal fans are going to war over the band’s new move. The Youtube comments are the battleground. Some old hardliners insist that Metal is better than this! Mastodon besmirches the age old art of blazing guitar solos and double bass-drum beats with their bouncing butt bloated music video.

The progressive metal vanguards enter, fighting for Mastodon’s metal citizenship. Some of Mastodon’s defenders tell the fuddy duddies on the other side to relax, while others cover for Mastodon with satire. The serious metal band that made stories of astral projecting Vikings must be commenting on modern, sexist pop and rap music.

Outsiders come in to scold some metal fans for feeding into the genre’s negative image. Some people are just there to have fun. They get mad that so many people miss out on genuinely impressive music paired with genuinely impressive dancing just to argue with strangers on the internet. The controversy goes past comments and into commentary.

The Guardian published an article, decrying the video as sexist and immature. The author calls it a step backward for a genre that had since grew out of its chauvinist roots. A feminist outlet, Slutist, admonished the piece for putting the dancers and their control of their bodies and sexuality on front stage.

mastodon twerk article group pic
Picture courtesy of Revolver Magazine

One of the dancers came forward and explained how Mastodon selected local dancers from all walks of life to perform and have fun. She lauded the band for their behavior in doing something unheard of, and the way they centered the video on dancers from the Atlanta community, a community that long supported Mastodon.

The band’s singer/drummer Brann Dailor chimed in in an interview with Pitchfork. He explained that the band knew how serious they could be. They use quirky, offbeat music videos to do something to lighten up their heavy catalog.

Mastodon started off wanting to make a semi-satirical homage to classic 90’s metal music videos. They intended to satirize metal, not rap. They just needed something to knock the video over the edge into the absurd. A sexual dance battle did the trick probably better than Dailor anticipated.

Dailor even addressed the Guardian article. “I’m really upset!” he said candidly, “[…] this was really a fun thing that doesn’t really mean too much. It’s not to be taken so seriously. ” Dailor only enriched the discussion. He did not try to end the issue by defending the video as satire on mainstream sexism, or something meant to be straight sexy or empowering. Instead he asked his listeners to take the band’s silliness seriously.

What the hell? Are you telling me to take Metal lightly? Heavy is in the name, pal! Am I supposed to just consume your media without thinking seriously about it, Mastodon? What a ridiculous request.

Speaking sincerely, Mastodon did something awesome by starting a conversation that captures so many different stances of sex, society, twerking, Metal and media all at once. The band fused two contrasting things, and ended up unearthing so many more contradictions. I have no idea who is in the right, or what it means for music. But a heavy band’s light look at local dancers stirred up a lot of people, and that should be absurd enough for anyone to appreciate! Bring on the swirl of psychedelic booty!

~Austin R Ryan