Rihanna's jeans shorts thong featured in her video for "Pour it Up" made culture watchers wonder whether this "good girl gone bad" has gone too far.
The Bajan performer is part of a trend among female pop stars towards baring their booties to sell songs.
Feminist web site Jezebel.com published an essay in response to ladies such as Rihanna and Miley Cyrus frequently appearing in videos scantily clad (and bent over). Fashion blog The Cut also offered its analysis, "Pop Stars Only Wear Thongs Now; Going Pantsless Is Not Enough."
Both analyze why thonged butt cheeks represent the latest line crossed by women artists in the interest of being provocative. Yet, much like the sound of such cheeks clapping, critics believe these fashion statements amount to empty – though entertaining – sounds.
Rashida Jones calls out women artists
These artists often speak of female empowerment in their increasing nudity, but actress Rashida Jones – daughter of producer Quincy Jones – begs to differ.
She jumped into the heat of these discussions via Twitter, referring to today's crop of thong-wearing entertainers as "whores."
"This week's celeb news takeaway: She who comes closest to showing the actual inside of her vagina is most popular. #stopactinglikewhores," Jones tweeted.
The negative Twitter responses to her statement were swift. "Stop policing how women dress #slutshaming," wrote one user.
"I used to look up to you for being a highly educated actress but now I think you're a bit of a misogynist," tweeted another.
The star of NBC's Parks and Recreation then defended her assertions in an essay for Glamour.
"Every star interprets 'sexy' the same way: lots of skin, lots of licking of teeth, lots of bending over," Jones penned. "I find this oddly...boring. Can't I just like a song without having to take an ultrasound tour of some pop star's privates?"
Jones confirms feminist identity
Jones took issue with accusations of "slut shaming," or judging women's sexuality according to sexist standards.
"I consider myself a feminist," she retorted. "I would never point a finger at a woman for her actual sexual behavior, and I think all women have the right to express their desires. But I will look at women with influence – millionaire women who use their 'sexiness' to make money – and ask some questions. There is a difference, a key one, between 'shaming' and 'holding someone accountable.'"
Yet, there is a certain type of artist Jones is pinpointing. Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus, Ke$ha, and even Lady Gaga – with her new R. Kelly duet "Do What U Want" – are all black, or have borrowed heavily from urban culture to develop their mass appeal.
They also have a propensity for baring – or popping – their backsides when the time comes to promote an album.
Artists such as Katy Perry, with her breast-bearing routine employing everything from whipped cream to fireworks to draw attention to them, by contrast gets a pass.
Women of color: Judged more for sexy images
Does race make Perry more respectable, even though she is also hypersexualized?
Some say women of color (and by extension black culture) are held to a double standard when it comes to sexual expression.
"The rules are different for WoC (women of color), especially BW who have been the subject of specific, pervasive, racialized myths that have devalued our sexuality," wrote one commenter on Jezebel.com about the judgements Rihanna faces for a sexy image. "You cannot judge a black woman's sexuality by the rules of white femininity. You just can't do it."
When artists such as Rihanna bring attention to their rears, a staple move of urban eroticism, their race might make them a scapegoat, because black women are typically undervalued.
The line of decency
In comments about Jones' Glamour essay, it has been noted that she, too, has used her sexuality to promote her career, notably posing in lingerie for men's publications.
The irony of Jones criticizing other women for similar acts raises questions about where to draw the line of decency. Yes, Jones has posed in a bra and panties, but not a thong. Does that make her superior? That is certainly worth debating. At one point, posing in underwear was transgressive, pointing to the relativity of these boundaries.
The bigger consideration is the way urban ways of expressing sexuality are a greater burden for women of color and women who adopt such styles. While Madonna and Katy Perry are celebrated for their top-heavy way of being sexy, Rihanna tends to be lambasted for her bottom.
Of course, Rihanna's thong is not a big deal. But the interest spurred by this controversy is vital. Hopefully, through considering these and related questions, we can come to a place in which women artists – and women in general – will cease to be judged differently based on their race, and purely on whether their expressions advance our culture.
(Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter @lexisb.)