Written by: Moussa Saleh
Art work by: Mélissa Chalhoub, based on a character featured in Nancy Ajram’s video clip “Yay”
Translated by H.L.
Sitting editor: Eliza Marks
The music video has become a central element of the success of an artist or the dissemination of a song since the boom of the music video in the Arab region in the early nineteen nineties. Additionally, these videos have become an important tool to promote and advocate for social issues or phenomena, or to reject or contest them. This, of course, comes down to the artist and director of the music video, their intellectual position, and their personal views and concerns.
In this article, we review the most prominent music videos that featured gender non-binary people and gender non-conforming peoples. Through looking at the events of these videos more closely and the roles within them, we aim to reach a higher understanding the purpose of such placements.
Yay: Nancy Ajram – Directed by Nadine Labaki – 2003
In this video, Nancy Ajram plays a woman infatuated with a man, who confides in an effeminate guy friend, portrayed as a “soft” and “flamboyant,” with whom she works.
He is skilled at his job, confident, expressive with his clients, and playful in in his manner. When Nancy tells him about her love interest and his pretty eyes, he treats her with great compassion softness, which, coupled with his pink outfit, reflects his comfort with himself and willingness to defy gender norms.
Lawn Ayounak: Nancy Ajram – Directed by Nadine Labaki – 2004
This next music video is an extension of the previous,Yay Sihr Oyono, showing Nancy’s character at her wedding day with none other than her trusty effeminate friend at her side.
Nancy Ajram and director, Nadine Labkey, managed to attract audiences to this character who defies male-dominated sociality present in the region, one that often rejects an effeminate man because he lacks the “appropriate masculine traits” of roughness and toughness, of hiding all signs of emotion or vulnerability, of wearing dark clothes that represent the extent of their firmness and strictness.
However, this video is not all sweet and supportive. In one scene, we see her friend embrace Nancy, and then freely shed tears of joy for her sake, but also carrying with an exaggerated amount of tissues in his hand. Could this be an attempt to make fun of him or his sensitivity? We might ask the same question in another scene, in which Nancy tosses her flower bouquet over her head to her single guests, a wedding tradition signifying who might be the next for marriage. The irony, here, is that her friend catches the bouquet of flowers by surprise,and is then ridiculed by attendees, who are again mocking his femininity and judge his unwillingness to conform with stereotypical male behaviors.
Nafesh Reeshak: Karina – Directed by Natasha Nahra – 2005
Peacocking! Here, Karina is accompanied by a friend and main support, who defends her against her cocky boyfriend. He owns himself with his spontaneity, free manner, splendid physique, and overall swag and style in feathers and sheer sleeves. Karina clearly adores her vibrant friend, making him a central and positive character in the music video, and perhaps promoting the acceptance of others, especially when it comes to gender fluidity and the expression of gender roles.
Yas Salaam: Nancy Ajram – Directed by Nadine Labaki – 2003
In this third Nancy video, we see her head backstage after a song performance, passing by many other performers who display their exocentric choice of fashion in their clothes and accessories, from feathers to glitter. This walk reveals the vivacious and colorful world that can arise with free expression of the self and body!
Ana Tabee Keda: Nicole Saba – Directed by Yahya Saada – 2007
Nearing the end of Nicole Saba’s music video, the police storm into the night club and arrest the criminals as the credits roll. However, we should note that those arrested might be criminalized for their identity or physical attributes: one whose complexion is too dark, another who is too oversized, a guy flaunting too many accessories, and another who is a feminist.
The music video is an obvious critique of authority, represented here by cops, that invades personal freedom, and particularly in what challenge tradition, gender roles, and societal norms.
Ehk’eily: Mena & Nahla – Drecited by Ahmad Ghazal – 2006
Mena and Nahla’s video features a man performing an oriental dance, wearing a jalabiya, a traditional ethnic dress, silver coins belly dancing hip scarf. The performance is an attempt to break gender stereotypes where belly dance is exclusive to women, and to reclaim a practice that is vital to our history. Despite its essential role, this art form still receives hate and is depicted as cause for disgrace and public outcry.
Daloua’a: Sabah & Rola Saad – Directed by Basheer Asmar – 2006
Following Rola’s arrival at Mrs. Sabah’s concert, famous lady of the Lebanese aristocratic class “Antica Sursak,” played by celebrity impersonator and the first Lebanese drag queen, Bassem Feghali, takes the stage.
Antica takes her throne amidst the audience, shining in her bright dress and dazzling jewelry. Bassem didn’t skimp in his artistic performance, voice, or dance moves, nor did he hesitate when facing society’s (generally negative) views of his art and elegance in imitating female artists. He outdoes himself every time he performs, and added great richness to the video, playing the character competing with Rola to win over a man at the party.
Antica ends the video by saying, “A man is a blessing even if he’s charcoal .” This phrase, repeated through generations of a patriarchal society, suggests every woman’s “need” to have a man in her life, even if he has the ugliest qualities. Phrases and values like these were established and perpetuated by the masculine society and women who encourage it, and resulted in shame associated with gender diversity, causing many non-gender-conforming and gender-non-binary people suffer in the pursuit of a daily life in which they can practice freedom rather than succumb to societal impositions.
Ghorfet Amaleyat: Mohamed Eskndar – Directed by Sam Kayal – 2011
Mohammed Iskandar’s music video that takes place in the operating room addresses cosmetic surgery, that, according to the video’s concept, has become an obsession among women.
Rather than focusing on that part of the video, what we want to highlight the final scene where Mohammed Iskandar’s significant other backs off the magazine that has the model that she wanted to look like. Iskandar then throws it out the window and it lands next to a man’s car. where it is insinuated that the man admired the models look in the magazine and his desire to become like them, because when he looked at himself from the car window the image reflected back was of him looking like a woman.
Mohammed Iskandar and the director aim to convince the viewer that the process of cosmetic surgery is wrong, and in the final scene, this wrongness is linked with transsexuality. This is a clear statement that that gender reassignment surgery or gender confirmation surgery, in their eyes, is wrong, and also is evidence of the male domination of women’s bodies and gender norms.
Dodd Al Ounf: Mohamed Eskandar – Directoed by Fadi Haddad – 2012
This second Mohammed Iskandar song deals with the subject of violence and men, a standard theme in his music. However this time, he outdid himself by promoting the idea that “softness” is a disease that afflicts many men, and is caused by the educational upbringing and their parents’ approach, and especially their mothers.
The clip presents the story of a boy “suffering from the disease of being soft” who gets kicked out of the house by his father. Firstly, it seems that Iskandar encourages parents to kick their children out, rather than offering them acceptance, love, and respect. The video presents this as the right solution, and that he boy is a disgrace who is not worthy of family life. In a later scene, we see the same young man in a nightclub, swaying in a way demonstrates his “softness,” and even exchanging looks with another man and escorting him to the restroom. The forced suggestion of a potential sexual relationship seems to be too much.
Secondly, the video clearly places blame on his mother for not raising her son to be a tough enough. The mother character mother prevents him from playing with the boys in the street and instead allows him play with his sister’s girly toys and try on her high heels. It’s clear that neither Isakandar nor the director have any comprehension of raising children, and instead seek to impose stereotypes that satisfy society idea of masculinity as portrayed in song and music video. Additionally, the video aims to depict Iskander as a ideal symbol of manhood and as protector of men in this fierce battle against “the disease of softness,” as an artist truly engaged in solving one of society’s “great issues.”
All of this shows that Iskander is attempting to incite his audience against “the softness disease” and gender-nonconforming individuals by interfering and attacking them as they have a real disease that must be treated. Iskandar also managed to insult women here, by throwing the blame on her by showing a father’s dissatisfaction as the main cause for “abnormality” and the reason of the nature of a “soft” man.
Shaklak Ma Btaaref: Maya Diab – Directed by Said El Marouk – 2012
Maya Diab is accompanied by a number of half-naked male dancers wearing high-heeled shoes in a choreographed dance of this video. Their choreography shows the strength and freedom of the body, and resists traditional molds that restrict and prevent the expression of the body in non-standard ways that defines these men as deserving of shaming.
Ma Bakhaf: Carole Samaha – Directed by Terry Fern – 2009
“Say what you want to say… I’m not intimidated, I do what I feel like.”
These words are set to pop music Carroll’s video presenting people from a number of age groups, nationalities, races, cultures, and people of unconventional gender in a manner supportive of these differences and variations, indifferent to people’s opinions.
Tatah: Shams – Directed by Yahya Saada – 2008
At Shams’ divorce hearing from her husband, she’s being represented by a divorce lawyer played by a drag queen. This lawyer is distinguished her pride about her body that doesn’t conform to the beauty standards imposed by male society, namely thinness, and her short, pink hair that stands out against more “natural” colors.
The drag queen uses a number of phrases to play her character, including a “come to mama” as an expression and shielding her client from her soon to be ex-husband, the word “khalaana,” which refers to both the act in which the woman asks for a divorce (khali’) and to pull something from its roots. When she says this latter phrase, she took a bedazzled tooth extraction tool to show her strength. This character is inspired by the strong women who treat life with spontaneity and humor.
Bhebak Ya Mhazab: Cyrine Abdel Nour – Directed by Hasan Ghadar – 2016
The video clip depicts a male friend of Sirin who works with her in her restaurant, who has graceful and delicate gestures, and walks in a fearless and fierce way or free and graceful sway, unintemidated by society.