Why Is YouTube Allowing Nudity In Justin Timberlake’s Video, But Not Robin Thicke’s?

By Michael Nelson / July 8, 2013

I have a half-cocked theory — backed up by no statistical evidence — about the social media value of “NSFW” music videos. Basically, my thinking is, anything tagged “NSFW” is automatically more enticing than anything not tagged “NSFW,” and it’s not like bands today have to worry about some gatekeeping cable networks’s standards & practices department shutting them down, so why not just make every video “NSFW”? Foals, for instance, have released four videos from their new album, Holy Fire; three of them have merited “NSFW” tags. It’s a savvy play! People love nudity!

Of course, my theory falls apart somewhat in the face of YouTube’s fairly stringent policies, which tend to frown upon such content. Per YouTube guidelines: “Most nudity is not allowed, particularly if it is in a sexual context. Generally if a video is intended to be sexually provocative, it is less likely to be acceptable for YouTube.”

It was thanks to those rules that Robin Thicke’s explicit “Blurred Lines” video got booted from YouTube in March. A “clean” version took its place; it currently has 82,371,151 views. The NSFW version can still be viewed on VEVO.

However, Justin Timberlake’s “Tunnel Vision” video — which, as Claire noted, has a whole lot in common with Thicke’s clip — has somehow skirted YouTube’s guidelines. There’s no clear reason why one should be censored while the other is not. Still, when approached by ABC News, YouTube spokespeople explained the decision with the following (vague) statement:

While our Guidelines generally prohibit nudity, we make exceptions when it is presented in an educational, documentary or artistic context, and take care to add appropriate warnings and age-restrictions.

The line between “sexual” and “artistic” contexts seems impossible to define, as Potter Stewart knew all too well, but no matter how it’s delineated, the suggestion that the “Blurred Lines” and “Tunnel Vision” clips belong on different sides of that line seems pretty dubious.