Remember When: Duran Duran’s “Electric Barbarella” Video Got Banned

When the U.S. remix of their second album Rio broke big in early 1983, Duran Duran became the darlings of MTV and radio for the next three years, leading to big sales and large concert draws. Their pinup looks, catchy hooks, and vibrant style of pop rock enamored a whole legion of female fans, and some male ones. The band’s sometimes racy videos were part of their sex appeal, but within 15 years that aesthetic would turn on them for a short spell.

Videos by American Songwriter

By the late 1990s, things had changed drastically for the Fab Five. The group was down to two original members—frontman Simon Le Bon and keyboardist Nick Rhodes, with guitarist Warren Cuccurullo having served longer than original six-stringer Andy Taylor. They had experienced a resurgence with The Wedding Album in 1993 and decent sales with the 1995 covers album Thank You. When Medazzaland arrived in 1997, it offered a blend of classic Duran with some modern elements. The catchy second single, “Electric Barbarella,” caused a bit of a stir—but not for the song itself.

Risqué Video

The risqué video for “Electric Barbarella” had to be edited for MTV, which deemed it too racy. Even after the changes were made, it does not seem like it was shown much at all here. The clip was pulled out of rotation from MuchMusic in Canada and was banned on the BBC. The promo video featured Le Bon, Rhodes, and Cuccurullo buying the title lady, then taking her home to program her as the sexy female robot of their dreams. That idea would have flown in the Decade of Decadence, but not so much in the late ‘90s. Some accused the group of being sexist with the clip.

The inspiration for the video seems to have been a 1986 movie called Cherry 2000 in which a man of the near future (2017) seeks a replacement for his hot android wife who has short-circuited. He must hire a real woman to help him track a hidden location where her rare model could be found. The difference here is the Duran boys easily obtain their hotbot, but after taking her home find she is not as fluid in motion as they’d like. Dressed in all manner of racy outfits, she cleans house in a clunky manner, spills drinks, kisses other women’s mates as a party hostess, chokes the Duran guys, and also overheats, nearly electrocuting her owners in the process.

The video was directed by feminist photographer Ellen von Unwerth, who reportedly prided herself in presenting strong, sexy women through her work. She picked American model Myka Dunkle to portray the sexy robot, and her motions and expressions were actually pretty incredible. She was quite realistic and believable in the part. Fans have debated whether the lyrics and video are cringe or not. One can see both sides of the argument.

I knew when I first saw you on the showroom floor
You were made for me
I took you home and dressed you up in polyester
Princess of my dreams
Emotionless and cold as ice
All of the things I like
The way you look
The way you move
The sound you’re making
In ultra-chrome, latex and steel
I plug you in
Dim the lights
Electric Barbarella
Your perfect skin
Plastic kiss
Electric Barbarella
Try to resist
Then we touch
Hallucinate and tranquilize

It seems the seemingly tongue-in-cheek nature of the “Electric Barbarella” lyrics did not come off as strongly as they could have. One must remember that Medazzaland also featured the creepy “Be My Icon,” which was told from the point of view of a deranged stalker. The perspective was meant to be literal, but listeners were not meant to emphathize with the character being portrayed.

In a 2021 interview with Stereogum, interviewer Ryan Leas told Le Bon he liked “Electric Barbarella,” to which the singer replied, “I thought that was a great piece of music but I thought it was a crap lyric, to be honest with you. (Whispers conspiratorially) That’s one I didn’t write, you see.”

The “Electric Barberella” single only reached No. 52 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Medazzaland stopped climbing at No. 58. Both deserved better, but the ‘90s were a tough time for artists popular in the ‘80s. The song did mark a first: It was the first-ever single available for digital purchase.

Full-Circle Moment

Fun fact: The name Barbarella comes from the sexy late ‘60s Jane Fonda movie of the same name, and that film’s villain, Durand Durand, inspired the moniker of the Fab Five. It made this situation feel like a full-circle moment—sort of. Despite this minor video controversy, MTV subsequently featured a reality-show band called the Electric Barbarellas in their own (ironically) short-lived show in 2011. That name now seems jinxed.

Despite having good songs on it, Medazzaland stalled Duran Duran’s career. With its American and Japanese releases not faring well, the album was not released anywhere else in the world until 2008. The next album Pop Trash also fared poorly, only reaching No. 135. But the reunion of the classic line-up with the 2004 album Astronaut brought Duran Duran back to mainstream prominence, and they have been riding high ever since.

Medazzaland is an underrated record in Duran Duran’s repertoire, and is worth checking out or revisiting for new and old fans alike. You can decide for yourself what you think of its controversial video.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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