Duran Duran on the cover of their 1981 debut album | Photo: EMI

How an Erotic NSFW Music Video Helped Duran Duran Break America

The sex fetishes and nudity depicted in “Girls on Film” got it banned and added to the band’s mystique

British pop sensations Duran Duran were among the first acts to benefit big-time from the rise of MTV in America. But the band’s star-making clips for songs like “Rio” and “Hungry Like the Wolf” weren’t their first forays into music videos. In fact, perhaps their most notorious music video was created in 1981, weeks before MTV first went on the air.

Duran Duran’s self-titled debut album was released in June of 1981 and did well in their native U.K. The band’s third single, “Girls on Film,” reached No. 5 on the British singles chart in July, their highest charting song yet. The success was followed by the band’s decision to make a music video for the track that would eventually catch the attention of TV censors worldwide thanks to its rampant nudity and cheeky depictions of various sex fetishes. The ensuing controversy (and the allure of viewing something “banned” from proper society) added to the mystique of the New Wave newcomers, particularly in the U.S.

Duran Duran Girls on Film model walk
From Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film” | Photo: YouTube

Since this was before artists and record labels made music videos for the sole purpose of earning the attention of MTV, Duran Duran wanted to make an extended video for “Girls on Film” to be shown in dance clubs, which would make it free of “standards and practices” restraints. The group teamed up with the legendary team of Godley & Creme, who played music with the band 10cc as well as with their own duo project. But in the ’80s, Godley & Creme would become best known for their music videos for songs by The Police, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Wang Chung, Yes and Herbie Hancock. (Like Duran Duran, the duo also got a major career boost from MTV.)

The original “Girls on Film” video is 6 minutes long and features a remixed version of the song, also tailored for the club scene. Throughout the risqué video, the band — dressed in their New Romantic finest — perform the funky track on a stage behind a “boxing ring” that has an extended models’ cat walk attached.

Duran Duran Girls on Film nurse scene
The massage scene in “Girls on Film” (with Duran Duran in the background) | Photo: YouTube

The clip opens with two models dressed in see-though lingerie who walk into the ring holding pillows before straddling and grinding on a candy-cane pole covered in what appears to be whipped cream. Then the women have a pillow fight and kiss, before going “backstage” to pour champagne on each other’s breasts. And that’s just the first 40-second scene.

The subsequent scenes include appearances by a female Sumo wrestler, a masseuse in a nurse’s uniform and a cowgirl who “rides” a black man dressed as a horse and later washes him down. Later, a model is rescued from a kiddie-pool by a lifeguard; they make out for a bit and then she also hits the backstage — to ice down her nipples and blow-dry her naked body. The clip ends with some topless mud-wrestling and a post-match hose-down.

Duran Duran Girls on Film rodeo
An actual “still” from “Girls on Film” | Photo: YouTube

The song itself is said to be about the exploitation of fashion models. The gratuitous “Girls on Film” video and the way the band milked the resulting controversy seemed to overshadow and contradict that message.

While the video was made for nightclub showings, it earned Duran Duran some extra attention after being banned by the BBC. In America, MTV showed a heavily edited version of the clip — with the vast majority of NSFW footage cut and a tamer “backstage” scene added — but the band milked the controversy by having the uncensored video aired on premium cable networks like The Playboy Channel.

Following Duran Duran huge success with their 1982 album Rio, a “Video 45” was released in March of 1983 that featured the clips for “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Girls on Film.” The VHS version of the video single included the edited version of “Girls on Film,” while the Videodisc and Betamax versions included the uncensored clip. The duel video release won the Grammy for “Best Video, Short Form” in 1984, the first year for the category that eventually became simply Best Music Video.

The original, uncut “Girls on Film” music video has appeared on various Duran Duran video collections released on VHS and DVD. But even today, the uncensored version of the clip is a bit harder to find due to its content — well, you can’t see it on YouTube, at least.

View the NSFW “Girls on Film” video here.

Here’s the fit-for-MTV version:

Written by Mike Breen

Mike Breen is a veteran writer and editor with nearly 30 years of experience. He was the longtime music editor and managing editor of Cincinnati altweekly CityBeat and his writing has also appeared in music publications like Spin, Creem and the U.K.’s NME. If you need a ringer for music trivia night, you should definitely call him.