An Incomplete Taxonomy of Sexually Desperate Women in Pop
The Oilfield Allegorist: Dorothy Ellis — Drill Daddy Drill (1952)
Thirty-six years before Dallas brought us the oil-centric Ewing family, there was Drill Daddy Drill, an ode to oil extraction that’s really an ode to sex, and is also not to be confused with the (Republican, therefore deeply unsexy) slogan Drill Baby Drill! “My daddy is an oilman/drill, drill, drill, daddy/he drills night and day” is the chorus; a consummate performer with a Master’s Degree in Psychology, Ellis proves the same theory that Twitter espouses near daily: smart women have always loved dick jokes. “Set up your drill in the middle of my field…drill in the sun, drill in the rain/If your drill gets rusty, grease it up again” brings new meaning to “fracking.” “There’s no doubt,” one music blog I encountered while Googling the song says, gently and with the sweet suggestion of tact, “that this is not a song about searching for natural resources.” Indeed — “when one runs dry, we’ll use another hole” is not especially opaque. Set to the sounds of joyful clapping and swinging, sensuous brass, it makes the act sound more like a dance move than something still illegal in several U.S. states. “It’s her passion for singing the blues that we celebrate her for,” says the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame’s website. In Drill Daddy Drill, Ellis — a wink and a smile in her voice — celebrates her passion for passion.
The Masochists: The Pleasure Seekers — Good Kind of Hurt (1965)
Love hurts, but only hurts good when it’s done right. For Suzi Quatro’s first band, whose tough-spelt-t-u-f-f girl shtick far predated The Runaways’, love is less of a battlefield than an S&M dungeon. You’ll remember, I’m certain, the scene in Reservoir Dogs in which Like a Virgin is talked about as an ode to first encountering big dicks — Good Kind of Hurt is similar, but it seems to be about rediscovering one dick in particular. Quatro warbles as if she’s on the verge of tears or an orgasm, or perhaps both at the same time: “I can’t keep from cryin’, oh no boy/you ain’t done nothin’ wrong/you just/made me feel so good, it hurts me/cuz I’ve been without you so long/and now I’ve got a good kind of hurt/I can’t describe.” Lined up in a promo shot in short black, PVC dresses, the Seekers certainly look like the type of girls who like mixing their sugar with a little more spice; in the song, Suzi admits to having slept with a number of lesser men in the meantime (“I feel so bad for all the time I’ve wasted”), but also to never having found the same sweet spot between pain and pleasure. Forty-one years later, the vagina-centric electronic diva Peaches gave a name to the Seekers’ yearning ache, by coining the portmanteau “soregasm” — back in 1965, though, they just sang coyly: “I should be ashamed.”
The Thermogenicist: Donna Summer — Hot Stuff (1979)
Like Diana Ross’ equally disco-suggestive I’m Coming Out, Hot Stuff feels more queer than heterosexual; when Summer talks about wanting a “wild man,” you picture a biker. When she talks about how she has dialed “about a thousand numbers lately/Almost rang the phone off the wall,” we wonder just how much she’s exaggerating. Her “lovers,” she makes it crystal clear, come as plural. “Lookin’ for some hot stuff, baby this evenin’” makes the action of getting that hot stuff sound like a hunt, while the constant repetition (“I need some hot stuff, baby tonight/ I want some hot stuff, baby this evenin’/Gotta have some hot stuff/Gotta have some love tonight!”) turns the need to be fucked into something approaching a mantra. It’s single-minded in a way that straddles the line between mania and plain old macho assertiveness; as Rolling Stone declared: “The Queen of Disco snarls!” The album was called Bad Girls, because what else would Donna have called it? On the single’s sleeve, she’s wearing a white pick-up artist’s fedora and staring out, like she’s checking you out from the bar; she’s magnificent. You can’t help but meet her gaze and that gaze, in its frankness, skews stereotypes. It says: the female of the species is as deadly as the male — but she’s also as horny. I’m going to feel you, love.
The Blasphemist: Madonna — Like a Prayer (1989)
I will not reveal precisely when it occurred to me just what Madonna meant when she sang: “down on my knees/I want to take you there,” or what Madonna might have been doing while kneeling to hear her name called out loud in the first place, but I will say that like Philip Larkin’s 1963, it was rather late for me. “It’s the song of a passionate young girl so in love with God that it is almost as though He were the male figure in her life,” Madonna told an interviewer. As it happened, the music video was about Madonna enacting a passionate kiss with a black saint; stigmata; a racist murder trial, and various crosses on fire in church — a good fit for the song, but a bad fit for advertisers. Pepsi, who had optioned the song for a TV clip, canned it and lost their five-million-dollar investment. I’m surprised that they were surprised. It seemed inevitable that somebody named “Madonna” would make a hit single out of melding the sacred with the profane; less evident is why Pepsi ever optioned the song in the first place, since while I was too dense to notice the blowjob part, I can’t imagine that anybody else was. Like a Prayer is far from Madonna’s most sexual moment —quite literally making a book, Sex, about herself having sex still beats most modern-day pop stars — but still, it’s stealth filth. It’s all the dirtier for getting Jesus involved in something with the line “your touch can take me there.” It makes one rethink the phrase: “He is risen, indeed.”
The Onanists: Divinyls — I Touch Myself (1990)
Recently, I spent a fraught hour trying to find out which recent comedy film had a slow-motion “sad” sequence set to a downbeat cover of I Touch Myself by Divinyls (things it is not: Austin Powers, Miss March). I felt as though this might have been something I saw on a plane — the film does not appear, at any rate, to exist, which forces me to consider the fact that I Touch Myself looms large in my primal subconscious. It’s affected me so deeply that it soundtracks my dreams, even if they aren’t sexual ones. It’s that kind of single — designed for shower singing and fixated on an often shower-centric activity, Wikipedia says it’s: “a paean to female pleasure, eroticism, orgasm and masturbation.” Rolling Stone said it “paved the way for strong, sexy, outspoken women.” I’d say that it was a song you didn’t want to listen to around your parents, seeing as it is, when all is said and done, a sext set to music. “I love myself/I want you to love me/When I feel down/I want you above me…When I think about you, I touch myself” might well, with one or two eggplant emojis tossed in, do the work of seducing a poet. Why not try it today? (Other artists who’ve since recorded the song: Rolf Harris, P!nk, Genitorturers. Something else to try, since I seem to be giving out homework: successfully sitting through all three, one after the other.)
The Euphemist: Christina Aguilera — Genie in a Bottle (1999)
One of the only good lines in Sex and the City is when Miranda asks: “what’s the big deal? It’s my clitoris, not the Sphinx!” Evidently disagreeing with the need for plain speaking, former Mouseketeer Christina Aguilera opted for obfuscation. In her case, the clitoris proved a Disney-friendly djinni that needed summoning. “I’m a genie in a bottle,” she warbles on the track, in our first introduction to the tremulous, molto-overblown vibrato that ended up being Aguilera’s trademark. “You gotta rub me the right way.” In the video, she makes baby bedroom eyes on a pier in a tastefully tied-up t-shirt (no further word on whether the “big impression” she requires from her lover is in the form of a sweeping romantic gesture, or if it’s penile); three years later, she sold her soul to both the devil and David LaChappelle, dropping the “Christ” to become “Xtina” and filming a video in which sexual innuendo transformed from a vague Aladdin analogy into a lesbian porno set in a boxing ring. She was now, Redman informed us, too Dirrty to clean even his act up; meaning, she looked like a person who did not take baths. The two Christinas were schizophrenically different, but both had great abs and fitted fairly comfortably into the virgin/whore paradigm. Hence: two pop hits!
The Cunning Linguist: Khia — My Neck My Back (2002)
Need anybody talk subtext when the text is this sexual? Proving that women in rap have understood that “I want” sometimes gets for far longer than women in pop, Khia not only outlines her wishes, but also offers some helpful instruction. These lyrics are too good, simply, for me to cloud them with any more dull explanation, [sic]:
Lick it good
Suck this pussy just like you should
My neck, my back
Lick my pussy and my crack,
First you gotta put your neck into it
Don’t stop, just do, do it
Then you roll your tongue, from the crack back to the front
Then suck it off til I shake and cum…
Make sure I keep bustin’ nuts…
All over your face and stuff.”
They deserve to be presented like this; like a hymn to cunnilingus, effectively. The absolute best part of this song comes just after Khia has outlined her plans for the evening, at which point she says she’ll be “dead [a]sleep when the sun comes up,” i.e. straight after. This makes perfect sense, since of course a woman this efficient doesn’t have time for “just being held,” or the dreaded post-coital spoon. “You might roll dubs, you might have G’s,” she shrugs, “but fuck that…get on your knees.” Like The Pussycat Dolls turning limp dicks into a lingerie empire — and we’ll get to that later — she’s emphatic that she makes her own money. My Neck My Back is, unsurprisingly for a song that contains the word “pussy” no fewer than 21 times, a female empowerment anthem. It’s also catchy. One might say: it kinda lingers.
The Haematologist: Kylie Minogue — Red Blooded Woman (2003)
Using the music video to draw parallels between her sex-crazed self and a choke-chained Rottweiler, Kylie writhes in a junkyard car and absolutely loses both her mind and her patience. Like Minogue’s voice, the beat bounces, pinball-like, off every possible surface; pitched in a high register, furious lyrics (“Wanna keep freakin’ around/I wanna get down/I’m a hot red-blooded woman, what’s the point in hangin’ round?/You wanna keep turning it down!/This girl wants to rock with you!”) make the song’s chorus feel not unlike being molested or sexually menaced by mice. As if insane with lust, the diminutive pop singer layers her vocals so that at times she’s not just talking to but contradicting herself. She irritably calls the man she’s trying to sleep with “this guy!” in voiceover over and over again. “You’ve got me talking ’round in circles, can’t you see?” she yelps, in a moment of lucidity. “All for the sake of sexy!” It’s a loopy, odd song. It ends with a series of sharp, percussive sexual grunts. “A sexy, skittery, beat-driven hip-pop number that sounds like a Timbaland production,” Billboard claimed at the time of release, which makes sense if “Timbaland production” is synonymous with “a song you can fuck-or-try-to-fuck to.” (Speaking of billboards: the following year, a man claimed to have totaled his Porsche after ogling Kylie’s — the one for the album that Red Blooded Woman appears on. It looks like this.) Finished watching the video, Googled: can you go crazy from not having sex?
The Misandrists: The Pussycat Dolls — Buttons (2005)
It’s a hard thing to call whether there’s ever been a more thoroughly misandrist and emasculating hit than Buttons, a four-minute fable about a man who is too shy to fuck Nicole Scherzinger. Hard, too, to call whether its most testicle-shrinking line is the dryly delivered: “Hardly the type I go for/I like when the physical/don’t leave me asking for more,” or the straight-up vicious: “You say you’re a big boy?/Well, I can’t agree,” though both contenders have their merits. That the song went to number three on the Billboard chart on release bespeaks either a great public hunger for misandrist songs among young women, or else a deep vein of self-loathing amongst male pop fans; a list by Complex’s Ernest Baker defines the song’s genre as “slutwave,” while a reviewer at Slant called it “subtly Middle Eastern” and “mostly degrading.” “We stood for female empowerment,” said the group’s cute redhead, Jessica Sutter. “Our motto was: ‘inside every woman is a Pussycat Doll.’”
Much of the video is sepia-toned, which lends the whole operation a thin, very noughties veneer of old-timey pop sex appeal; its costume department worked overtime picking out corsets (inside every woman’s wardrobe is underwear that could be worn as outerwear). Riding the slut wave all the way to the bank, the Dolls parlayed a little harmless man hating into a mid- noughties merchandise empire, shilling perfume and lingerie in the hopes that women all over the globe could tease, then berate, other men. “Saying what you gon’ do to me,” the chorus complains, as if eyes are being rolled, “but I ain’t seen nothin’!” They did get to see a few million dollars, if not as much dick as they’d have liked — which seems fair, if not totally pleasurable. Inside every Pussycat Doll, Buttons seems to say, there isn’t always a man.
The Spelling Enthusiast: Britney Spears — If You Seek Amy (2008)
Whether or not you imagine that Britney’s a strong speller, it doesn’t take much to learn a four-letter word. Do you picture Brit being handed these lyrics and asking who Amy was? Or do you picture her reading them, then laughing dirtily? (I bet Britney has a great, big, Southern-fried laugh for the nastiest possible jokes.) Teens — who will always believe they invented sex — like hearing their idols allude to it almost more than they like “crude” up front: If You Seek Amy is not only pure teen bait, but also school-disco safe on technicalities. Taking things a few bases further than Katy Perry, whose pride in having kissed a girl is somewhat negated by mention of having a boyfriend, Britney goes the full, bisexual hog. “Love me, hate me/Say what you want about me,” she twangs, thinly, “but all of the boys and all of the girls/Are begging to if you seek Amy.” Never mind a double entendre; it’s more of a single entendre, as “to if you seek Amy” makes zero sense unless it’s spelling out “fuck.”
There is, as with any artist, a precedent. “[Joyce] does in fact appear to be the first person to have used this phrase,” the former Editor at Large of the Oxford English Dictionary writes for Slate, in a piece about Britney which brought me entirely too much joy. “In Ulysses, Joyce included a bit of doggerel sung by the Prison Gate Girls: ‘If you see Kay/Tell him he may/See you in tea/Tell him from me.’ In the third line, Joyce manages to encode cunt as well. Take that, Britney!” While I’m not sure Spears was hoping to compete with James Joyce, it’s apparent from the song’s music video that something that’s more concept than joke is afoot. “We find Spears in the aftermath of what appears to be a 50-person orgy,” Rolling Stone reports. “The house party that’s going on in the video can best be described as Eyes Wide Shut without the masks… [Later, Spears puts her] housewife gear back on, toting around an apple pie and returning to her normal life with her husband and two children.” Symbolism! Take that, James Joyce!
Photograph by Khia // Artemis Records, 2002