An Ode to Odes to ‘Kisses Down Low’

We love Kelly Rowland’s new album, particularly her instructive “Kisses Down Low,” part of a great musical tradition of detailed step-by-steps about how to go down on a lady. In honor of Ms. Rowland’s breakout album and her celebration of female sexuality, we offer this list of Great Songs About Cunnilingus (which is to say: any songs about cunnilingus):

 

Bikini Kill, “Sugar”

 

Khia, “My Neck, My Back”

 

Madonna, “Where Life Begins”

 

Missy Elliott, “Work It”

 

Mariah Carey, “Bliss”

 

Lil’ Kim, “How Many Licks”

 

Christina Aguilera, “Woohoo”

 

Janet Jackson, “Anytime Anyplace”

 

Liz Phair, “Glory”

 

Foxy Brown, “Candy”

 

The Gossip, “Swing Low”

 

Sheena Easton, “Sugar Walls”

 

Lady Gaga, “Teeth”

 

“Raspberry Swirl,” Tori Amos


Love Life Advice from Beyonce

Yes, yes, we all know about “to the left, to the left” and “all the single ladies.” But if you listen to Beyonce’s oeuvre in its entirety as I have, thanks to a borderline obsession and a lot of workouts, you will find she has a very clear, complete philosophy on relationships that goes beyond great kiss-offs. A few of our favorite tips, as only Beyonce can give them:

From “Ego,” lines to use on the man you’ve got your eye on:

Some women were made
But me, myself?
I like to think that I was created
For a special purpose
You know?
What’s more special than YOU?

Well, you got the key to my heart
But you ain’t gonna need it
I’d rather you open up my body
And show me secrets you didn’t know was inside
No need for me to lie.

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Celine Dion, Feminist?

_23_-_dion_07_0655_fnl_2Among the last words you might think of to describe Celine Dion is “feminist.” Feminine, for sure, perhaps to an embarrassing degree for a lot of us. (Not that femininity is embarrassing, as much as our traditional ideas about femininity — that is, the bald expression of FEELINGS — make us squeamish.) She has always been all grand feeling, exposed nerve endings, belting at the top of your lungs and “diamonds are forever,” right? But I just finished this book about her, called Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, and it will change your life if you are a critic; it also hints at the possibility that Celine could be a feminist, especially when she’s working in her native language, Quebecoise French. I’ll just quote the book here, which you should totally read:

Céline’s albums since Let’s Talk About Love have gained some restraint, the singing and arrangements have become more up-to-date and “tasteful.” Her latest French release, D’Elles, goes very high-culture, even intellectual—it’s a concept album in which all the lyrics were provided by female journalists and novelists from Quebec and France. (One review was titled, “I Am Woman, Hear Me Think.”) At the 2007 Oscars, she was asked to sing a new piece by the renowned (and cosmopolitanly hip) Italian film composer Ennio Morricone, who was receiving a lifetime-achievement award. And her next album might go even further. Titled, warningly to fans, Taking Chances, it is rumored at the time of this writing to include songs by the rock band Evanescence, ex-Eurythmics musician Dave Stewart, the R&B artists Ne-Yo and R. Kelly (who’s built up cachet with the loony audacity of his musical soap opera, “Trapped in the Closet”), producer The-Dream (who made Rihanna’s massive hit “Umbrella”) and, most unlikely of all, that chart-topping studio avant-gardist, Timbaland. It is almost as if Céline has figured out how to be cool, American-style.

I don’t know if Celine will ever be 100-percent cool, or feminist — but we should all give her a chance. I love her song “Taking Chances” — how about you?


Revisiting Sleater-Kinney

2311I’ve had a few Sleater-Kinney songs in heavy rotation on my iPod for years: Every time I go to karaoke (which is a lot), I’m bummed that I can’t sing “You’re No Rock ‘n’ Roll Fun,” which should really be mainstream enough for such treatment. But alas, those lists where great pop songs go to die/live forever are apparently no place for such punk spirit. Just one more way these ladies don’t get their due — you can get every Green Day and Sum 41 and even Sex Pistols song you could possibly want to croon along with. But it’s also just one more way these ladies get to retain their sense of infinite cool.

I will admit to my own mainstream, semi-uncool reasons for having recently gorged on Sleater-Kinney downloads on iTunes. Mainly, the IFC comedy sensation Portlandia ignited my intense girl crushery for Carrie Brownstein — I haven’t wanted to copy everything a pop star wears/does/thinks so badly since I plastered my walls with Debbie Gibson posters. From there, I got into her current band, Wild Flag, which is, obviously, awesome. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Brownstein work a stage with her guitar. And now I’m mainlining old Sleater-Kinney.

For the uninitiated, Sleater-Kinney came out of the Pacific Northwest’s intersection of grunge and riot-grrl movements, combining the best elements to produce the kind of polished pop-punk the best of the ’90s and aughts bands brought us. In this case, the pop punk just happened to come from three chicks: Brownstein, Corin Tucker, and Janet Weiss. Their lyrics were as cleverly post-modern as Nirvana’s, maybe even more self-aware: “So you want to be entertained?/Please look away/We’re not here ’cause we want to entertain/Please go away/Don’t go away.” And they did meta as well as, if not as often and self-consciously as, Fall Out Boy. From “Turn It On”: “Don’t say the word if you don’t want it done/Don’t tell me your name if you don’t want it sung.”

While they certainly address female-oriented issues sometimes — the infectious “One More Hour” pines for a lesbian relationship without making a spectacle of it — their revolutionary quality came mostly from showing girls could play with the big boys without compromising their feminism or femininity. Any girl listening to any Sleater-Kinney today would come away with one message: We are as capable of shredding and wailing as any dude currently blowing out the speakers in his parents’ garage.


Revisiting Liz Phair’s ‘Exile in Guyville’

I recently reassembled all of Liz Phair’s landmark 1993 debut album Exile in Guyville on my iPhone, having long ago lost various tracks somewhere between my first dubbed cassette, my CD version, and one crash of my old computer that destroyed all my old music. Some tracks had filtered through the mess somehow — it was maybe related to the fact that I ripped some music from friends and family in an effort to resurrect my music collection. So for the past three years “Help Me Mary,” “Girls! Girls! Girls!” and “Flower” have remained in my regular rotation, but the rest of the album had vanished. One could certainly do worse than those three songs (my inner frat girl never gets over the dirty-ironic humor of “Flower”), but downloading the whole thing over again has allowed me to investigate the phenomenon of ’90s-debut Liz Phair anew — and just in time for its 20th anniversary.

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Sexy Feminist: P!nk

In one of her earliest songs, “Don’t Let Me Get Me,” P!nk sang, “I’m tired of being compared to damn Britney Spears/She’s so pretty, that just ain’t me.” We’ll respectfully submit that Ms. Alecia Moore has her own share of attractive physical qualities, and also assure her: Don’t worry, no one’s about to mix you and Ms. Spears up anytime again soon.

P!nk may well be the most outspokenly, unapologetically, and explicitly feminist pop-rocker currently on the charts. While many female pop stars continue to profit from “empowering” images while ducking the “feminist” label — hi, Katy Perry! — P!nk weaves feminism into the fabric of almost everything she does. She shoes off her buff bod when she feels like it, but never in a self-objectifying way. (Somehow, we’re pretty sure she wears whatever she wants and doesn’t care what anyone says about it.) She writes songs about loving sex, hating her husband, loving her husband, and hating superficial starlets. See “Stupid Girls” for quintessential example: “What ever happened to the dreams of a girl president?/She’s dancing in the video next to 50 Cent.”

Call her a mean girl if you’d like — there was a bit of feminist hand-wringing over “Stupid Girls” taking other women down. But P!nk would be the first to embrace the label; she simply says what she’s thinking. And sometimes, we need to call other women out if they’re the ones bringing us down.

If there’s anything girls need to see more of in culture, it’s women who express themselves no matter what — in love, righteous anger, or even misdirected anger. Nobody does that better than P!nk — who gives that quintessentially girly color a much-needed edge.


Feminist History In Song: Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’

In this ongoing feature, we’ll be exploring the stories behind some of our favorite feminist anthems.

Cyndi Lauper launched her music career like many wannabes don’t: singing in cover bands. She spent most of the seventies wailing renditions of Led Zeppelin, Bad Company and Jefferson Airplane songs before she was discovered, signed and added to a pop group. Blue Angel had one album.

Lauper’s first solo album, “She’s So Unusual,” spawned five top-10 hits (a first for any female artist) and earned her the Best New Artist Grammy in 1985. The album is packed with empowerment hits such as the gay-rights petition “True Colors” and the masturbation confessional “She Bop.” But it was “Girls” that was released as the first single. It made her an instant superstar.

Lauper initially didn’t want to have anything to do with the song. It was written by the male rock artist, Robert Hazard, and she wasn’t sure a song written by a man would send the right message. She was also determined to write her own material, something the record labels were always pushing her away from. But then she got to thinking how she could make the message her own. She told Time, “When I was told ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ would be an anthem, I thought about how it really could be an anthem.”

The song became a rallying cry for women in the ’80s to express their independence and individuality—be that through fashion, sexual expression or rebellion. It also set the tone for a new breed of female pop star: the sexy rabble-rouser. Madonna owes her entire early career image to Lauper. In fact, it’s an influence she can’t seem to shake. Recently, music critics have mused on whether Madonna is just rewriting Lauper’s material.

There’s room enough in feminist song for both of these icons. Though Lauper definitely took a more deliberate stance on what her songs say about women. In the book, I Want My MTV, she explained: “I wanted ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ to be an anthem for women around the world—and I mean all women—and a sustaining message that we are powerful human beings. I made sure that when a woman saw the video, she would see herself represented, whether she was thin or heavy, glamorous or not, and whatever race she was.”

The video for “Girls”, which won the first-ever Best Female Video prize at the 1984 VMAs, featured a multicultural cast of Lauperized women—teased, sideways hair, neon eye shadow, et. al.—singing the hook alongside the star.

Since its release, the song has been used in countless movies and TV shows (Clueless, Boys on the Side) as an example of female empowerment. It even got its own eponymous movie in 1985 starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Helen Hunt and Shannen Doherty.

Part of the power of “Girls” lies in the fact that the rebellion it champions doesn’t include running off with a bad boy. Instead, these girls get their kicks on their own. It was a powerful statement at the time—still is: Some boys take a beautiful girl/and hide her away from the rest of the world/I want to be the one to walk in the sun/Oh girls they want to have fun.


Feminist History in Song: Lesley Gore’s ‘You Don’t Own Me’

In this ongoing feature, we’ll be exploring the stories behind some of our favorite feminist anthems.

At just 17, Lesley Gore was a fairly typical girl singer for the ’60s, with coiffed hair and tasteful ’50s/early ’60s dresses and her sweet mega-hit “It’s My Party.” But her 1964 smash “You Don’t Own Me” was shockingly progressive for its time. Hell, its lyrics still sound relevant today. (Alas.)

So relevant, in fact, that just last year, it became the song of the war against the War on Women, with a fabulous video full of women-on-the-street and celebs lip-syncing its message to, ostensibly Mitt Romney and the Republican party — complete with intro from Ms. Gore herself (looking as hip as ever as she intoned, “I’m Lesley Gore, and I approved this message”). They held signs bearing such messages as, “My body is not a battleground,” and, “Get your rosaries off my ovaries.” Prominent feminists such as Lena Dunham, Carrie Brownstein, and Tavi Gevinson were among the participants. Gore, now 66, ended the video with her own message: “It’s hard for me to believe but we’re still fighting for the same things we were then. Yes, ladies, we’ve got to come together and get out there and vote and protect our bodies. They’re ours. Please vote.”

Because its message has held up so well over the years (again, alas), it’s been covered by a particularly wide variety of artists: Dusty Springfield, cello rock group Rasputina, Joan Jett, the Blow Monkeys, Jack Killed Jill, Filipino singer Jeanne Young, Swedish singer Marianne Kock, Japanese singer Mieko Hirota. Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, and Goldie Hawn sung it in The First Wives Club. Nicole Scherzinger performed it on The Sing-Off. Eminem sampled it. NFL Women’s Wear used it in a commercial.

Why so popular? Perhaps its the simplicity of the lyrics, which make Gore’s feelings as clear as possible to her 1960s man: “You don’t own me/I’m not just one of your many toys … I’m young and I love to be young/I’m free and I love to be free/To live my life the way I want/to say and do whatever I please.”

 

 


Feminist History in Song: Beyonce’s ‘If I Were a Boy’

In this new feature, we’ll be exploring the stories behind some of our favorite feminist anthems.

from BeyonceOnline.com

Beyonce has famously talked about how she has a stage persona she evokes to become the monster-diva she needs to be for concerts — Sasha Fierce. For most of us, Beyonce herself is our Sasha Fierce. A few years ago, my sister and I resolved at New Year’s time to always think, “What would Beyonce do?” Since then we’ve both found relationships with fantastic men; she started her own boudoir photography business, and I have two passion-project books coming out this year. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I’ve been watching Bey’s “I Am …” concert tour video on demand lately just to up my inspiration factor, and it never lets me down.

Beyonce is a great songwriter, seemingly able to spin out a girl-power anthem on demand: “Single Ladies,” “Survivor,” “Independent Women,” “Run the World (Girls),” “Bootylicious.” She has appeared to struggle more with her sensitive side in songwriting, despite her protestations that she’s not Sasha Fierce in her everyday life. “Irreplaceable” slows things down and tells you she’s a little hurt by love gone wrong, but she can’t help doing a great, empowered woman scorned and giving us a kiss-off for the ages: “To the left, to the left.”

That all changed with “If I Were a Boy.” This 2008 ballad softened her vocal delivery and showed a new vulnerability even as it still catalogued double-standards still present in our everyday lives: “If I were a boy … I’d put myself first/And make the rules as I go/’Cause I’d know that she’d be faithful/Waiting for me to come home.”

Of course, what may have gotten lost in fans’ swooning over this new kind of song for Bey — and the undeniably satisfying video in which she and a guy switch roles for a day, she playing a cheating cop and he mooning for her back home — is that Beyonce did not write this song. Which is standard practice in the music business, but an interesting departure for the singer. And, as it turns out, it also included some intrigue and rivalry.

The song was actually written by a singer-songwriter named BC Jean. You can imagine her singing “If I Were a Boy,” with her soft-guitar-rock vibe. In addition to the song going into the big murky pot of song choices that many artists pluck from for recordings, Jean also recorded her own version. Beyonce, however, fell in love with it, recorded it, and decided to release it as a single. That’s when Jean first heard about Bey’s version, and she was not pleased. Bey’s version, of course, went platinum, and even inspired Reba McEntire to do her own cover.

Beyonce told MTV News she chose the song as a deliberate departure: “I had to try it, because I remember Aretha Franklin said a great singer can sing anything and make it her own.” But Jean vented to fans on her MySpace page: ”I have been reading some of these comments and to set the record straight from the horse’s mouth – IF I WERE A BOY is my song; YES, I wrote this song; It is my story; a painful one, and the song is very dear to me.” Eventually, however, she struck a deal with Beyonce’s manager/father, Matthew Knowles, that seemed to make everyone happy. She now proudly claims the writing credit for the hit on her website.

Beyonce, meanwhile, garnered particular acclaim for her version. Billboard said her vocals were “breathtaking, exquisitely emotive, mournful, and mature.” The LA Times raved,  ”This isn’t just another breakup song; it’s an elegy for female empowerment, Beyoncé’s admission that no amount of money, fame or skill can solve the basic inequity between her man’s heart and her own.”


Feminist History in Song: Tori Amos’ ‘Silent All These Years’

In this new feature, we’ll be exploring the stories behind some of our favorite feminist anthems.

from ToriAmos.com

Tori Amos’ song “Silent All These Years” made our Ultimate Sexy Feminist Playlist for two major reasons: 1. It’s Tori Fucking Amos. 2. It’s a gorgeous, catchy-but-haunting song about finding your own voice. It’s one of her clearest lyrical statements, probably to do with an abusive relationship, possibly to do with sexual assault, possibly to do with an unwanted pregnancy, but certainly to do with speaking up for yourself. If you get past the more open-to-interpretation parts — where she’s wearing “jeans of his with her name still on it” and somebody’s “mother shows up in a nasty dress” — it’s pretty straightforward. “I got something to say, you know, but nothing comes. Yes, I know what you think of me, you never shut up” … etc.

But there’s more to the story. The master of the inscrutable metaphor originally wrote the song, released on her debut studio album (and ’90s dorm room staple) Little Earthquakes, for British folk-rocker Al Stewart. Her producer, Eric Rosse, wisely told her she was nuts to let anyone sing the confessional tune except herself. Amos has said that reading Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid (not the Disney version!) inspired her to write the song. Hence the mermaid business. We suppose it’s just Amos’ general awesomeness that inspired that beautiful piano riff, as well as our favorite line: “So you found a girl who thinks really deep thoughts. What’s so amazing about really deep thoughts?”

The song solidified its feminist legacy when it was used in a 1997 fund-raising promotion for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. And she re-recorded it as part of her recent Gold Dust album, which includes new orchestra-backed versions of some of her past gems — or, as she calls them, “song-girls.” When that came out, she told Rolling Stone about the unexpected power of “Silent All These Years”:

Years later, when I played Israel, I was in an airport bathroom when a Middle Eastern woman came up to me. She said, “Don’t think we’re not listening. We pass your music behind closed doors to each other and it’s something secret that we know, so don’t stop.” “Silent All These Years” was one of the songs that she mentioned. In those moments, it puts in perspective the twentysomething in me, who was more focused on the charts than the power of music. I just didn’t comprehend the value in my mind of a Middle Eastern woman stopping me and saying that to me: “Don’t stop.”


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