Anderson Paak and the woes of pussy worship – female pleasure in modern pop

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Jamie McCartney, The Great Wall of Vagina (2008)

Jamie McCartney, The Great Wall of Vagina (2008)

Marvelling at Anderson Paak’s exploration of female pleasure on his latest album, Getintothis’ Janaya Pickett looks at the state of feminist sexuality in music.  

We’re calling it now: Anderson Paak’s album Malibu, released in January, is one of the best R&B/hip-hop albums of 2016. Yes, we’re only just seeing signs of Spring, but we defy anyone to listen to this album and disagree.

But we’re not here to talk about the album per se. Not even a particular song on the album, but an interlude called Waterfall. Or, as Paak dubs it, Interlube. This little piece of song, lasting just under two minutes brought on some serious thinking about female sexuality in music and how it’s represented in modern culture more generally.

In such a short space of time we believe Paak is expressing something quite rare and revolutionary in music that the internet would call pussy worship (to put it crudely). After we stopped blushing we began thinking; What songs are out there about female pleasure?

Two things became apparent:

  1. Almost all songs on the subject are by women
  2. Almost all are either hip-hop or R&B tracks

Neither of these facts are surprising as obviously women are more likely to sing about their own pleasure and the aforementioned genres are historically associated with sexual exploration. What is missing from this picture is men singing about female pleasure.

There’s hundreds, probably thousands of songs by men denoted to women giving pleasure and equal that amount by women seeking to please (even if that’s what in turn pleases her). What seems controversial about Paak‘s track Waterfall is the almost total removal of himself from it. The focus of the song is squarely on being of service.

Anderson-Park-Press-Photo-2015-BIllboard-650

Anderson Paak

Now, what’s so unusual about this subject in a song in 2016? Why on earth did it make us – not a prudes by any means – blush?

We all lived through the rabidness of noughties rap and hip-hop – a case in point being Dr Dre‘s 2001. As a 16-year-old, this writer danced along innocently to tracks like Xxplosive; sample lyric: “Fuck a bitch, Don’t tease bitch, Strip tease bitch, Eat a bowl of these bitch, Gobble a dick, Hoes forgot to eat a dick & shut the fuck up.

Be still our beating hearts!

The influence of internet porn on our culture is hard to ignore and we live in a world where the freakiest of sexual fantasies are available at the click of a button. Yet, what’s provided for us are quite violent images of women being done to, gaping holes, ‘slut’ this, ‘whore‘ that and the ever present schoolgirls. Not a pubic hair in sight.

This abrasive take on sex has become mainstream and anything other is sidelined into a category (with the exception of ‘Lipstick lesbians‘).

It’s not just female sexuality that’s missing from mainstream porn, but any sexuality that isn’t hetero and/or male. It’s hard to stomach, but even harder to deny.

We live in a world where pole dancing exercise classes and burlesque (A.K.A. stripping whilst sporting retro hairdo) are seen as liberating or empowering.

Even the most kosher of pop stars have dabbled in S&M; no doubt as part of some marketing strategy rather than an accurate assessment of their sexuality, but still.And this is not to say that these things aren’t sexually empowering individual women, but to highlight the lack of alternative ways it can be done.

In her 2010 book, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, Natasha Walter argues that this gregariousness is the same old sexism in a different guise and the term ’empowered’ is now used to cover up some, quite frankly, shady shit. Rather than empowering women, the hyper-sexual noughties stereotyped them as sexual objects.

Femininity as influenced by pop culture is sold to women through a male gaze, teaching girls that whips and chains excite them, or wishing that you wished that your girlfriend was hot like me, or them, or something…

This writer still recalls that sickly feeling on first viewing Christina Aguilera‘s 2002 Dirrty video with a group of male friends. As a teenage girl the experience was a little jarring and I was taken back by the casualness of crotch shots. Female crotch shots, now, are commonplace. But alas, said crotch being pleasured is never addressed.

What’s the antidote to this exaggerated sex-doll take on femininity, according to the media? The all-baking, all-knitting, quirky domestic goddess. Walter argues that this ideal is also pretty counterproductive in terms of equality.

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However, Living Dolls was written at the climax of this movement and we’d like to believe that the internet (as well as being the place where all our perversions are stored) has provided space for increasing positive discussion on female issues.

In the six years since Living Dolls publication there’s been a lot of change. Everything from armpit hair, periods, breastfeeding, cat calling, body shaming, slut shaming, you name it, is being tackled online and feminism has returned with a wallop on social media.

One cannot deny the internet’s role in the recent surge of protest against sexism in the media. Men and women in the industry have been outspoken in their support of Ke$ha’s recent accusations of rape against producer Dr Luke. Female musicians rallied to call out Life or Death PR man Heathcliff Berru, who had been sexually abusive towards young women in the industry for God knows how long.

Even more recently journalist Rachel Brodsky bravely spoke out about The Last Shadow Puppets’ Miles Kane and his wildly inappropriate reaction to being interviewed by a professional woman (not to mention Alex Turner’s passiveness). Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors, who brought the Berru accusations to light, put it succinctly in her tweets.

So say we all!  Men as well as women are increasingly speaking out on sexism in the industry and more so the everyday sexism of our culture. This can only be a positive thing.

Within the porn industry itself women are moving against exploitation and there’s a slow steady rise in ‘feminist porn’ that aims to counteract traditionally macho material. With the help of modern communication, times are changing.

As for the songs? What’s refreshing in Waterfall is how Paak shamelessly idolises his partner, praying that his time to please her won’t be “cut short”. This statement reaches its apex with the line: “I don’t know if I’m the one you want to stay with, but I know that I’m the only one who makes you cum.

As if to drive the point home he asks not to be touched, emphasising the fact that he is giving pleasure for its own sake rather than a precursor to ‘getting his‘. It may be a casual encounter, but that doesn’t mean the hotline blings and she gets a reputation for herself…Gurl. The female in Paak’s song is equal in her right to be pleasured and sexually promiscuous.

We wracked our brains (and Google) for songs of the same ilk – with this level of female focus. Of course there is the ultra-sexual purple pleaser Prince (if you’re nasty) & Godfather of the neo-soul movement, D’Angelo. But apart from these two quite similar artists, we were at a loss.

In his 1991 single Get Off, Prince also focuses on female pleasure and champions casual encounters: “Let a woman be a woman and a man be a man… I’ll only call you after, if you say I can“.

Again, there’s no slut shaming, just natural urges and female autonomy. In this and other songs Prince explores female sexuality rather than prescribing to a misogynistic maintstream view.

Indeed, it could be said that much of Prince‘s career has focused on liberating society sexually: “People call me rude, I wish we all were nude,” he stated way back on 1981’s Controversy. So it’s not surprising that he’s one of the first ports of call when looking for a song by a man centred on female pleasure.

D’Angelo‘s infamous video for his 2000 single Untitled (How Does it Feel?) has since overshadowed the subject of the song, but, oily abs aside, D tackles it head on: “Girl, it’s all on you, have it your way and if you want you can decide, that if you’ll have me I can provide everything that you desire“.

Like Paak, the only pleasure he is getting is from giving and we’re not talking roses and candles Boyz II Men type love-making, just plain old sexual activity.

Paak, Prince and D’Angelo are similar musically, which makes it appear that female sexual pleasure as told by men is a subject relegated to a very specific type of artist and genre. And what a shame that is as surely men giving pleasure for it’s own sake is, well, normal!

Yet for some reason the female experience is being ignored and this is more shocking when pitched against the overwhelming presence of sex in the market.

Sex sells, they say, but not female sexual pleasure.

However, the future in this regard does seem to be getting a little brighter as an uber liberal set of youngsters rewrite the past. And, who knows, perhaps once we’ve exhausted our fascination for extreme and violent pornography, the only place left to go will be back to basics.

At the moment female pleasure for its own sake appears, ironically, to be quite a taboo subject – especially when spoken about by men. Ironic given the fact that when you boil it down, female sexuality is as fundamental as a change in seasons, or a new day. So let’s keep the discussion flowing until that day arrives – and in the meantime, take heed of Anderson Paak’s Waterfall

Cupcake photo credit: Melanie Dawn Harter

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