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Tuesday, October 28, 2003
John Meyer's popularity is a response to the chart domination of Missy Elliot's acrobatic sexuality?

Like those of his former tour mate Norah Jones, with whom he shares a knack for the genteel nuzzle, Mayer's brisk sales have been at least partly a fearful response to hip-hop hegemony. Yet virtual white flight isn't the whole story. From Missy Elliott's threat, "I'll put my thing down, flip it, and reverse it" to Chingy's inviting a woman to whip her genitalia at him "like a shortstop," there's a pretty narrow definition of sexuality on the charts these days. Pop sex has become a strenuous combination of pole dancing, Pilates and pro wrestling -- plenty fun, but not really practical when you've both got to work in the morning.

Right now, I won't get into the easy acceptance of "hip-hop hegemony" as logical, or the weird way embarrassingly stereotypical white-boy Meyer is contrasted with two black artists, although I would suggest that it's probably a youth-vs-age thing rather than a race thing; it's not like you can't buy Luther albums anymore. The main issue here is that this is a total misrepresentation of Missy's sexuality from where I'm sitting.

There's certainly a lot of, um, unrealistic images of sexuality coming from hip-hop artists, and some of them are hilarious and some of them are sexy and some of them are dumb and some of them are offensive. But I defy you to find me anything in "Work It" that's unrealistic. First off, the line quoted above is a deliberate misreading; sure, "put my thing down, flip it, and reverse it" is a double entendre, but the whole point of a double entendre is that you couldn't necessarily perform the sexual act being literally described. The argument is especially weak given that following that line, Missy does the literal thing stated: having put it down, she flips it and reverses it. Where's the acrobatics? They're just verbal, son.

And indeed, the rest of the song celebrates the brand of sexuality that many of us find so appealing in Missy: a totally non-idealized, very up-front and real-world depiction of what it's actually like to get it on. For instance: "Not on the bed, lay me on your sofa / Phone before you come, I need to shave my chocha / You do or you don't or you will or won't ya / Go downtown and eat it like a vulture." Where's the acrobatics in that? What's great about it--and a bunch of other lines in the song that I'm going to restrain myself from quoting--is that they acknowledge all the things that the idealized bling-bling sheen of either loverman (thug or otherwise) or hyper-sexualized music ignores: plucking hairs, getting drunk, fucking on the sofa, messy oral sex ("eat it like a vulture"? eww!), etc., etc. If you're afraid of this, you're not put off by dominatrixes; you're put off by the simple mechanics of fucking. And that's no good.

In other words, Missy is exactly what Meyer is being made out to be--just without all the bullshit. There's no S&M or A2Ms, but there's no shy come-ons and misty fireplace shots, either. Missy's sexuality is extraordinary and banal, just like sex; I'm gonna do this thing and then yeah, get up in the morning and go to work. Meyer's is romantic music while Missy's is sexual. And I won't deny that there's a certain value to romantic music, even if Luther Vandross makes me want to sleep more than fuck. But let's not pretend that Missy is warping the poor sexual minds of this great nation. If anything, she's being honest about it while Meyer is still playing his game and trying to get laid. Which is OK, too.

That said, I don't know why there's all this defensiveness surrounding Meyer fandom--"Body is a Wonderland" is a great song, no two ways about it. But there's always been John Meyers--fifty years ago he was called Johnny Mercer, and there are some great Johnny Mercer songs out there too. But it would take a Missy-esque polymorphous perversity to acknowledge the value of all of it without necessarily opposing it to something. Use the Meyer if it works for you. Me, I'm gonna put on Prince.