You and I Already Know

You might already know I Wanna Fuck You from the immense amount of radio airplay it was getting last year, in the censored “I Wanna Love You” version, of course–the distinction here is important, which is why I’m not being radio-friendly. If you’re not, it was the first single to reach #1 on the charts for Senegalese-American rapper Akon and the second for his collaborator, Snoop Dogg. Akon also got attention last year for humping 14-year-olds onstage.

So although I heard Akon’s version about a billion times in 2007, I just found this other live video from spring of last year. It seems that the deeply weird American-French sister duo CocoRosie started performing an inverted version of Akon’s song during their European tour. Like the original, it features a guy trying to pick up a dancer at a club, but from the opposite point of view, far more introspective, and rotated towards their signature Billie-Holiday-meets-fractured-experimental-trip-hop style.

Here are the choruses of the two songs:

Akon:
I see you winding and grinding up on that pole,
I know you see me looking at you and you already know
I wanna fuck you, you already know
I wanna fuck you, you already know

CocoRosie:
You see me trying to smile up on this pole
But I’m just hiding the pain that’s deep in my soul
You wanna fuck me, I already know
You wanna fuck me and toss me back on the floor

I had a series of strong reactions to this song.

1; whoa, they switched the point of view on the whole thing, flipped the objectification of women on its head and opened it up like a kaleidoscope. Now that is an intense remake.

2; shit, this song is about being raped by your brother and being a drug addict who dances at a club. Where are they getting this from… are they speaking from experience? Does that matter? Whose experience is this? A lot of women, to be sure. Does that matter?

3; it strikes me that both of these songs feature common mythic versions of the sex worker that get bandied about for various motives. One is genuinely smiling because she digs Akon/Snoop and wants to go home with him. One is smiling because she’s desperate to escape a life of drug abuse and sex work that stems from childhood abuse.

(3.5; where’s the one who wants to get those dubs and get out? What Would Missy Do?)

4; the two major mythologized versions of sex workers collide with the same tune… is anything produced in the mash-up? One version is a million times more prevalent in pop culture, while the other, more politicized and psychological version purports to be inside the woman’s head.

(4.5; I am faintly reminded of the brief, comic popularity of Nina Gordon’s folksy cover of NWA’s Straight Outta Compton. But the gender angles stand out much more sharply here.)

5; Well, not much of a victory for the real voices of sex workers, is it?



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26 Responses to You and I Already Know

  1. Well, not much of a victory for the real voices of sex workers, is it?

    Okay, I’m confused. Are you saying that the portrayal of sex workers as having been the victims of sexual abuse is inaccurate? Or are you saying that the song is exploitative? I mean, we don’t really know if these women have been sex workers or not (I assume not, but one never knows). As someone who has worked with sex workers my experience is that a sizable percentage of them have been raped or sexually abused.

  2. Collie says:

    It’s interesting, considering one of the sisters was called out in 2005 for attending “ironic” racist parties called “Kill Whitey” parties. These parties are basically cultural appropriation; a “hip hop party” without having to deal with those scary “hardcore” people of color. Here’s a link to the article:
    http://www.brainwashed.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3671&Itemid=9

    Since it seems to be down, here’s a section of it:
    “While reading the article, I came across this particularly heinous quote from a typical, post-ironic urban hipster trust-fund baby:

    ‘[Bianca] Casady was raised in Santa Barbara, Calif., but quickly notes her worldliness by listing the cities where she has lived along the trail to Brooklyn. A regular Kill Whitie partygoer, she tried the conventional (that is, non-hipster) hip-hop clubs but found the men “really hard-core.” In this vastly whiter scene, Casady said that “it’s a safe environment to be freaky.”‘

    Who do you think that could be making such horrifyingly non-worldly, ignorant and racist generalizations about black men? Surprise! It’s none other than Bianca Casady, one-half of sister duo CocoRosie, whose debut album won them high praise from Pitchforkmedia and The Wire, and whose recent album, Noah’s Ark, was called “hypnotic” and “angelic-sounding” by Allmusic.com.”

    And here’s the article the quote being discussed comes from:

  3. Holly says:

    Are you saying that the portrayal of sex workers as having been the victims of sexual abuse is inaccurate?

    Not at all. That’s why I said “Whose experience is this? A lot of women, to be sure.” I’m also very aware that many sex workers have objected to the idea that doing sex work stems from childhood abuse or that the two automatically go hand in hand. Is this a correlation/causation problem? I’m not sure. I’m not sure it’s for me to say either.

    Or are you saying that the song is exploitative?

    I don’t know. That’s hard to say for reasons you pointed out. I do think the lyrics into a popular stereotype of sex workers, though. That can still be true even if it’s based on real events, the writer’s or someone else’s. (Stereotypes can be “accurate,” and we can still discuss the fact that they’re stereotypes and why they are deployed.)

  4. I’m also very aware that many sex workers have objected to the idea that doing sex work stems from childhood abuse or that the two automatically go hand in hand. Is this a correlation/causation problem? I’m not sure. I’m not sure it’s for me to say either.

    Okay, gotcha. It is a tough call, and it would be presumptuous of me to spout off about the relationship between sex workers and sexual abuse. After all, correlation is not causation. I’ve only read a few writers/activists on the subject, and understand why they reject the ‘victim’ label and the unempowering baggage that comes with same.

    The women I’ve known haven’t been activists, and I certainly would be the last one to assert that their choices are informed by their abuse.

  5. Holly says:

    To (try and) be totally fair, that’s not necessarily the connection in the song either. But the first verse is about being raped by your brother and growing up knowing what all the boys want from you; the second verse is about working in a club, being hooked on dope and wishing for a man to take you away from all of it; and the third verse is the first verse again. If that’s not framing the subject of sex work I don’t know what is. And when I stepped back to look at the picture being portrayed–regardless of how based on true events–it struck me as very stereotypical in an inside-out way from the Akon original. I guess what it hit home for me was that you can’t really paint a real picture with just two points on a line, in opposition; this is precisely why it takes a multitude of voices. Not that CocoRosie was setting out to paint a realistic portrait of a whole subject or anything, but that’s pop culture for you.

    And… that was Bianca Casady who said that quote in the Washington Post? Ugh, extra gross. I remember when that Kill Whitey party hit the news. Ugh.

  6. Catherine Martell says:

    Holly, you have described the CocoRosie version where a sex worker is depicted as the victim of childhood sexual abuse and drug addiction as “mythic” and “mythologized”, and it seems to me you’re equating it with the Akon/Snoop version on grounds that neither presents the real voices of sex workers. As far as I can see, neither purports to do so.

    I doubt very much that Akon and Snoop have any interest in the voices of sex workers. As for the CocoRosie version, I have no idea whether they have based it on their own experiences or not, and frankly that’s none of my business anyway. In artistic terms, I understand it as a riposte to Akon’s version that deliberately sets out to shock its audience. But, bearing in mind that 95% of prostituted people are problem drug users, and between 75-95% have suffered abuse as children, wouldn’t you agree that one of these scenarios is more mythologized than the other? And how do you figure that the Akon one is less politicized?

    Before anyone repeats that causation has not been established, of course this doesn’t mean that everyone who is abused as a child will become a sex worker. It also doesn’t mean that every sex worker was abused: indeed, anything up to one in four weren’t. But the sort of story being told by CocoRosie is clearly not particularly unusual; though it is, as you’ve said yourself, much less commonly represented in popular culture.

    So I shared your reaction no. 1, but I’m having trouble following where you’re going with the rest.

  7. Kristen says:

    Hmmm….that is very disconcerting.

    I guess my problem with it right this moment is I’m uncomfortable hearing anyone talk about sex worker experiences other than sex workers. There is a lot of opinion masquerading as fact about sex workers and sex work and I don’t feel comfortable hearing any more “commentary” on the experiences of sex workers unless that commentary comes from the sex worker his/herself.

    Which isn’t to say that this woman did not have this experience…it just hard to parse out the rhetoric from the truth at this point.

  8. Holly says:

    As far as I can see, neither purports to do so.

    Like I said, that’s pop culture for you. I don’t think this is necessarily a good thing, but it is par for the course when it comes to depictions of sex workers, right?

    I don’t think these two version can be simply “equated.” I do think the second is trying to make a more political point than the first — a counterpoint to the steadfast “who cares as long as I bust my nut” of the original. Of course, both are “politicized.” And where they end up is in two different and common portraits of sex workers on opposite ends of… something? My series of reactions basically led me to what Kristen just said, and to what I said about “two points on a line.” Of course two points is better than one point–doubly better, you could even say. But it’s far, far from enough.

    And yeah, it’s not the project of pop songs to do what I’m talking about; but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be part of the project of interpreting popular culture.

  9. LeggoMyMeggo says:

    I’m struggling with this. I work in the movement to end demand for the sex trade, so I definitely come in with a “sex work is not desirable” bent. That said, I think it is more important to listen to the (usually silenced) voices of the vast majority of women in prostitution who do not want to be there than the ones who get heard more often: (usually White) women who actively chose to prostitute (vs. it being the best of bad options) and who find it empowering.

    And qualitative studies on women in prostitution, as well as talking with individual survivors (not in a research sense) show over and over that women turn to prostitution out of 1) economic need and 2) being groomed, either by sexual abuse or assault, a boyfriend or parent turned-pimp, or the constant cultural messages that we are only good for one thing: to give people sexual pleasure.

    My point is: yeah, okay, that is a stereotype. But it’s based in truth, and I would prefer that that truth be told rather than the one that Akon is spouting… mostly because I have this hope that if men really knew the lives and economic circumstances of women in prostitution, they would think twice about renting someone’s body.

    It’s hard, because there shouldn’t be only two options: victim and empowered chooser who loves the work. I believe that prostitution is a survivor’s choice, one made by a woman who needs to get by in this shitty patriarchal system that hates women and children. At the same time, there is very real trauma experienced by women in prostitution… the PTSD rates are sky-high… how do we portray in song this side of things without going back to the victim angle? I don’t know.

  10. mostly because I have this hope that if men really knew the lives and economic circumstances of women in prostitution, they would think twice about renting someone’s body.

    That’s interesting. My husband accuses me of ruining porn for him for this very reason. He says that now when he sees those images online all he can think about is perverts molesting children. So I guess my big mouth helped somewhat. Though I wish he’d come to that realization on his own.

    (usually White) women who actively chose to prostitute (vs. it being the best of bad options) and who find it empowering.

    This drives me insane. I was beyond annoyed by the media portrayal of the woman involved in the Eliot Spitzer scandal. Most women involved in the sex trade are not living in ritzy NYC apartments vacationing on the Riviera, people! But that’s the image they prefer.

  11. The flip reminds me of Tori Amos’ take on that Eminem song where he talks about killing the mother of his child.

  12. Wow, I had no idea Bianca Casady was such a piece. I’ve always liked CocoRosie’s music a lot, but that kind of befouls it for me.

  13. sminbrooklyn says:

    5; Well, not much of a victory for the real voices of sex workers, is it?

    it’s been acknowledged that we have no idea whether this narrative is autobiographical or not, so why is it necessarily not a victory? the question was posed, does it matter whether it’s true – and i think that it would insulate the piece from being easily dismissed as “stereotypical”, so for the purposes of this discussion it seems that it does matter.

    also, i think that just because this experience is one that is often portrayed as that of the “stereotypical sex worker” doesn’t mean that it isn’t an important and informative narrative. some people can choose sex work and do it in an empowering and safe way and they deserve to do so free from judgment. however, if even one woman goes into sex work for other, not empowering and more degrading reasons after experiencing sexual abuse in her childhood then that is too many, and to dismiss this as a step back for sex workers everywhere seems to me like it’s dismissing the voices of those sex workers who suffer in the sex trade.

  14. Collie says:

    Wow, I had no idea Bianca Casady was such a piece. I’ve always liked CocoRosie’s music a lot, but that kind of befouls it for me.

    Yeah, it’s gotten to the point where I almost dread learning anything about indie artists I enjoy. I know hipsters get a lot of flack in the comments on this site, and not without good reason. However, I identify as a feminist, ally, artist, and hipster. It pains me to see people I go to school or work with or hang out with engaging in racist appropriation or misogyny, and using their white privilege/class privilege/general sense of elitism to justify it to themselves and others. What we need to do is examine where these privileges come from, and stop pretending we’re “entitled” to certain things, just because we’re “cool” and liberal. How can we respectfully learn about and enjoy the cultures and works of others WITHOUT taking advantage of them?

    It’s really a matter of growing up.

  15. I don’t know that I identify as a hipster, but I do go to a lot of shows and spend a lot of time in dive bars with a bunch of folks who are wearing their outfits ironically. I have a very low level of tolerance for white, entitled asswipes who float around on the privilege of their trust-funds acting like racist idiots when, for chrissake, they should know better. These are well-educated people who have NO excuse.

  16. …Not that anybody has an excuse to be a bigot, but among people who are very privileged that kind of behavior strikes me as even more offensive.

  17. mk says:

    I know this is severely unsubstantial, but I just wanted to add how disturbing it is to me now to know that this song is Akon and that those were the original lyrics. I heard the song clubbing last year and never really listened to more than the chorus, just assuming it was another mediocre song you could sort of dance to. Now I just feel sort of dirty for dancing to it.

  18. tps12 says:

    Second Catherine Martell on at least Akon and Snoop’s version not being intended to portray the experience of a sex worker. I don’t remember the lyrics exactly, but Snoop has a couple lines about how the stripper can’t even see him watching from his vantage point in the VIP section of the club. Immensely creepy.

    Jenny, you’re way too optimistic if you expect white, entitled trust-fund kids to know better.

  19. Collie says:

    Jenny, you’re way too optimistic if you expect white, entitled trust-fund kids to know better.

    Why not? I’m one of those white trust-fund kids, and I sure as hell know better. All the information my peers need to stop being such morons is readily available, and damn it, I’m going to keep pushing them to use it.

  20. less13lee says:

    tps12:
    Second Catherine Martell on at least Akon and Snoop’s version not being intended to portray the experience of a sex worker.

    Yeah well, I’d venture to say that Akon and Snoop would never intend to portray the experience of sex worker, because they don’t care about the experience of a sex worker. The stripper is solely an object for consumption in their song, she doesn’t have a voice.

    At least that’s how I read it.

  21. foibey says:

    Why not? I’m one of those white trust-fund kids, and I sure as hell know better.

    Because having white privilege and a trust-funded education doesn’t guarantee a smack around the face about racism. The academy has plenty of racists in it as much as anywhere else. And being poor doesn’t make you blind to the way the world around you works (including the existence of racism).

    Educational establishments are usually great at finding rationalisations for privilege and oppression. Rationalisation is what a good chunk of the academy is about. Not all of it, but plenty enough anyway.

  22. foibey says:

    To be clearer: I don’t mean that rich kids shouldn’t know better than to be racist asshats in general, so much as a trust fund is a long way from being a fast track to enlightenment.

  23. Collie says:

    To be clearer: I don’t mean that rich kids shouldn’t know better than to be racist asshats in general, so much as a trust fund is a long way from being a fast track to enlightenment.

    I agree. There’s a real problem when young privileged people think that because they give lip service to progressive ideas, their racism/classism/sexism is somehow less harmful when in fact it’s often worse, because it’s seen as “ironic” or “harmless”. My issue is that my peers and I have all this access to information and opportunities to use our privilege to combat harmful practices (though volunteering, outreach, art, activism, etc.) but instead many of us just rationalize our privilege, as you said.

    Today, in fact, I had someone tell me she didn’t have “time” to participate in my school’s Day of Silence- but she promised me that it was okay, because she was into “green” design. She felt her using ecologically friendly interior paint somehow made up for her lack of participation in supporting queer students.

  24. Bianca says:

    wow, im kind of shocked and creeped out. My heart is beating funny. Im baffled that such “intelectuals” who like to challenge and pick apart the media, would read a mainstream news paper article as if it were the gospel. In reffrence to the artical where i was “quoted” one of you inserted “people of color” thats really creepy and wired. Im not writing in my deffence im just so disturbed and saddened by this perverse scutiny i cant help but say something. Kill Whitey was a prodomnately gay dance party with young people of all colors. It was a safe place to get loose without be asulted by masaginit-hetero “hardcore” men. That artical thought it was convient to leave out the identities of the dj’s and founders of the party because only one of them being “white” wouldnt have made a good story nor that fact that it was an unusally racialy mixed gay crowd.
    Anyway this is really old news. I found my way to this site serching the internet for
    press on our new single called “god has a voice she speaks through me” and thouse words braught me here to read this discussion…
    (sorry for any spelling errors)

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