There is a singer. Her name is Lady Gaga. Have you heard of her? She did that one song that goes “rah-rah-rh-ah-ah” and the other one that goes “pa-pa-pa-poker face.” But this palaver isn’t entirely about her. It’s about this other singer. Perhaps you’ve heard of her? Christina Aguilera? She has a song about finding out who you really are deep down inside that was once in a Disney movie. I was singing that song on New Year’s Eve last month until I dropped my cheesecake.
Well, it seems that Lady Gaga (please keep up) has recruited Christina Aguilera to replace R. Kelly (he had the song on a soundtrack to a movie that starred a bunch of Looney Tunes characters and a man who left playing basketball to play baseball) in a song called “Do What U Want.” It is a little-known song that is all about a woman telling her lover to do whatever they so please with her body. Yay, #feminism, except, featuring R. Kelly on such a song is, well, iffy. You can click here if you care to learn why. Also, niche recording artist Lady Gaga doesn’t care to be called a feminism, if this report is anything to go by. (That’s probably iffy too, but there are a many other people who can dissect those comments better than I could.)
It’s all unfortunate because “Do What U Want” is a pop song that has promise. WAIT, COME BACK. Things that are working in favor for this pop song:
1. The driving bass
2. The vaguely ’80s B-movie soundtrack vibe
3. The yelling
4. Lyrics like “You can’t stop my voice cause / You don’t own my life but / Do what you want with my body”
5. The millenial-friendly replacement of “you” with “u” in the title
You wouldn’t know that if, like me, you ignored this song because the idea of R. Kelly telling a woman he’ll do whatever he wants with a woman’s body is repugnant (you didn’t think he was going to encourage women to do whatever they wanted with his body, did you?). In fact, the R. Kelly-ified version of the song includes lots of references to getting drunk at the club (really, Robert Sylvester Kelly? Is it still 2009 that you’re singing about gettin’ crunk at da club? Take a seat, please.)
Playing against type, Christina Aguilera–or Xtina as she will hereafter be referenced as–saves the day. It happened late last year on a television program called The Voice, from where Xtina emerged from a glowing mystical, oversized seashell:
Gone, suddenly is the song’s creepy, date-rapey vibe! The mentions of errbody getting crunk at the club like it’s five years ago! R. Kelly! Against all odds, Xtina and Lady Gaga team up to make this song shine like the pop bauble it is. But you know why it truly works? Because Xtina has a long, storied history of singing about “body”–like, it’s all she ever sings about. Of course she can salvage a song that is all about doing things with one’s body; it is her purview. Note:
Explicit Mentions of “Body”
“Genie In A Bottle” (1999)
At 0:35: “My body’s saying let’s go / but my heart is saying no”.
Context: Xtina’s big break. She’s learning about the word body just as she is about her own budding sexuality and how it can be leveraged to sell records and cement her place in pop culture as That Other Girl Madonna Kissed At the VMAs.
“Nobody Wants to Be Lonely” (2001)>
At 0:49 : “Nobody wants to be lonely / nobody wants to cry”
Context: …until you add a prefix in front of it. “Nobody”–it sounds so aching, cloying, desperate, and doubly so since Xtina’s wailing is layered over by Ricky Martin’s smoky voice–it’s like the slow burn of a menthol cigarette on a crisp autumn day. Ironically, by negating the word “body,” Xtina makes us focus more, not less, on it.
At 1:30: “Sweat dripping over my body / Dancing getting just a little naughty”.
Context: This was a landmark moment for Xtina. Gone is the innocent, if slightly meek, young girl who just wants a boy to “rub her the right way.” this is a bellwether moment for Xtina; it’s in this triumphant single of sex-positive body celebration that Xtina takes the word body and transforms it to “bawdy.” Still, it’s a tease for what comes later.
“Get Mine Get Yours” (2002)
At 1:41: “So, come on and freak my body / We can get nasty, naughty”
Context: While I’m tempted to give Xtina points for sticking to a theme, I’d rather deduct points for her lazy recycling of the body/naughty rhyme scheme–on Stripped, the same album that had “Dirrty”, which is clearly the superior track about being slutty and having fun. Not even one of the closing lines–”I want your body, not your heart”–can excuse Xtina’s attempt to mine the exact same rhyme.
“Your Body” (2012)
Anywhere in the chorus, really.
Context: GROWN WOMAN ALERT. A decade in the making, it’s here that Xtina truly takes “body” and makes it BAWDY. It’s anyone guess if Xtina means for the double entendre.
“Do What U Want” (2014)
Anywhere in the chorus. Seriously.
Pronunciation: 1. BOH-DEE; 2. BAW-DEY
Context clues: In many ways, this is a natural synthesis for Xtina. If I was adroit at making poetic connections of language, then I’d say how serendipitous it is that Xtina began her career singing about her “body” but has turned that into a word that sounds “bawdy.” But I’m not, so I will end.
This doesn’t even include such provocative jams like “WooHoo” and “Nasty Naughty Boy,” which may not mention the word “body”, but both which compare Xtina’s vagina to baked goods. Xtina has built an entire legacy of a career on body-positive singing. So while she may be something akin to a trainwreck when it comes to the quality of her creative output, she’s more than an acceptable replacement for R. Kelly on a song by Lady Gaga that should be playing up its body-positive themes, not its skin-crawly vibes.
Rohin Guha is an editor at The Aerogram. His writing has appeared at Jezebel, XOJane, Fusion, NPR, and others. He was once dubbed "The Gay World's Answer to Maya Angelou" by the blog Queerty. He lives a few towns over from Detroit, where he is hard at work on his debut essay collection.