Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: Sisqo's "Thong Song"

Nothing is more important to a culture than its clothing. As Diogenes Teufelsdröckh clearly explains in Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus (1834), "The whole External Universe and what it holds is but Clothing; and the essence of all science lies in the PHILOSOPHY OF CLOTHES." A culture's fashion sensibility says much about how it expresses itself at a certain moment in time. Popular music has paid tribute to many types of clothing over the years, from Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" (1956, further popularized by Elvis Presley that same year) and Brian Hyland's "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini" (1960) to KC and the Sunshine Band's "Boogie Shoes" (1976) and even David Bowie's "Blue Jean" (1984). But none of them really capture the essence of a specific article of clothing, or its psycho-sexual effects on the populace at large, as precisely as Sisqo's brilliant 1999 masterpiece "Thong Song."

According to a long line of fashionistas, the "thong" originally got its start as a sandal more often referred to as a flip-flop. Though practical, nothing is less sexy than flip-flops, even if the sound they make when in use is not too dissimilar from the awkward sounds produced during sex. Thong underwear and bikinis first made their presence known on the beaches of Brazil, and became immensely popular in the United States in the 1990s. Even if thongs are often tacky and give the women (and some men) who wear them intense wedgies, there is no doubt that they are a turn-on for many men and women, providing what Howard Stern* refers to as "a remarkable aesthetic improvement over granny panties." Rapper Sisqo turns observations like these into Shakespearean poetry in his "Thong Song."

In his brief monologue at the beginning of the track, Sisqo properly notes that men do indeed like "the finer things in life." Traditionally, the short list of these items has included Lamborghini Countaches, Mink Jackets, 1000 Thread Count Sheets, Twenty Year Old Malted Scotch Whiskeys, and a mouthful of Skoal. Thanks to Sisqo, we can now correctly add Thongs to that list. It turns out, actually, that prior to "Thong Song," women were relatively unclear about this. Atop a silky-smooth dance beat aiding by subtly synthesized strings, Sisqo dives right into a narrative about a provocative woman who dances at "all the hip hop spots" like she's "da ish."

Though Sisqo's narrator seems outwardly judgmental about her partying ways, it turns out that he is quite impressed by her physical "assets," especially considering she has "dumps like a truck truck truck." These "dumps" motivate Sisqo's sly narrator to request to "see that thong." These verses show Sisqo's remarkable knack for wordplay and popular cultural allusions. Not only does he claim she's "Livin' la vida loca," a reference to the wildly influential Ricky Martin single that was popular earlier in the year, he also transforms a rather unsexy piece of earth-moving equipment, the dump truck, into a simile in which the word "truck" is repeated to establish rhythm and "dumps" into a homonym for "buttocks." Though the word "dump" had long been a synonym for "the human act of depositing a rather healthy amount of excrement," Sisqo transforms it here, using cunning word play, into a complimentary term for a woman's posterior. Well done, Sisqo! As a result, Sisqo established a phrase in the global pop cultural lexicon that was in no way awkward, goofy, or disturbing. For that alone, Sisqo should be app-plau-plau-plauded.

*-I am referring to Howard Stern, a patron of a strip club called The Milk Jug in Mannford, Oklahoma, not to the talk radio personality, who probably has never uttered the phrase "a remarkable aesthetic improvement."


  1. I am reading this blog while staring out at my building's tiny swimming pool that is patronized by women in itsy bitsy thongs and who also wear flip flops. I almost can't bear this ish.

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