Cosmic Slop #50: Zayn Malik’s Pillowtalk – does singing about sex always mean you’ve “matured”?
With the hype surrounding the former One Direction singer’s debut solo single, Shaun Ponsonby asks why explicit sex songs are considered mature, rather than adolescent.
A couple of weeks ago, I bitched at length about how Justin Bieber’s redemption is all but a cynical ploy by his marketing team to put him in the realms of “musical credibility”, and it just so happens that in this past week Zayn Malik, former misery guts in One Direction, dropped his first solo single, Pillowtalk.
Malik built this shit up. A lot. He’s done a few interviews (and cancelled a couple of others). One person he did talk to was his fellow, differently spelt Zane (Lowe) on his Beats 1 show. He told us the song was “dirty and raw” (which, as it turned out, was a direct quote of the lyrics), and said to The Times; “Everybody has sex, and it’s something people want to hear about. It’s part of everybody’s life, a very big part of life! And you don’t want to sweep it under the carpet. It has to be talked about.”
OK, Zayn. We get it. You have sex. Loud and clear.
Obviously, sex has never been spoken about in popular music before, and I trust 23-year old Malik will be able to put a wise spin on it. To be fair, he can’t do much worse than Chris Brown lyrics like “let me put the tip in” and “I’ll fuck you back to sleep, girl”.
This is the tried and tested route of the former child/teen star. Prove that you’re all grown up an’ that by getting dirty. There’s the aforementioned Brown, Christina Aguilera did Dirrty, Britney Spears did that Slave 4 U song. Even back in the 70s, David Cassidy famously dropped trou’ in Rolling Stone magazine. People tend to fall in line, and stupid people who write for crowd pleasing rags say things like “proving s/he has matured” to ensure they get that exclusive interview they were promised. But does it really?
I like a good sex jam as much as anyone else, but let’s be honest – usually when someone in their early 20s starts banging on explicitly about sex, it ends up sounding wholly unconvincing. Like the kid we all knew in secondary school who would ineffectively boast about how many girls he’d fingered. It always sounded like he’d only just discovered what fingering was and ran with it.
This is how I usually feel when I hear some of these songs. For example, take a look at some of Zayn’s lyrics;
So we’ll piss off the neighbours
In the place that feels the tears
The place to lose your fears
Yeah, reckless behaviour
A place that is so pure, so dirty and raw
Be in the bed all day, bed all day, bed all day
Fucking you, and fighting on
Lines like “we’ll piss off the neighbours” and “be in the bed all day, bed all day, bed all day, fucking you and fighting on” aren’t exactly mature, are they? There’s nothing witty, clever or insightful about it. If anything, they’re incredibly adolescent. Which is fine – some of the lyrics on Prince‘s Dirty Mind record are equally adolescent, and that’s a stone cold classic. There is absolutely nothing wrong with adolescent music, it can be exhilarating. But why kid ourselves? Mature content isn’t the same as being a mature artist.
What’s really striking is that if you replace the words he’s shoved in to prove he’s all grown up now, and remove some of the pointlessly artsy production, it actually still sounds like a One Direction song, at least in melody and much of the arrangement. For all his talk in the press of never wanting to be in One Direction or liking their material and wanting to do something completely different, he certainly hasn’t shaken off all of their style.
The video is grating too. Self-consciously “weird” or “bizarre” imagery made me shake my head. When a naked woman opened her legs to reveal a flower growing where her Jemima Puddleduck should be (SYMBOLISM!!!!!!!!), my mind cast back to mid-season 2 of Twin Peaks, when David Lynch had temporarily jumped ship and other people tried to take on his tropes. A lot of the weirdness felt shoehorned in, whereas with Lynch it felt natural.
Call me crazy like the judge did when I was on the witness stand in St. Helens, leading to an enforced stay in hospital, but I much prefer Elle King’s Ex’s and Oh’s. Unlike Malik, she sounds confident, unpretentious and like she actually enjoys having sex, as opposed to the awkward forced intensity Malik is giving off. Why do all us whippersnappers take sex so damn seriously?
No doubt it will be a hit, because currently it starts trending on twitter whenever someone from One Direction has toothache. But, lest we forget, when Take That split up in 1996, even Mark Owen had some big hits.
Still, at least he seems to believe in what he’s doing now.
LA Reid apparently says in his new book that Michael Jackson used to mock Prince‘s (admittedly awful) movie Under The Cherry Moon. That’s Michael Jackson – star of Moonwalker and The Wiz.
The good news; Rihanna has only sold 460 copies of her new album. The bad news: one of the world’s biggest pop stars had only sold 460 physical copies of her new album. Boo to streaming.
The very idea that DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince are planning reunion shows for the summer makes me happier than I would be if I found the supposed “One”.