After 20 Years, Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" Is Still Huge Because America Loves Asses
There are songs that mention hands, touching numbers that express feelings of giddy togetherness and devilish desire: "Put Your Hands Together" by Eric B. & Rakim, "I'm Throwin' up My Hands" by Rev. Gary Davis. There are songs that mention feet and how they hastily whisk us away or keep us rooted in place: "Will My Feet Still Carry Me Home" by Elf Power, "Music Moves My Feet" by Liam Finn. There are songs that mention hearts, wonderful little ditties that articulate all the untamed love and loathing within ours: "I'm Hanging up My Heart for You" by Percy Sledge, "You Blew Out the Flame in My Heart" by Coleman Hawkins, "A Place in My Heart" by Orange Juice.
And then there are songs that mention asses. Thick and juicy asses.
Twenty years ago this month, Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" began its five-week reign atop the Billboard Hot 100. An ode to curvesome, full-figured women -- not those with a "straight up and down 10-year-old boy look" -- the song cleverly mocked our image-obsessed society and brought attention to the cultural pressures women face when it comes to physical appearance, all while gleefully reveling in chauvinism and racial stereotypes, and trotting out stunningly awesome couplets like, "My anaconda don't want none / Unless you've got buns, hun." Naturally, "Baby Got Back" was highly controversial. MTV, for example, stopped playing the song's video before 9 p.m. due to complaints from viewers and cable operators.
Since "Baby Got Back" topped the charts two decades ago, there's been equally popular singles that tackle body issues (Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful"), even similarly celebrated songs that swore fealty to derrieres ("Bootylicious" by Destiny's Child, "My Humps" by Black Eyed Peas). "Baby Got Back" is also terribly gimmicky, a quality that often makes it more difficult for a pop song to achieve any sort of longevity.
Yet despite all this, "Baby Got Back" has permanently entered the American pop consciousness. It lives on through remixes, Internet memes, and motion picture soundtracks (Gigli, Jackass: The Movie, like every film in the Big Momma franchise). My DJ friend Ben emailed me about the immortality of "Baby Got Back" in dance clubs, particularly the aforementioned remix by Bingo Players ("It's not something I play all the time," he writes about the remix, "but in the right context -- after 'It's Tricky' and as a bridge into house music -- it can really get even a jaded crowd going") and how popular the original is at bachelorette parties.
This last bit got me thinking about an excerpt I read from Susan J. Douglas' 2010 book Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism's Work is Done. Douglas detailed the concept of enlightened sexism, which asserts: that it's acceptable to resurrect and perpetuate gender-based stereotypes because women are allegedly on equal footing with men; that antiquated, stodgy, man-hating feminism is a direct impediment to female fulfillment; and that irony allows a woman to embrace what was once deemed sexist because it's done so with a knowing wink, nod, and smirk. In other words, listening to "Baby Got Back" and shaking that healthy butt means women are choosing to be lusted after and objectified, a decision that's empowering, liberating, and decidedly turns its back on the equality once sought through economic independence or professional achievement.
Of course, this rather convoluted theory for "Baby Got Back"'s continuing popularity -- that women are, to quote Douglas, gaining and enjoying power through the "calculated deployment of their faces, attire, and sexuality"; or in this case, their keisters -- is probably just bunk, particularly since a more simple one may apply: We Americans are completely enamored with asses.
Debating the authenticity of a celebrity's heinie has become standard practice. Kim Kardashian responded to those who doubted the purity of her hindquarters by Tweeting X-ray photos of it. Earlier this month, a six-year-old rapper named Albert Roundtree Jr. generated a bit of controversy with the adult-level racy "Booty Pop." Beyonce Knowles' much-discussed fanny recently inspired an Australian researcher to name a horse fly species captia (Plinthina) beyonceae. (The insect has a rather prodigious rear end.) YouTube is teeming with instructional clips on how to properly execute a "booty clap." And the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported that the number of butt lifts -- a procedure that typically involves removing fat from the abs, back, and hips, and injecting it into the tuckus -- performed in 2011 rose 40 percent from the previous year.
So there you have it: America the bootylicious; one nation, under glutes. Discussing the origins of "Baby Got Back," Mix-a-Lot said he tried to make the song as non-sexist as possible, but at the same time, was aware that "you couldn't do 'Baby Got Brains' and sell records." Clearly he knew his audience.