I can hear it now … the unmistakable brass jingle that introduces the chorus of Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty.” I can picture the cool dance they do with their silhouetted bodies in the music video. Just thinking about it triggers a nod of the head and a slight wiggle of the hips. “Been around the world, don’t speak the language. But your booty don’t need explainin’. All I really need to understand is … Talk dirty to me,” Derulo sings. da-nah-nuh-nuh-da-nah-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-da-nah-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh! It’s all fun and booty shaking until you’re in the car with a six-year-old and she belts out the lyrics word-for-word.
Not surprisingly, the suggestive phrase lost its appeal and made me think about the wonderful music I grew up listening to and (like my 6-year-old niece) didn’t understand while I sang along.
So here’s your daily nostalgia (assuming you were a ’90s-early-’00s kid). Whether it brings you back to a distinct time and place or you can picture your parents’ cringing faces as the tunes roared from your boom box, these songs are just a handful of the many that taught us words, phrases, and lessons that our parents would barely admit existed.
1. Shaggy and Rikrok “It Wasn’t Me” 2000
The euphemism “making love” never resonated so mischievously in our young minds as it did when we heard the censored version of this new-millennium hit. What we didn’t know was that “We were both caught making love on the bathroom floor” was really “We were both butt-naked, bangin’ on the bathroom floor.” Were we really more likely to figure out what making love meant as opposed to bangin’? If you’re making love to someone you are always bangin’ them, right? But if you’re bangin’ someone are you always making love? Now I’m more confused than I was 14 years ago. What I did learn was not to give a house key to a not-so-serious significant other and that no matter how funky Rikrok’s reggae vocals are, he doesn’t give the soundest advice.
2. Sisqo “Thong Song” 1999
Oh, the silver hair and suave sunglasses of Sisqo … a look and name so well recognized from the popularity of one song and nothing more: “That thong, tha-thong thong thong.” When I was younger I felt naughty with just a pair of black undies; I didn’t even own a G-string until I don’t know when. I did not take part in the risqué trend of pulling those thread-thin strings just above my waistline, nor did I understand the attraction quite like Sisqo did. Luckily, the fad passed as quickly as the song. There’s no denying that Sisqo had something to do with perpetuating the distasteful game of peek-a-boo with women’s undies. He might have even started it.
3. Christina Aguilera, Pink, Mya, and Lil’ Kim, “Lady Marmalade” (2001)
This modernized, Moulin Rouge-inspired quartet professes lyrics so far beyond the point of suggestive that they are sung in a different language, one that happens to make, “Do you want to sleep with me tonight” sound more charming than promiscuous. Before the days of Google Translate and the plethora of similar apps that break any and all language barriers there were context clues (and in this case a raunchy music video) to aid in linguistic misunderstandings. In 2004 all the crotch-grabbing and fishnets revealed in the video were enough to clue us in. Despite all of this we were proud to know a bit of French and weren’t afraid to sing it loudly.
4. Marcy Playground, “Sex and Candy” (1997)
This is one of my favorite throwback tunes. I remember singing all the words, skipping over the “I smell sex and Candy” part and making sure to come back in just in time for the sensual “here” to end the phrase. Still not sure what disco lemonade or platform double suede is supposed to mean, but it’s not possible to ignore the sexual undertones in this jam. It took all the giggles and fun out of saying sex, simply because lead singer John Wozniak’s shady and sexy voice made it so evocative.
5. Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Baby Got Back” (1992)
Sir Mix-a-Lot crosses the line of suggestive. He is blatantly sexual and objectifying. But he does it all with undeniable flow (from the top of a giant butt), which is why we love it and know all the words including the introduction: “Oh. My. God. Becky. Look at her butt, it is so big …” We have immortalized this spiteful monologue by reciting it in cruel references to other women or just for fun. With each listen, “Baby Got Back” gets worse, whether it’s a new rhyme revealed or the fact that being “sprung” finally has meaning. You’ll blush just thinking about all the vulgarity that was introduced to your young vocabulary. On the brighter side, what we failed to realize is that before any of us despised unattainable body images promoted by the media, Sir Mix-a-Lot was doing it for us. He condemns magazines for “sayin’ flat butts are the thing” and laughs at the so-called perfect measurement “36-24-36.”
6. Ginuwine, “Pony” (1996)
Admittedly, I still don’t know the lyrics to this song beyond “Ride it, my pony,” then something or another about a saddle, naturally. With these small clues I knew all it took was a quick look-up and I’d be appalled … two minutes later and … I was right. To this day I would still be embarrassed to even listen to this song in front of my mom. You have to hand it to the funky beat, though—its robotic rhythm is one of a kind.
7. 50 Cent, “Candy Shop” (2005)
It would be easy to first make fun of the fact that 50’s 2014 tracks kind of flopped, but that’s only compared to the fame his songs once knew. We can, however, poke fun at “Candy Shop” because he made millions from it and it has to be one of the worst, yet best-known, metaphors ever: “I’ll take you to the candy shop. I’ll let you lick the lollipop.” How, in anyone’s mind, is this “so seductive” as he claims it to be? Note to your 9-year-old self: Don’t steal pickup lines from 50.
8. Bloodhound Gang, “The Bad Touch” (2000)
Yes, to you lewd members of the Bloodhound Gang, we love you. Thank you for teaching us that “doing it” is natural while our sex-ed classes were telling us it was a sin. Thank you for making us laugh at things we didn’t understand, such as “Love. The kind you clean up with a mop and bucket. Like the lost catacombs of Egypt only god knows where we stuck it.” To top it all off, the album is titled “Hooray for Boobies.” And if we weren’t scarred for life by the music video, we were thankful again and again to this band for making breasts, sex, and giant monkey costumes a little less awkward and a little more laughable.
9. Lustra, “Scotty Doesn’t Know” (as heard on “Euro Trip,” 2004)
Not that you ever went to your friend’s house who had the “cool parents” just to get away with watching “Euro Trip” but just in case you did, I’m sure you remember the manifestation of Scotty’s shame as this song unfolded in front of hundreds of people. We were soon relieved to know that even though Fiona lied to Scotty about going to church, she made time to repent by reverting to the natural praying position on her knees … she was praying, right?
10. Lit, “My Own Worst Enemy” (1999)
Self-loathing and drunken memory loss became blinking dots on our curiosity radar since the first time this pop-punk song blared from the radio. “My Own Worst Enemy” made teen angst trendy while cluing us in on what a hangover was like before we had our first drink. Some of us longed for the day when we would be grown up enough to wake up alone, with a headache and no recollection of the night before. Most have since been a victim of it. It wasn’t as great or momentous as we thought it would be, but this song definitely still is.
11. Blink-182, “Feeling This” (2003)
The subtlety of this sex-driven song hides behind its tender chorus: “Fate fell short this time, your smile fades in the summer. Place your hand in mine, I’ll leave when I wanna.” What the song really represents is a rowdy sexual encounter, one that takes place in the bedroom, bathroom, in front of a mirror, and is apparently “way too slow” at first. Though there are a slew of options Blink so generously has provided us over the years, “Feeling This” seems to be the most inconspicuous. But if you were wondering, “Family Reunion” should unanimously come in at No. 1 for most profanity in a song … ever.
12. Eminem, “The Real Slim Shady” (2000)
What we used to refer to as the “bad words” that mechanically poured out of Eminem’s mouth should have been the least of our worries. He managed to expose us to ideas like “what’s going on in your parents’ bedroom,” cannibalism, and certain alleged sexual acts of our beloved Christina Aguilera all in one song while admitting to it at the same time: “I’m like a head trip to listen to, ’cause I’m only giving you things you joke about with your friends inside your living room. The only difference is I got the balls to say it in front of y’all and I don’t gotta be false or sugarcoat it at all.” No amount of censorship could reduce the impact of Eminem’s anger, sometimes-profound messages and vulgarity; that may very well be why we have always been so intrigued by him.
13. Missy Elliott, “Work It” (2002)
We might have thought that Missy was trying to motivate us all with “Work It.” You know show the world how awesome we are by displaying a certain talent. Her talent seemed to be wrestling … yeah, wrestling. Why else would she want to “Put the hurtin’ on yah” or “Find out how hard I gotta work yah”? But why does she need to shave for that and what is a cha-cha anyway? There are many mysteries within the lyrics of this song, but let’s be honest about that elephant noise: It’s not hiding anything, which makes it both the best way to avoid censorship and the perfect association of a sound to a word.
14. Vengaboys, “Boom Boom Boom Boom” (1998)
(I’m warning you now, you will not be able to stop humming/singing/stomping/steering-wheel-drumming this song for at least one day after listening.) This is one of those tunes that has such a catchy chorus that the rest of the song is nearly ignored. “Boom boom boom boom I want you in my room. Let’s spend the night together from now until forever.” How old were you when you were allowed to have a boy/girl in your room? I was 7 when this song came out. It was no problem back then to have a friend in my room, regardless of gender. But eight years later and having a boy in my room was unthinkable. Why? Because when I was 7 I didn’t understand how dangerous boom-boom-booming could be, let alone what it was.
15. Kelis, “Milkshake” (2003)
You have to wonder if, after hearing this song over and over on the radio, some children switched from selling lemonade to milkshakes out of cardboard stands on their front lawns. Hopefully, this was as far as the influence went and Kelis’s real milkshake wasn’t revealed for whatever it truly was. To this day I still don’t know. Is it a dance? A body part? Even more fascinating, an actual milkshake possibly spiked with a secret potion that brings all the boys to the yard? Like most lyrics, they are left up to interpretation—the only tool our younger selves applied that contributed to preserving our innocence.