My parents never taught me about sex. I don’t think they purposefully skirted the issue; ‘the talk’ just never happened. It was no matter – I was constantly bombarded with sexuality as a child. It was everywhere. In elementary school, my classmates and I would trade the crusted, phone-sex operator calling cards that were strewn across our kickball field. The cards were black and white and featured women and their breasts and not much else. I was a kid when George Michael was on both Dial MTV and the 10 PM news for exposing himself in a public restroom. My neighbor, who was an attorney, had a black and white portrait of Paul Reubens during his trial. It was propped up on his fireplace, the centerpiece of his mantel. I mean, PEE WEE’S SEX TRIAL WAS A CHILDHOOD STAPLE, for Christ’s sake. I was totally confused about sex. Was it supposed to be private? Because it sure as hell didn’t seem that way.
This was only amplified by the music I was listening to. My god, did the music make no sense? I knew all of the words, but damned if I had any clue what they meant. Below, the songs that I loved (but didn’t understand) as a kid.
TLC: safe-sex crusaders of the ‘90s. If I were a teenager or young adult back then, I would’ve been like, “Oh, TLC? Yeah, they totally invented the condom eye patch. Rad girls.” But I was a kid, so I was more like, “WTF? What’s that neon green thing covering that one’s eye and where do I get one? What’s a condom?!” When Waterfalls came out, catchy as it was, the safe sex message was lost on me for at least a year or three. I think I thought the song was about appreciating your parents or whatever.
Most confusing line: “Three letters took him to his final resting place.” I had a fucking existential crisis trying to figure out what the three letters were, along with every other ten-year-old kid. HIV? But HIV doesn’t kill you, AIDS does! But AIDS is four letters, not three! Is the answer really as simple as S-E-X? That’s too obvious, it can’t be sex! The schoolyard debate of the century.
All That She Wants, Ace of Base
Because Ace of Base was covered on Full House and was most famous for I Saw the Sign (at least, to the elementary school sect), I was under the impression that all of their songs were written with the most lily white of intentions. For that reason, I was willing to accept the use of the word “baby” a lot more literally than intended.
Most confusing line: “All that she wants/is another baby” I mean, everything is confusing when you’re listening to this song and picturing newborns in a nursery. Or like, a young chick at an adoption center. “More babies, plz! Thanx!” Did it make sense? No, but it didn’t need to. From 1990 – 1999, I was fairly certain that lyrics were a consequence of songs. Music was a vehicle for an addictive beat, nothing more. Lyrics weren’t supposed to mean anything (in many cases, I was right). (See: every Backstreet Boys song ever.) She wants another baby? Give it to her! She’s leaving tomorrow!
As far as I’m concerned, this was Ginuwine’s first (and best) single. It was all over the radio, it was all over my summer camp, it was playing on every music video channel. Who doesn’t remember that video? Ginuwine basically goes into a redneck bar, hops on a stage, and starts getting ‘90s sexy. Which is to say, not sexy at all. Whatever. What little girl doesn’t love ponies?
Most confusing line: “First we’ll show and tell/’Til I reach your ponytail.” Where, exactly, is the ponytail located? I have the feeling I’m going to need to throw out my scrunchie once this is over.
I Touch Myself, Divinyls
Is it any surprise that the person who thought Linn Bergrenn really wanted another infant is the same person who missed the mark on this ode to masturbation? I thought, “touch myself” and pictured Christina Amphlett crossing her arms and giving herself a hug while gently rocking back and forth (a total Amy Grant move).
Most confusing line: “I’d get down on my knees/I’d do anything for you.” I think it’s pretty commonplace to mistake getting on your knees for “begging” rather than “giving you a blowjob, yum!” when you’re a kid. …Right?
Sweat, Inner Circle
Often known as, “Alalalalalong,“ “Girl, I want to make you sweat,” “Lookin’ in your big brown eyes,” or “That UB40 song,” Sweat by Inner Circle was one of those songs that all girls with brown eyes were crazy for. In a society that celebrates light eyes, us “common” bitches go nuts for a good brown-eyed anthem (fun fact – blue eyed people all share a common ancestor. Gross!) As long as you mentioned brown eyes in your song, it didn’t matter what the rest of the lyrics were. “I’m serving forty-to-life but damn girl, check out you and your brown eyes”? I’ll take it. I’ll take three.
Most confusing line: “Girl, I want to make you sweat/Sweat ‘til you can’t sweat no more/and if you cry out/I’m gonna push it some more.” As a kid, I took the phrase “push it” to be a dance move; but now, these lyrics seem a little aggressive/something you would say when anal is on the table. “Look, before I make you all sweaty, let’s talk about this. There is a high likelihood that you’re going to cry out. It’s understandable. But if you do? I’m going to push it some more. It’ll be over really fast. You’ll thank me later, promise.”
You Oughta Know, Alanis Morissette
Jagged Little Pill was in heavy, heavy rotation when I was in 5th grade. I’m fairly certain Alanis drew the first headbang out of me, and it was likely a reaction to You Oughta Know. It is the perfect portrait of a woman scorned; a hymn I hold near and dear as an adult. Of course, I hadn’t experienced this sort of betrayal in elementary school, but that didn’t stop me from screaming the lyrics during art class.
Most confusing line: “It’s not fair/to deny me/of the cross I bear that you gave to me.” You Oughta Know is fairly cut-and-dry. “Are you thinking of me when you fuck her?” Maybe I didn’t know what fucking was, but I was able to guess based on context clues. On the other hand, the great Cross I Bear/Cross-eyed Bear clusterfuck of 1996 is quite another story. Alanis’s enunciation certainly didn’t do this line any justice, but I like to think that it was the ten-year-old in me who changed the meaning of that line from ‘metaphorical stain on my soul’ to ‘poorly-tailored teddy bear’. “He gave her a cross-eyed bear? Ugh. What a loser. Bet he bought it on sale from Sears.”
It was a confusing couple of years, but then lyric websites became “a thing,” and it was kind of hard to remain uninformed. I still long for days when I could scream things like, “RIDE IT, MY PONY” in public with the confidence and ignorant bliss only children possess.