“Once upon a time, not long ago, I was a hoe,” sang rapper/singer/Internet meme Mariahlynn through our phone speaker, my two best friends and I singing along as we hurtled across Europe in a rickety passenger train. This was not the first time any of us had mimicked her risque lyrics in public. By the end of our trip to Vienna last year, we had memorized the entirety of “Once Upon a Time” and several other incredibly explicit songs. Sitting on that train, whisper-screaming lines like “But I fuck him though / And I don’ even care if his mother know,” I had a momentary thought ― would songs like this have even existed 15 years ago?
Sure, maybe from a male writer or singer, but not from a woman, at least not so brazenly. The reinvention of lust in music has turned what used to be unmentionable into a badge of pride for some female-identifying artists, as glitter and sweat and everything in between mixes to create the new sound of sex.
This sound seems so commonplace now, with samples that would fit right in on PornHub, littering songs like the popular “Deepthroat” by CupcakKe. They are created by somewhat fringe artists, but the shock value of their work and its positive embrace of sexuality have catapulted this new idea of popstar sexuality into the spotlight. Though CupcakKe announced she was retiring in September 2019, in December she came back to announce she had not only lost 30 pounds, but also signed an $8 million deal with Sony Music Entertainment. That’s right, SONY.
The same company that boasts Beyonce, Michael Jackson and Prince in their ranks not only signed CupcakKe, but gave her millions of dollars, of which she is allegedly donating $60,000. If that’s not evidence of a major paradigm shift, I don’t know what is. In the age of the internet, anyone can cultivate their own audience, regardless of the content they are producing. For artists like CupcakKe, this independent following is what supported her brash acceptance of sex and its motifs in her music. But even for those who aren’t putting orgasm-like sounds in the first seconds of their singles, things are changing for the sex-positive artist.
This change began in the late ‘90s and early aughts for artists like Peaches, whose 2002 record The Teaches of Peaches includes titles such as the ultra-popular “Fuck the Pain Away.” Her early songs are a cacophony of machine-generated drums and cymbals, the artist’s languid talk-singing detailing her sexual escapades in emotional and physical detail. It’s this nonchalant acknowledgement of female sexuality that marks the difference from previous artists, as the hidden secrets of ‘70s songs like The Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight” are now made clear for a listener to plainly understand.
These moments of heightened femme pleasure-seeking exist on a scale, ranging from the drawling lyrics of artists like Lana Del Rey to the intensely explicit Brooke Candy, but the fact that they exist at all in the mainstream is a wonder of its own. Del Rey sings “My pussy tastes like Pepsi-Cola / My eyes are wide like cherry pies,” and an audience of millions listens.
Del Rey in particular represents a niche of the sexualised pop-star that bridges the gap between traditional songwriting and the new world of increasingly devoted internet fanbases. Her fans love her because she is transparent about the harsh realities of hypersexuality, about the turmoil and violence of relationships with bad men and good men all the same. One could argue that Del Rey, real name Lizzie Grant, is a character immune to the flak of sharing her sexuality so plainly in the public eye. But I’d say that her presence in the mainstream media is that of an interloper from the internet age, where her flower-child inspired persona grew into what it is today.
The reason she can sing lyrics like “In the land of gods and monsters / I was an angel, lookin’ to get fucked hard,” is because of her fanbase, much like CupcakKe’s, yet she has hidden them in a traditionally pop format. If you don’t look closely, she could be singing about anything in a sexy voice, seemingly slurring her words in a stylized old-Hollywood persona. As one of the initial female artists to bring the complexity of bold sexuality from an internet subgenre to top-40 stardom, Del Rey’s popularity signaled the introduction of newer, even more intense and honest artists than herself.
This shift is in part due to these artists, as the audiences for their music become desensitized to the shock value and up-front crudeness of their lyrics, but it has also been influenced by the massive changes in the music industry at large. We no longer rely on sanitized, FCC-regulated radio to get our music ― not even in the car or on a train ― as my friends and I found that day on the way to Austria. Listeners are now able to choose what they want from their musicians, supporting artists that would not have made it to the ears of record executives, let alone the radio, because of their niche status or subjects.
We are now able to directly support artists like Del Rey, CupcakKe, Peaches and Brooke Candy, at the same time proving the existence of an audience for them and furthering the presence of sex-positive music for femme, queer and other traditionally underrepresented demographics. The personalization of music in the last two decades has made it possible to bring what has always been private into the public eye, thus allowing the hushed existence of female lust and sexuality to enter the spotlight it so desperately needs.