The Cultural Significance of Booty Music

November 12, 2014
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Cover art for “Anaconda” single.

2014 has been proclaimed the year of the booty. This is, in part, due to the onslaught of butt songs, like “Booty” by J. Lo and Iggy Azalea, “Wiggle” by Jason Derulo and Snoop Dogg, and “All About that Bass” by Meghan Trainor. Even “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift seems to be about shaking your rump, as a cast of multicultural characters join Swift in shaking it through the video.

One of the most popular songs is “Anaconda,” by Nicki Minaj. As you can see in the cover art for the single, she is squatting down in a thong, bra and some blue Air Jordan’s, looking over her shoulder and inviting the male gaze in a textbook example of to-be-looked-at-ness. The “Parental Advisory” label on her rump centers our focus on her derriere, a visual symbol of this song’s central motif: Minaj’s butt. “Anaconda” is an homage to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s 1992 song “Baby Got Back,” and samples Mix-A-Lot’s lyric, “My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun” as part of her chorus. Let’s forget that the music video presents a visual montage of Minaj’s butt from many angles to demonstrate that indeed, she does have “buns.” Minaj tells us through this song that the men she encounters and pleases with her sexual prowess can tell “I ain’t missing no meals,” that they “love this fat ass,” and dedicates this song to “my bitches with a fat ass in the fucking club.” She then dismisses slim ladies with the anthem “Fuck the skinny bitches! Fuck the skinny bitches in the club!” Beyond these lyrics, the synthesized bass line, also sampled from “Baby Got Back” works as an aural keynote that connotes the booty throughout this song.

“Anaconda” and “Baby Got Back” are two examples of the plethora of songs about ladies’ behinds. Popular music has been explicitly telling “Fat Bottomed Girls” to “Shake Shake Shake” Their Booties since at least the 1970s. Looking at lists like VH1’s Booty Booty Booty: 15 Greatest Songs About Butts, Buzzfeeds’ 10 Of The Best Songs About Butts or Shape Magazine’s list of Booty Tunes: 10 Tracks to Get Your Rear in Gear, there is a lot of butt music out there. Trace Adkins country song “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” reminds us that white people like booties too. For the most part, however, booty songs are hip-hop songs performed by male artists. Which brings me to the racialized and gendered nature of booty music.

Sarah Baartman on display in London.

Singing about butts is culturally significant, and exoticizing the bodies of women of color dates back centuries. African woman Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman was exhibited in London and France as the “Hottentot Venus” in the early 1800s. She was dressed in minimal tribal garb that emphasized her “primitive” background and distinct physical features, but most specifically on display was her bottom. Baartman’s exhibition functioned to reinforce cultural ideas of racial difference between Caucasians and Africans, as well as a gendered-racial hierarchy in which blackness became articulated with the body, primitivism, and hypersexuality.

The exoticization and fetishization of non-white female bottoms is thus nothing new. However, songs like LL Cool J’s 1989 “Big Ole Butt,” or Mos Def’s 1999 “Ms. Fat Booty” are not cut-and-dry misogynistic objectification. In many ways, these songs reject hegemonic white beauty standards and celebrate the beauty of African American women. Take, for instance, the way Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” begins with the irritating  white valley girls criticizing a black women. The song uses this as as spring board to lampoon and dismiss white beauty ideals, mocking Cosmo and pop stars like Madonna.  Mix-A-Lot tells us “You can have them bimbos, I’ll keep my women like Flo Jo. A word to the thick soul sisters, I wanna get with ya.” However, inherent in many booty songs is also an unequal power dynamic between the men performing and the women on display. In most booty songs by male artists, they describe what they want in a woman – a fat ass, bubble butt, bedonkadonk, dumps like a truck– and what they want women do with their body. This results in commands like “wiggle wiggle,” “shake ya ass,” “get that thing jiggling,” and more. Here then, male booty songs dismember and define women through their butts, and they become erotic objects that are exulted, while also being evaluated, judged, and subjugated.



Is it then empowering when female artists like Trainor and Minaj sing about their own butts? When Destiny’s Child tells an assumed male spectator that he is “not ready for this jelly” in the song “Bootylicious,” are they exerting female strength? Is it a feminist act for Fergie to sing about her “humps?” Maybe. I cannot watch Minaj’s “Anaconda” and not be overcome by both the strength of her aggression and confidence, along with her sexual objectification. Trainor sings of her body and her “base” as a non-conformist symbol of defiance against the hyper-thin photoshopped beauty ideals we see in fashion magazines, and in this sense her song pushes back against mainstream beauty ideals. However, overall, these songs still define women by their beauty and ability to attract a man within the boundaries of a heterosexual relationship. I am also conflicted whether or not Meghan Trainor’s song “I’m All About That Bass” culturally appropriates the butt from women of color, especially given the way she uses colloquial terms like boom-boom, and junk. I think her vocal performance also conjures blackness through the timbre and pitch of her voice. Is it cultural appropriation for white women to sing about their booties when this association between non-whiteness, butts, and hypersexuality is itself rooted in racist, colonial practices and discourses of racial difference? What do you think, dear reader? Post below. Whatever your thoughts, I hope this post reminds us that, while it may be “the year of the booty,” booty music is a site of complex and ambivalent discourses about social power.


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