Some of the best sex songs aren't overtly sexualBy Ellen Johnson | 02/22/2018 9:30am
Photo illustration by Shana Oshinskie
Sex is not a topic underrepresented in music. In fact, just about every corner of modern music is laced with sexual innuendos. Even if sex isn’t mentioned explicitly in the lyrics, songs can feel sexy – in their beats, bass lines, hooks and swerves.
However, some songs speak directly to the topic of sex. From classics like Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” to Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” to Flo Rida’s “Right Round,” many songs come to mind. But those tracks don’t even begin to scratch the surface of an expansive catalogue of songs about sex, and they aren’t even necessarily the best.
As popular music has split off into varied directions over the last few decades, more and more underrepresented circles of artists have found freedom to sing and write about sex. SZA’s 2017 record “Ctrl” has been praised for – among many other things – its direct sexual commentary. SZA writes freely about her sexual experiences, and her album has contributed to a conversation of women talking about their own sex lives. One of SZA’s tracks tops our list of best songs about sex. You can listen to the whole playlist online at www.cw.ua.edu.
Wet Dreamz - J. Cole
J. Cole turns an awkward story about his first time into a heartwarming anecdote. A flurry of nervousness, condom mishaps and first-time jitters results in a charming reconciliation at the end of the song. J. Cole’s most recent album, “4 Your Eyez Only,” was, while a display of talented rap and clever storytelling, somewhat lost in the shuffle of hip-hop albums released in the last couple of years. But no one can deny J. Cole’s imprint on hip hop, especially when it comes to songs like this one from “2014 Forest Hills Drive.” He says himself at the beginning of the song, “Let me take y’all back man / As I do so well.” From detailing his unreasonable confidence in approaching first-time sex to showcasing his female partner as an equal in the whole process, J. Cole does an excellent job of storytelling on this track.
Love Galore - SZA
This collaboration between SZA and Travis Scott is a tug of war in terms of two people’s desires in a sexual relationship. “Ctrl” in its entirety is like several of Solána Imani Rowe’s (a.k.a SZA’s) diary entries: she is still being celebrated for her honesty on this record, as well she should be. Namely, “Doves in the Wind,” a Kendrick Lamar collaboration, should be heralded for its clear and casual discussion of sex and the power of female sexuality, in tandem with its humor. But “Love Galore” is more nuanced in discussion of actual sex. SZA said of the track, “This song is about being played by a dude.” It revolves around what seems to be a fun relationship where both halves are free to act how they want, yet the male partner is fleeting. The woman is confused as to why, despite their fun, the man isn’t sticking around.
Cruel Sexuality - La Roux
Though a chirpy, synthy track, “Cruel Sexuality” is layered with darkness. The track points to the overall narrative of the album, “Trouble In Paradise.” Here, the trouble is rooted in a partner’s greedy sexual tendencies. Many of the kerfuffles detailed in this album are sexually entrenched, but none are as explicitly stated as in this lyric: “Oh you make me happy in my every day life / Why must you keep me in your prison at night?” Eleanor "Elly" Jackson, a.k.a La Roux, sings the line innumerable times in the last minute of the song. She can’t make herself more clear: She’s invested in the relationship and truly cares, but her partner is only in it for the sex. There’s something shifty about her vocabulary. In using the word “prison,” she’s telling us that it’s not just that her partner likes a lot of sex, there’s an aspect of control in their relationship.
Crash Into Me - Dave Matthews Band
This song is experiencing a heated resurrection from its late 90s resting place thanks to a pointed plug in “Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig’s breakout 2017 film that could be headed for Oscars stardom. Dave Matthews tends to be a divisive figure: many music nerds hate him for his kitsch, but his band has a cult following that rivals that of many jam bands. But you can’t deny the keenness with which he writes lyrics. The song is without a doubt Dave Matthews Band’s biggest hit. It’s about passion and boyhood dreams coming true. It shouldn’t be praised for its objectification of its female subject, but Matthews’ cleverly written sexual yearning is something of legend. “Hike up your skirt a little more,” he sings, “And show the world to me.”
Company - Justin Bieber
While this song can be interpreted beyond a sexual narrative, it’s popularly regarded as a story of sexual longing. Justin Bieber has explored the breadth of pop music – much of it trite and youth oriented – since his career began when he was a teen, but his album “Purpose” has, thus far, been the most artful and mature, if you can even allow yourself to consider Bieber as capable of creating something other than Top 40 muck. “Company” certainly oozes something more sophisticated as Bieber smoothly tries to plea with a potential partner: “You ain’t gotta be my lover / For me to call you baby / Never been about no pressure / Ain’t that serious, no.” Cut the chatter and perhaps Bieber is just looking for some conversation, but more than likely it’s a different kind of rendezvous he’s in search of.
The Seed (2.0) – The Roots
With a heavy percussion groove and unforgettable guitar riffs, this song is as much about trying to impregnate a woman as it is about an artist pushing his music into the world. On the surface, the song is literally about sex with a long-term partner, as Cody Chesnutt sings “I push my seed in her bush for life / It’s gonna work because I’m pushing it right.” The song is clever because it’s also about a musical conception as well as a human one. “If Mary drops my baby girl tonight,” The Roots sing, “ I would name her ‘Rock n’ Roll.’”
Soft - Kings of Leon
This song details a sexual mishap. Contrary to many masculine conceits surrounding sex, this song paints the male protagonist in a different light as he experiences – ahem – technical issues. “Aha Shake Heartbreak” is Kings of Leon’s rugged, angsty sophomore release, but it doesn’t skimp on emotional and musical creativity. This song, while graphic, maintains decency in Caleb Followill’s shredded vocals and in the band’s masterful grasp on what was then a new southern rock sound.