Play

Authored by: Elliott H. Powell

The Routledge History of American Sexuality

Print publication date:  March  2020
Online publication date:  February  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138639355
eBook ISBN: 9781315637259
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315637259-24

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Abstract

In the Fall of 2008, female pop group The Pussycat Dolls (PCD) released “Whatcha Think About That,” their second single from their sophomore album Doll Domination. Co-written by and featuring African American female rapper Missy Elliott, “Whatcha Think About That” finds Elliott and PCD critiquing sexist double standards in heteropatriarchal romantic relationships and exploring role-reversing scenarios as means to imagine alternative and more supportive sexual intimacies. The opening verse of the song plays with the gendering of public and private space that informs heteronormative relationships, and seeks to assist a male significant other to recognize his male privilege: “Tonight we gon’ switch up, I’ll do you you’ll do me/Tonight you’re gon’ stay at home while I’m runnin’ the streets/What do you think about that, baby?” This last line, “What do you think about that, baby?” as well as the title of the song are rhetorical and intended to teach imagined male partners a lesson about the psychic violence of heteronormativity. But where PCD’s lyrics find role reversals as acts that can improve heterosexual relationships and heteromasculinity, Missy Elliott’s rap suggests that the goal of role playing is not a recuperation of heterosexuality but an enactment of queer relationalities. Elliott opens her verse as follows:

Hold up! What you think about that?/You wear the dress and I put on your slacks/Tonight I’m going out and ain’t coming back/You ain’t gonna get no more pussycat/You see me in the club I’m out with my girls/Do like you do when you’re out with them dudes/Up in the club it’s just me and my girls/Play like Katy Perry kissing on girls.

Here, Elliott’s role playing engenders an engagement with female masculinity (“I put on your slacks”) as well as, through her allusion to Katy Perry’s 2008 hit “I Kissed a Girl,” queer female same-sex erotics. Elliott’s reference to making out with women (further) signals Elliott’s own long-rumored queer sexuality, and also betrays and fails to fully replicate the gendered role reversal that the song supposedly establishes. 1 That is, if Elliott’s rap is simply about reversing the script of a man and his male friends cheating on their female significant others by making out with women, then Missy’s rap should have detailed a woman making out with men. Instead, Elliott slightly shifts this role-reversing scenario and pursues queer female intimacies (“kissing on girls”). Elliott’s rupture, her deviant play with role playing, thus facilitates a refusal of heteromasculinity and heteronormativity as failed and unworthy institutions—“I ain’t coming back”—and embraces queerness as a more equitable and liberatory erotic formation.

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