A friend Lashawn Lee recently admitted that while she remembered the “Thong Song,” she did not remember the music video, and my brain exploded. She must never have seen it. The house she is staying in has limited wireless reception, but I maintained that the effort to watch this video on her cellphone would be worth it. “There is a human diamond,” I explained. It took us a 45 minutes to get through the 4 minute, 37 second video.
I want you to watch the video and I want to explain it to you and I want you to understand.
It begins with a brief scene of Sisqo and his beautiful lady chilling in Miami. Sisqo’s young daughter and she have just returned from shopping. Sisqo is on his cell phone in the bedroom, handling business. (I suspect this mini-drama may have in some small way influenced R. Kelly’s complex and brilliant Trapped in the Closet.) In any case, the four- or five-year-old girl walks into the bedroom, a new (tags still on), lacy red thong behind her back. “Daddy, Daddy” she says, insistently tapping at his leg, pleading for Sisqo’s attention. She reveals the thong in her tiny, outstretched hand. “What’s this?” she asks.
Sisqo is shocked and seems briefly dismayed with his lady’s carelessness, but he nevertheless gets to work. He puts on his strange, two-fingered white gloves and his unzipped collared vest. He knows what he needs to do. The answer to his daughter’s question, which arrives in music video form, is not directed at the girl, but rather to all of America.
(Sisqo has a belly button ring framed by a tribal sun tattoo.)
There are violins. There are charter buses full of scantily dressed women from all over–Chicago, Dallas, Baltimore, New York, Los Angeles–who have arrived to the beach to apparently demonstrate their thongs for Sisqo and two of his friends at this impromptu spring break party. They are on their way.
The video seems at first to be standard hip hop video fare. There are glistening, objectified women lying on the beach, playing volleyball, dancing. But there is something a little more sunny and upbeat, at least for the first three minutes. Sisqo does flips and cartwheels, for example. There is a Super Soaker fight and a little coordinated dance done by Sisqo and his male friends. There is a phallic hot dog, with mustard, which just seems kind of endearing. That, too, a thong could be so subversive, points to a more naive time. This video could not be as successful today.
But then, THEN, things change. There aren’t very many lyrics, and the beach party seems to be winding down. It almost seems like it is over. But suddenly, at around 3:08, both the sky and the music darken. Sisqo and his buddies fly into the air Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger style, forming a human diamond, the kind cheerleaders make. Sisqo’s singing suddenly becomes more urgent, more passionate. He runs across the tops of the partygoers’ fingers, thunder sounds, and he is suddenly on a stage. A 9-piece (9!) string section plays furiously, fireworks explode behind them. Women in DayGlo bikinis dance so hard, you wonder if it is painful. Everywhere there is dragon imagery. Everyone and everything is intense. Then, the music just sort of fades away. The fireworks explode one last time, in slow motion, and it is over. Fade to black.
At the beginning of the video, in a spoken word intro (as the charter bus women disembark), Sisqo promises that this video will let “all the ladies know what guys talk about.” But I feel no closer to understanding.
All we are left with is the knowledge that this is a man who truly loves thongs.
But here is why I am obsessed with this video. The strings part is lifted from a cover of “Eleanor Rigby,” which lends layers of melancholy and depth and meaning. While the song seems initially lighthearted, a spring break anthem, there is an abrupt shift in the last minute. It becomes desperate, pleading. “I don’t think you heard me,” Sisqo sing-screams. He needs you to understand him, and all he can do is keep repeating the same inadequate words, repeating the same, limited moves. He is is some sort of late 1990s/early-2000s existentialist trap.
This song was a very big deal the year that Ryan and I got married, in 2000. So much so that I knew it would be requested at the reception, and I asked the DJ not to play it. He waited until we left, but public demand was so great that he caved to the pressure and played it. It was a dance floor success. I am a recovering music snob, and I am now prepared to admit that this was a great song.
Sisqo’s first album was called Unleash the Dragon, followed by Return of the Dragon. Sadly, the final album in the trilogy, Last Dragon, was never released. Despite his greatness, Sisqo has faded into my memory. He was born a year before I was, and he has achieved more than I ever will. Still, I had forgotten his name was spelled with an “S,” and the accent on the “o.” Perhaps Sisqo will enjoy a comeback. Perhaps he will sweep the Billboard Music Awards once again. Whatever happens, we will always have the “Thong Song.”