Songs by men that objectify women are a mainstay of popular music genres from hip-hop, to country, to rock and pop. The definition of objectification can be hard to pin down, but you know it when you hear it, and you hear it a lot. It can range from the subtle, say the way The Beach Boys’ “California Girls” fetishizes women from a particular state in the union, to the more obvious “Baby Got Back,” in which Sir Mix-A-Lot airs his fixation on a certain (arguably fascinating) body part. On its own, in perfect laboratory conditions, lyrical statements of thirst made by men and addressed to women aren’t necessarily harmful. The case can be made that “Baby Got Back” is commendable for the way it dismisses Eurocentric beauty standards. Of course, no song floats in a vacuum; they all exist in a world where the music industry is still largely run by men and where it’s a lot more common, and socially acceptable, to hear a woman on the radio objectify herself than for her to objectify a man.
In this atmosphere, songs that turn the tables and express female sexual interest in men can be refreshing antidotes to the toxic levels of testosterone in pop culture. More than that, they can be glorious, rebellious, liberating and even healing. Thankfully, there is a vibrant, if under appreciated, tradition of such songs. From pointed rejoinders to the ever-present stream of male opinions about women, their bodies and behavior to simple slices of the heterosexual (or pansexual) female id, we can only begin to survey this canon here. The songs on this list are about more than evening the score. In each of these, there is a woman asserting her right to say not just “yes” or “no,” but “how about it?” That’s powerful. On its surface, women singing about what they love about men might not seem like the most feminist thing in the world, but it really can be. Besides, everyone wants to be told when they look good, right?
So, leading up to Valentine’s Day—the most love-filled holiday of them all (innuendo relevant), here are 17 songs by women that objectify men.
1. Salt-N-Pepa, “Shoop”
Gleeful, and somehow wholesome in its horniness, “Shoop” is the grand dame—the platonic ideal, if you will—of a lust song. It revolves around a couple of different objects of desire: There’s the b-boy with his blinding smile and extraordinary butt, and then there’s the one in the three-piece suit, one for each MC. The song is the musical equivalent of elevator eyes, but it comes off as good-natured. Salt-N-Pepa’s sex-positive worldview, in which sex and respect can co-exist happily, gives them a lot of leeway here.
2. Dolly Parton, “Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That?”
This ode to a heart-breaker with “big ideas and a little behind” is delightful for how specific it gets about her male muse’s God-given assets and sartorial arsenal. High-heel boots? Check. Painted-on jeans? Got ‘em. Damn.
The scenario is that this guy is Dolly’s ex and now he’s running around with every woman in town. But the song is more about thrilling to the very thought of this “cowgirl’s dream.” “I just can’t stand it,” she sings, but she puts a mischievous smile in her voice, as only Dolly can. The unbelievably cute video, which features the country legend auditioning actors to be her leading man in a film, underscores the general idea. Significantly, she can see them, but they can’t see her.
3. Lil’ Kim, “How Many Licks”
Lil’ Kim has a gift for objectifying herself in the same verse in which she objectifies a man. Although switching between the perspective of subject and object can be dizzying, she flips acrobatically on this ‘90s jam. The video literally portrays her as a doll—a hot commodity available in three different models—while the text on the screen reads, “She doesn’t satisfy you…You satisfy her.” Her approach has become the template for explicit braggadocio as practiced by women rappers in the mainstream, and “How Many Licks” is the textbook example.
4. Bessie Smith, “I’m Wild About That Thing”
For all her aforementioned, ahem, assets, Lil’ Kim didn’t invent raunchy lyrics. You can go way back, back to even Bessie Smith to find some of the earliest instances. At the very least, lines like “I’m wild about that thing / yeah, I like your ting-a-ling” grant her OG/GOAT/Hall of Famer status for eternity. With all the talk about ringing bells, buttons, and sugar bowls, this 1920s blues is a veritable junk drawer of sexual innuendo. It’s also a heartfelt cry for sexual satisfaction that has echoed through the ages. It would become the blueprint for much of the rock ‘n’ roll and a lot of other things that would come after it. A glance at the YouTube comments for this number reveals that she is still making people blush almost a century later.
5. The Shangri-Las, “Give Him a Great Big Kiss”
Though it’s on the innocent side, this frisky 1965 girl-group classic isn’t shy. Mary Weiss gives voice to the teenaged female gaze via a lovingly detailed portrait of a delinquent dreamboat. This perfect specimen has unruly hair, dirty fingernails, tight pants and always looks bummed out. Weiss revels in all of it. Never mind that she’s never seen his eyes, ‘cause he looks great in shades. This is the one with the oft-quoted lines like, “He’s good, bad, but he’s not evil” and “When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in love, L-U-V.” The tune inspired a range of covers, the gender-flipped version by the New York Dolls being the most well-known, and even entire subgenres of punk.
6. Liz Phair, “Flower”
Practically the poet laureate of hot dudes (see: “Supernova”), it’s not easy to pick one Liz Phair song to go on this list, but it’s obviously necessary. “Flower” is notable for its vivid and original descriptions of male beauty (“Your face reminds me of a flower / kind of like you’re under water”) and for how unsettling it is when she sings, “I want to fuck you like a dog / I’ll take you home and make you like it” in a flat sing-song. In her hands, the same tropes that seem so normal in any number of songs by men are revealed for how morbid and even pathological, though maybe deeply human, they are. The version on the Girly-Sound bootleg is especially creepy because of Phair’s girlish delivery. It’s terrifically subversive on one level, while also being wholly relatable as a song about a particularly carnal crush.
7. Tuscadero, “Angel in a Half Shirt”
Tuscadero’s The Pink Album has lots of songs about boys, of varying degrees of quality (the boys, not the songs), but “Angel in a Half Shirt” is breathtaking in the purity of its lust. Built around a rumbling bass line and driven by Melissa Farris’s hormonal moan, it’s basically human female pheromones condensed and formed into the shape of a 1990s Pacific Northwest indie rock song. Like the spectacular midriff of the song’s subject, it’s hard to forget.
8. Janet Jackson, “Nasty”
When Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” in a fit of pique during the debates, Spotify streams of Janet Jackson’s 1986 iconic hit spiked and made headlines. The thing is, it’s not a song about nasty women. It’s a song about boys. It could be seen as an ambivalent celebration of the naughty ones. It not as straightforward as when Gloria Estefan sang about the bad boys that made her feel so good, just the year before. They don’t mean a thing, but she doesn’t mind seeing their nasty bodies move. The lyrics are mostly about respect, while the nasty groove is mostly about getting nasty. There’s no contradiction there. Like much of the pop star’s oeuvre it makes a nuanced statement of sexual agency. The bad boys can be as bad as they want, as long as they address her properly and respect her clearly established boundaries.
9. Candypants, “Nerdy Boys”
With a band name like Candypants, you know you are in for some sass. Though their song “Dishy” is more direct, “Nerdy Boys” is more of a charmer and stands out memorably as a cheeky anthem for women whose desires are, um, unconventional. Is your type skinny, pale and bespectacled? Do your sexual fantasies involve Star Wars bed sheets and tighty whities? Candypants gets you.
10. Nicki Minaj, “Super Bass”
Nicki Minaj’s boy-crazy hit put an effervescent bubblegum pop twist on the take-charge school pioneered by Missy Elliott, Lil’ Kim and Salt-N-Pepa. (There are echoes of “Shoop” here to be sure.) While the song is far from graphic, it’s an excellent soundtrack for boy watching and ticks the objectification box in the sense that, after awhile, her “boys with the polos” and the ones with the booming systems all start to run together. Truth is, they all have her heartbeat running away.
11. The Donnas, “40 Boys in 40 Nights”
There are a few songs in The Donnas’ discography that could have made this list, but their entry here into the annals of songs that brag about the ability to treat one’s sexual partners as interchangeable and disposable is truly epic. When Brett Anderson came out boasting that “My honey in Stuttgart doesn’t care that I collect their underwear,” and complaining that “There’s no cute boys in Decatur” on this high-powered tribute to guy groupies and boy band-aids the gauntlet had been thrown down.
12. Jennifer Lopez, “I Luh Ya Papi”
True love built on friendship can be very, very hot. That’s the point J.Lo drives home with this racy love song. Admittedly, she objectifies herself on this tune more than her beau with casual references to her legs and hourglass figure, but the video has become inseparable from the song, and it has another point to make entirely. As you can tell just from rolling the clips in this list, Lopez is far from the first female pop star to decorate a music video with lots of shirt-free beefcake, but the skit at the beginning of the video where Lopez laughs while shooting down a bunch of sexist concept for her video is beyond righteous and particularly poignant coming from an artist whose physique has sometimes eclipsed her music talent, at least in the minds of some.
13. Jen Kwok, “Date an Asian”
Comedian Jen Kwok pushes the envelop with this tongue in cheek musical PSA in which she urges one and all to try dating an Asian man, or “at least fuck one.” Her humor is outrageous as she extolls the virtues of Filipinos, Sri Lankans and Korean dudes, but it has a purpose. The satirical song is meant expose the racist attitudes in popular culture that hyper-sexualize Asian women, while portraying Asian men as undesirable. She’s flipping the script in the hopes of making people laugh and think, and maybe widen their dating options.
14. Mirah, “Sweepstakes Prize”
This indie folk song is sweet, but Mirah also reduces her love interest to a combustible object: “You remind me of a firework, boy.” The lyric “You sparkle and burn but you take your time / and I bet I could carry you across state lines” brings to mind an image of Mirah’s boy in the trunk of her car. Not that it’s any of my business what they get up to.
15. Katy Perry, “Peacock”
No coy “I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours” flirtation, this critically panned album cut from Teenage Dream gets straight down to “show me yours.” Most adults, including Katy Perry’s record label, think this is a not very subtle song about male genitalia the first time they hear it. Perry herself has suggested that it’s open to interpretation and maybe also a gay-pride anthem? Sure, the tone borders on sexual harassment and could contribute to the idea that women are actually swayed by below-the-belt selfies (whether it’s true or not, it’s not a good idea to promote), but in an era when many women complain that gentlemen on dating apps can be a might ungentlemanly, this kind of thinly veiled filth from the mouth of a lady provides a kind of relief.
16. Peaches, “Dick in the Air”
Peaches has long been and equal opportunity objectifier. “Shake Yer Dix” for example is an anarchic electro-clash fantasia of cavorting primary and secondary sex characteristics. This more recent number off Rub focuses on male primary sex characteristics, as did the phallic festival of “Tent in Your Pants.” It may be the most triumphant and definitive of all her songs in this, er, vein. The lyrics beat the listener about the head and shoulders with her point as if it were a large floppy dildo: “Put Your dick in the air / We’re sick of hands in the air / And shake our asses like we don’t care / We’ve been shaking our tits for years / So let’s switch positions, no inhibitions, fears.” Is it really too much to ask?
17. The Weather Girls, “It’s Raining Men”
With a healthy sense of entitlement and unparalleled élan, this classic1983 disco smash is in a class by itself. It even has its own cosmology, one in which Mother Nature (a single woman) is in charge of heaven and all the angels, which is obviously why it’s raining men. It also cornered the market early on mature meteorological metaphors. Leave your umbrellas at home, but please use protection.