Our Animal Side Shows in Songs About Sex

Though humans' sexual lives differ greatly from animals', the line is blurred in music.

In 1993, Snoop Dogg titled his album “Doggystyle.” A year later, Nine Inch Nails famously roared, “I wanna fuck you like an animal” in their song “Closer.” In 1999, Bloodhound Gang declared: “You and me, baby, ain’t nothin’ but mammals.”

More recently, Robin Thicke offended some people last summer with his undeniably catchy song “Blurred Lines,” in which he sings, “You’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature. Just let me liberate you.” Though many took issue with the song’s sexism, the problem is not just that the women are objectified; it’s that they’re animalized. Thicke does not just degrade them as women; he devolves them as humans.

In the music video, when Thicke first sings, “You’re an animal,” the model turns her near-naked backside to him and purrs, “Meow.” The women are nearly naked whereas the men are dressed in expensive suits and leather jackets. The girls make animal sounds and play with animals; the men sing and play instruments. The women assume primal sexual positions; the men do complicated dance moves.

In a Today Show interview, Robin Thicke said his song is “saying that women and men are equals as animals and in power.” That’s not the message that was communicated, though. The “blurred line,” in his song and many others, is the one between human and animal.

On the one hand, humans are driven by primitive instincts that have been encoded in our genes over millions of years of evolution, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In his book The Third Chimpanzee, Jared Diamond, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, points out that human beings share 98 percent of their genes with chimpanzees. So only 2 percent of our DNA is what makes us “human.” It’s perplexing.

Darwin theorized that a major incentive for all species is to procreate. He posited that successful mate selection is achieved in two ways: competing with others for the mate you want, or having specific mechanisms for attracting that mate. Robin Thicke and T.I. use both tactics in “Blurred Lines.” They put down the fictitious competition multiple times: Thicke insults the man who wrongly tried to “domesticate” the girl in the song; and both men shamelessly advertise the size of their genitalia.

Our primal, animalistic side comes out in music. For example, there is an obvious science behind the constant male praise of the female butts in music. A certain amount of fat signals that the woman is past puberty, fertile, and able to become pregnant, carry to term, and breastfeed.

It’s even more formulaic than that: It’s not just about the size of the woman’s behind, it’s about its size in proportion to the woman’s waist. Sir Mix-a-Lot confessed that he loved “an itty bitty waist and a round thing [his] face.” And he just couldn’t lie. In Nelly’s song “Ride Wit Me,” he raps, “How could I tell her no? Her measurements were 36-25-34.” It’s unlikely that Nelly actually did the calculations, but the woman he’s describing has a waist-hip ratio (WHR) of .73, precisely in the range that scientists say males find the most attractive, because WHR is “a reliable signal of reproductive age and reproductive capability.”

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Laura Dimon is a writer based in New York.

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