The time has come to hold a referendum on the state of music; specifically, the presence of sex noises in music. This is a distinct and unusual trend in music production that has thrived uncurtailed for decades, multiplying like a cancer. From Naughty by Nature and Joan Jett to Tove Lo and Nelly, singers have been employing recordings of their own moaning, grunting, and squelching in their tracks for far too long. And somehow, whether it’s because sex noises can be ignored with strong willpower or because there’s a statistically significant group of people for whom this feature is actually a draw, the use of sex sounds has blossomed without consequence.
Selena Gomez’s “Bad Liar,” which features a whiny orgasmic noise in one of its chorus repeats, collected three major music award nominations; Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” was nominated for a Grammy; “Windowlicker” by Aphex Twin was New Musical Express (NME) Single of the Year; Nelly took home a Grammy and a Billboard award for “Hot in Here.” There are simply too many well-regarded songs to list here, but even these few can illustrate the epidemic nature of wailing sexually to a beat.
Adding sex noises to a song, particularly a song unrelated to sex (see “Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways), is a transparent attempt to lend maturity to a song. It always fails, because as any artist knows, the least edgy thing possible is trying to be edgy, and nothing says try-hard like a randomly placed moan. At the very least, hearing unexpected sex noises in a song is viscerally unpleasant. Whether it feels like a violation of privacy or just primally gross, akin to nails on a chalkboard, I daresay even the most hypersexual individual doesn’t want to hear the noises of Axl Rose doing the devil’s tango over a guitar riff.
Even without considering the implications of sex noises on music quality, it’s undeniable that their presence denigrates the listening experience—especially in public. Music is often enjoyed with others, but hearing backup singers moan for Naughty by Nature in the company of casual acquaintances, or—God forbid—young siblings or children, is a painfully embarrassing experience; the public’s continued tolerance of it confounds me. Yet we shouldn’t be bound to this problem! For when sex noises are used in as cavalier a manner as most singer-songwriters employ them, they add nothing of value to the song. Therefore, their removal should have no real negative effects.
Furthermore, although many singer-songwriters don’t seem to know this, there are ways to cover sex in a song that don’t involve recording yourself in the throes of passion. Sex is a meaningful part of life for many people, and it is possible to incorporate it into art in a nuanced, tasteful way.
There are songs solely about having or wanting to have sex, but their restraint and strong music help them remain listenable. “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails, “Take Me To Church” by Hozier, and “Girls” by Beatrice Eli are prime examples of this. Furthermore, many songs use sexual themes to their advantage by using sex to comment on social issues. L7’s “Wargasm” focuses on the almost sexual pleasure the American government seems to derive from going to war. “Screwed” by Janelle Monae uses sexual references to explore hedonism during wartime. Brooke Candy is a queer rapper and former stripper whose work explores sexuality in a powerful, new way. Her song “WAR” even begins with aggressive moaning, but nevertheless it is exactly as she describes it: a punk-rock anarchist scream track “with a thoughtful feminist perspective.”
So please, music industry executives, singers, songwriters, anyone with influence… how much must I grovel for the indecency to stop? Everything I have said is something you must already know, and yet still you persist in climaxing on tape. If there is any ounce of restraint inside you, reach for it now. This is the moment for change.