Late last year, when Hannibal Buress brought Bill Cosby’s long-neglected predatory past to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness, he turned a paragon of the American Dream into a mere palimpsest. And we were all forced to confront the ugliness of Cosby’s central driving force.
This wasn’t Kanye West stealing the mic from Taylor Swift in 2008—a compelling moment of frankness chalked up to rude at best that fueled a narrative to those predisposed to hating Kanye (and others like him). It was the acknowledgement of a decades-long span of serial rape that contradicted every ounce of Cosby’s public image. You know, the comic that shamed peers for cursing on stage.
Perhaps the scariest aspect of the Cosby outing is that it wasn’t ever a secret. Exactly to Hannibal’s point, all you had to do was google the dude’s name to yield a landfill of speculation about his past. Hell, in his ’69 comedy album, aptly titled It’s True! It’s True!, Cosby detailed his initiation to and infatuation with procuring a date rape drug colloquially referred to as “Spanish Fly.” Listening to the bit now, it’s skin-crawlingly perturbing how lightly the audience took the subject.
For some reason, male pop stars have always had carte blanche in the arena of romanticizing taboo May/December affairs. Specifically, it’s that age-old sexual fantasy of being an old heteronormative creeper sexually pursuing an innocent young girl who is just not quite of “legal” age. Moreover, the only thing that might hold these creepers back is the implication that they would be committing statutory rape if they followed through with their desires, as if the object of the creeper’s misguided affection’s opinion of them even matters. “If only she were 18, I could take her!” hides behind a wall of catchy choruses, hook-filled guitar riffs and sometimes impossibly danceable rhythm sections.
While plenty of ultra-bro rags and click-bait websites have compiled their own “Top 10 Jailbait Love Songs” lists over the years with the usual suspects (i.e. Winger’s “Seventeen” and The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”), we would like to put a magnifying glass to songs that exhibit those same qualities, but perhaps are either not as popular or have not been often viewed in the light of controversy. The goal is to not call out the following artists for their lyrical content; that would be a slippery slope in falsely interpreting some art. Rather, it’s to analyze and raise awareness of things that we as audiences don’t easily recognize as being so prevalent in popular culture. We, the media consumers, are hopefully more aware of the sexual predatory figures in media, fictional or not.
MICHAEL JACKSON, "P.Y.T. (PRETTY YOUNG THING)"
The context of Michael Jackson’s molestation charges already make many listening experiences cringe-worthy, but it’s also hard to remember that Jackson was once pushed as something of a sex symbol. Coupled with the fact that this song appears on one of the best-selling albums of all time (Thriller), it’s easy for the creep factor of this song’s lyrics to fly under the radar. It’s actually not clear how young the object of Jackson’s affections is in this song, but the line "Tenderoni you got to be" speaks volumes. “Tenderoni,” apart from being a boxed macaroni food product, is street slang for an inappropriately young love interest (basically an alternative to “jailbait”). There are numerous songs called “Tenderoni” (or, in Bobby Brown’s case, simply “Roni”), so the subject is well-trodden territory, but what ups the creepiness factor of the term’s use in “P.Y.T.” is that Jackson seems like he would be disappointed if she was past “Tenderoni” age. Or, at the very least, he’s only attracted to her because she looks too young. An unfortunate case of art imitating life?
KINGS OF LEON, "17"
Coming off of the band’s commercial breakthrough, Only By The Night, this might be one of the first KoL songs most of mainstream society ever heard (if people bothered to listen to the album all the way through). It’s a pretty generic piece of classic butt rock, with the lyrical implication being that Caleb Followill slept with a seventeen-year-old girl, decided to split, but then she threw a fit when he tried to leave for a bloody mary. It’s seems that while he wants her for one thing, he can’t be bothered to attend to her needs because she behaves like a “baby.” Rather than be sensitive to her needs, it’s the “rolling of [her] Spanish tongue that made [him] wanna stay.” My interpretation, I’ll admit, might be a bit off, but either way, it’s a blood-curdling disgust to hear that “Spanish tongue” line over and over again.
THE KNACK, "MY SHARONA"
The epitome of one hit wonders, “My Sharona” is a simple, quirky, catchy ditty that has been lovingly repurposed in commercials, films and parodies. Although coming at the end of the ‘70s, “My Sharona” has proven to shed its context. It feels timeless, hard to place and fun. That is, except that the song revolves around the following line: “I always get it up for the touch of the younger kind.” Despite this disgusting line, which implies habitual practice, “My Sharona” is still kicking around in the pop culture consciousness. Perhaps it doesn’t help that the tastemakers of '94s Reality Bites legitimated it with the line, “Turn it up, you won’t regret it.” I’m sure The Knack’s Doug Fieger has met a few who have regretted it.
DEAN FRIEDMAN, "McDONALD'S GIRLS"
Friedman’s “McDonald’s Girl” has the distinction of being the only song on this list that was banned from the radio. Apparently, the BBC balked at the song’s inclusion of a major corporation’s name in the title. That was the sole reason they refused to play it. Seriously. Nevermind the fact that Friedman is hungry for more than just a Quarter Pounder (with cheese) after softball practice: he sings about being in love with the 15-year-old “angel in a polyester uniform” behind the drive-thru window. “She doesn’t act real tough like all the other girls” that he knows. And, for some reason, Friedman is privy to the fact that she’s “not afraid to be the only other virgin” he knows. Adding another level of creepiness to his tale, Friedman reveals this nugget about watching her take orders from the Saddle River Little League: "If they knew how much I wanted her / Their homeroom teacher would have to send them home for a week." Wow. Two side notes: the song was actually used for an official McDonald’s ad campaign several years ago and it was covered by the Barenaked Ladies.
HEAVEN 17, "COME LIVE WITH ME"
When a song opens with "I was thirty-seven / You were seventeen," it’s easy to hypothesize that the listener is not about to be taken on any sort of innocent journey. Heaven 17 was really into criticizing the capitalist/commercial/yuppie culture that was in full swing by the early 1980s, so it’s likely that they were self-aware and trying to expose capitalist pigs as pederasts by creating a narrative from the point-of-view of a creeper. The band never really made a splash in the U.S., but this song is one of their biggest hits in the U.K. and it seems that nobody ever questioned the lyrical material. In the end, it’s a prototypical tale of an aging man desperate to cling on to whatever youth he has left by luring a 17-year-old away from their childhood. Also, it sounds like Berlin lifted some of the synth parts for “Take My Breath Away.”
TEARS FOR FEARS, "CALL ME MELLOW"
A late-period cut from TFF, 2004’s “Call Me Mellow” was the duo’s first American single in nearly 15 years and it operates like a jangly power pop clinic. Lyrically, at least there is acknowledgement that—with both Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith being in their early 40s at the time—sometimes getting older simply sucks. "And though it’s gravity that drags down my balloon / She stays in orbit/Way after midnight." If anything, there’s not so much lust as there is jealousy in that Orzabal seems to pine for the days when he could stay awake past 9 p.m. But then again: "If only I was half my and she was older / We’d live on ice cream / On Coney Island." Not all creeper fantasies are equal, apparently.
DEAN MARTIN, "BABY, IT'S COLD OUTSIDE"
It’s not hard to imagine that Dean Martin has done some super creepy shit. I’m sure “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is merely a drop in the bucket, but what’s more important about this creepy duet is how widely it’s embraced as a touchstone of the family friendly, peace-filled Christmas season. In “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” Martin is unabashedly pleading a woman to stay. He’s giving her a bunch of excuses why she should stay: the titular cold, no cabs, the warm fireplace, etc.. But the woman trusts her instincts to get home, away from this creeper. Martin, a man not to be refused, puts a bit of the “Spanish Fly” in her next drink to subdue her. The next time you hear this song playing in a mid-December Macy’s, you might realize how terrifying the line “I wish I knew how to break this spell” is.