Didja feel that, ladies and gentlemen? That was 16 year old Violet's sexual awakening. And it got worse. Much, much worse.
I was a junior in high school. I had fooled around a bit with boys and girls, but was still in possession of an intact hymen. Which is a gross way of saying I was really scared of what sex was going to be like. I knew I wanted to have it, but I didn't know with who and I certainly didn't know how.
And then a few things happened. I listened to Voodoo. When I say that, I don't mean I sat with headphones and a Walkman (god, how old are we?) taking detailed composition notes about style and meaning. I mean I drove around in my car for hours with CD on repeat, thinking about other people's bodies in a way I wasn't totally comfortable with yet. I listened to this record on repeat so many times that my best friend nearly refused to get into my car. I listened to this record so much that when my car got broken into and the CD got stolen, I went out and bought a new copy the next day. And this was before I'd even seen that video.
The other thing that happened that year was one of those summer-long, personality-defining, self-discovering kinds of international trips with a bunch of other kids your age. You know the kind where you're sent to discover something about your ethnic culture and history, but instead you spend the entire time rubbing your body against other teenagers' bodies to see what exactly will happen. The kind where someone flicks on your hormones switch and you just give every sleeping bag hand-job and deserted hallway tongue slip and side-long "follow me to my dorm room" glance your little 16 year old body can muster. And then I saw this for the first time:
This video has seen a bit of resurgence in pop culture conversation, because D'Angelo admitted that it kind of ruined his life for, like, a decade. Because, once you see this video, once you feel D'Angelo stare into your eyes, and then spend four minutes being treated to every angle of his body sweating, contracting, appearing to bask in the glory of earth's most epic blow job and realizing oh my god, there are parts of a man's body I didn't even know I was attracted to, it's hard to look at him as anything else but a sexual jet engine, hell bent on making all your muscles quiver at once. Poor D'Angelo had no idea, and certainly wasn't warned, that he was about to release one of the most sophisticated weapons of visual sexuality of our generation. He definitely didn't know that he couldn't take it back. If you haven't read the Jezebel take on this phenomenon, which makes the pretty amazing point that D'Angelo felt what most women feel pretty regularly and then went immediately insane, it's worth a read. But D, I'm sorry. I'm not about to talk these fine people out of sexually objectifying you just yet.
Although I had been sexually attracted to people before, felt horny and acted on that feeling, desire had never been quite so intellectually clear to me before I watched the video for "Untitled (How Does It Feel)." There was a rumor at the time, that D'Angelo was actually getting a blow job while they shot this video -- which, although untrue, looks so remarkably possible in the video that you have to wonder if he was directed to make it seem that way. He looks so unmistakably uncomfortable as the video starts -- (ostensibly) naked, vulnerable, nervous -- the way all of our most authentic sexual encounters usually begin. Slowly, he relaxes, sweeps us up and gets swept up himself in the sound of his voice, the singing of this really raw song. Then, before he and we even realize it, he's sweating, waving his arms, smiling, nearly jumping up and down AND THEN THE VAGINAS OF EARTH EXPLODE. It happens every time I watch the video, no matter how many times I do.
Hold on, if you haven't ever seen this, just watch it and tell me I'm lying. (And if you have seen it, watch it anyway, because dayum.)
I took a long break from Voodoo, only recently listening to it all the way through again, and was amazed at how the feelings resurfaced. I lost my inhibitions to this record. I lost my virginity (not literally, but it was of the same time and place) to this record. When I listen to it now, I kind of find my sexuality all over again. That tight, anticipatory feeling takes over in all the tenderest of places, and I get reminded that D'Angelo is probably the reason I can so clearly identify that I am overwhelmingly attracted to men's forearms. To their backs. To the place where their neck meets their shoulders.
The thing that D'Angelo got so upset about in the swelling (sorry, but seriously) response to this video, was that women only wanted to see him take his shirt off and stopped caring about his voice. But we'd ALL SEEN hot men before. We'd all seen muscular dudes flex with their shirts off. The secret sauce was that he'd shown us the way your back clenches when you give and receive pleasure. That his voice had made our hips move in a new way. And that he fucking smiled while it seemed like he was getting blown. He could have been significantly less ripped in this video and our vaginas still would have fallen in love with him. I wish someone had told him that before he ran away for eleven years to do blow and freak out.
So, D'Angleo, should you ever see this, thank you for teaching so many women my age what desire felt like. Thank you for showing us how scary but rewarding it can be to feel vulnerable. And thanks for attaching a record to all this that can still make us all wet.
Now please make more music and stop worrying about how your abs look.