On D'Angelo's Direct Responsibility For Most Of My Sexuality

On January 11th, 2000, D'Angelo's Voodoo was released. It kicked off the most sexual year of my young life, and nothing got me thinking about this more than a recent BuzzFeed post, "Hey Girl, D'Angelo Wants To Know How You Feel." Guys, I know it sounds like I'm setting up an elaborate and hilarious joke, but I swear to all things that are fucking holy, I am not. To prove it, Exhibit A:

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. 


  1. I remember this video so well also! I didn't hear the rumor about a blowjob and when I just watched it, it was hard to envision anything other than that.

    1. Right? He looks so sheepish in the beginning, like, "okay, I guess you guys are just going to watch me get blown then?"

      - Violet

  2. OMG. SO MANY THINKINGS. Sorry, you're about to get another random, crackheaded, bulletted and/or numbered comment.

    1. Love D'Angelo. Love. Love love love. Cannot wait for his new album.

    1.2 My husband and I, between us, have a difficult relationship with D'Angelo, which may be complicated by this post. See, I kind of sort of snuck in D's song "Higher" as our first dance wedding song without telling him (with the best of intentions, I swear, Bru. Seriously.) and I think he's still kind of pissed. But maybe list item number 2 (below) will help make up for that.

    2. I may actually be the only straight(ish) woman in the world who is not turned on by this video. I could really give a shit if D'Angelo takes his clothes off and dances around naked, or gets busted for soliciting blow jobs from undercover cops in the East Village or takes 13 years to do another album. (ok, I do actually care about that last one, but all will be forgiven if he just RELEASES ANOTHER ALBUM)

    3. On the video ruining D's life: I'm torn between the position of going "yeah, well, welcome to the wonderful world of objectification that women deal with ALL THE TIME" and "wow, dude, you just wrote a beautiful love letter to yourself in the future, when you can look back at your amazing body and remember how it felt to be the epitome of physical perfection. go get your brain a better PR person and deal with it. Now release another album, damnit.

    4. (I promise, I will come to my main point soon), y'all are so not old. I mean, I'm a good decade (or more) older than y'all, and I don't think I've gotten past the maturity level of a 15 year-old, so yeah. All good. Body aging. Mind... doesn't give a fuck.

    5. Main point! It's here. Finally. so YES! My sexuality was so very much shaped by music, and specifically male musicians that... ok, we'll just say that my husband probably owes a huge thank you to Prince, Robert Plant and Steven Tyler (pre-american idol days, thank you very much) and numerous others.

    It was through these bands' lyrics and music that I learned to see my body as an instrument of joy, passion, pleasure and sensuality, without many of the bizarre cultural/societal constraints that women are subject to. I'm sure I still have some, but I think I've managed to avoid quite a few.

    My parents were uber-conservative sexually speaking, and I don't think I heard them speak the word out loud, pretty much ever. (I thought it was a swear word until I was well in my teens.) They were scientists, so I knew the mechanics of reproduction, but neither of them ever mentioned sex beyond that. Pretty much everything I got on the subject was from delightfully filthy lyrics. Not a bad education, so to speak. And ironic that two sexually conservative folks could produce such a happy raunchy slut as myself.

    Ok. off to happily listen to Voodoo. And then maybe Brown Sugar. Which came out the year after I graduated from high school. So suck it, youngsters.

    1. 1-1.2. YES. Amazing.
      2. I'm so much more attached to his voice than I am that video, but yeah, he can totally do whatever the fuck he wants so long as he makes another record.
      3. THAT is a great, great point. I hope D'Angelo reads it and makes another album.
      4. Typing the word 'Walkman' really stressed me out for some reason. It is so odd to have arrived at an age where things I grew up with don't exist anymore.
      5. DAMN. Thank you so much for sharing. And yes, Prince. So much Prince.


      - Violet

  3. I loved this. Not because I love D'Angelo (or, honestly, even know who he is). In fact, I'm the aforementioned husband who had D'Angelo sprung on him as a first married couple dance.

    Side note: I'm not so much annoyed that my wife picked D'Angelo. I'm more annoyed that she picked a song I didn't know. At all. For our first dance as a married couple. Without any advance warning. Then sprang the whole "you can dance to this, right?" thing on me as the song was playing. I should probably point out that I'm rhythmically challenged. To put this in context, it would be like pulling out an obscure John Denver B side or the Soviet National Anthem, throwing it on the stereo, and saying "Yeah, you can rock out to this, right?"


    What I loved was the way you wrote about that adolescent moment when you discovered the wonders of bodies and motion and the amazing things that they can do and the incredible ways that they can capture our souls. I still remember sitting in history class and experiencing utter, heart-stopping delight at the amazing delicacy of Christy Gunnell's left wrist. She was the girl who sat next to me and, while I had long since noticrf all the things that teenaged boys are supposed to notice, I had never realized how soft and beautifully sculptured wrists can be. In the ensuing weeks, I fell for lower backs and ankles, the edges of clavicles and the spot under an ear. I realized that -- not to give short shrift to breasts and asses and thighs -- there were literally hundreds of captivating spots that I had never noticed before. It was an amazing time, and I still remember it decades later.

    The same, alas, cannot be said for that wedding song, although I now realize that it was D'Angelo...

    1. Well, you still remember the wedding song, even though it is a decade later (nearly).

      See, I gots a smart husband. Who can write and stuff. (pretty handy in other areas too.)

    2. I squealed with delight when I realized that you were the aforementioned husband. Fucking fuck, you two are an articulate couple. That story about Christy Gunnell's left wrist (which should probably be an album title?) is so spectacularly remembered and worded.

      I hope this maybe sparks a D'Angelo renaissance in your house? You guys are amazing. Thanks so much for sharing this stuff with us!

      - V+R

    3. Ha. We articulate the FUCK out of each other.

      Anyway, yeah. So heat wave. Sitting in Astoria Park/Ralph DeMarco Park. Was admiring the forearm/back mancandy and thought of you, (other)V.


    4. Nicely done! We spent ours on the beach in the Rockaways. HOT weather, COLD water and some serious eye candy.


  4. Oh my sweet Jesus, that video. I remember it well.... *stares off into the distance, grinning*


  5. Please tell me that you're gonna go to the D'Angelo concert on Thursday August 1 at Williamsburg Park!

    1. Oh how we wish! We'll be out of town, sadly. If you go, feel it in your loins for us!