Sunday, July 16, 2017

What a Sexologist and a Dominatrix Have to Say About Selena Gomez's New Song 'Fetish'

What a Sexologist and a Dominatrix Have to Say About Selena Gomez's New Song 'Fetish':

Selena Gomez’s new single “Fetish” was released late Wednesday (June 12) to raised eyebrows, and not just because it reunites her with her onetime Spring Breakers costar Gucci Mane.

The chorus lyric “You’ve got a fetish for my love” raises the bar for pop singers’ longtime flirtation with sex that sounds dangerous, exotic, and out-of-reach. And it achieves this just by name-dropping the word “fetish,” a catch-all of taboos -- still considered somewhat of a negative, or at least an outlier, by a sizable part of the world’s sex-having population, despite the knowledge that the world is pretty damn kinky behind closed doors.

Billboard spoke to two esteemed sexperts about what the song means for the kink world: Dr. Justine Shuey, a board-certified 31-year-old sexologist and educator from Philadelphia whose presentations sometimes include anatomically-correct genital puppets, and Bardot Smith, a 32-year-old financial dominatrix and political writer from Boston. Those two separate phone conversations have been truncated and condensed for clarity and content below.

What’s your take on this song and its use of the word “fetish?”

Bardot Smith: So I watched the video, and I thought it was a lot like a fetish video. Which is interesting, because when you actually listen to the words and what she’s saying -- it’s not at all what fetish means. A fetish is a thing you need in order to get off, and the way they’re using “fetish” sounds more like “addiction” to me. Like, you specifically need me no matter what damage I’m doing to you. Which sounds more like co-dependence.

Dr. Justine Shuey: I can say it’s a straight-up misuse of the word, and it’s probably being used to draw people in because Fifty Shades is still very popular.



Do you think that this song is detrimental for the kink scene?

Dr. Shuey: Umm… I think it’s contributing to the misunderstanding around what fetishes and kink are. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily doing harm, but it’s further miseducating people about what it is and what it looks like. When I’m listening to the song, I feel like I’m replacing the word “fetish” with “obsession” in my head, and that isn’t necessarily a healthy behavior within a relationship. [But instead] we’re gonna get this press for using this word that’s trending right now.

Smith: I don’t think it’s, like, actively malicious, I just think it comes from a superficial place. If it’s not a component of your sexuality, you don’t understand that need in the same way that somebody who has fetishes would understand it.

Dr. Shuey:  For the longest time in higher education, people had experienced a lot of sexual behaviors, but weren’t so aware of orientation and identity. Whereas now there’s less sexual behaviors that have happened prior to coming into a college setting, but people are more aware of orientation and identity because of the Internet. There’s more people entering college who haven’t had sex, and they’ve figured out their identity because it’s out there [online] rather than “What am I?”

Are there any appropriations of BDSM or kink in music videos that you’d consider a good or accurate depiction of the lifestyle?

Smith: I mean, I think that art tends to take a lot from kink and from sex work. Whether or not it acknowledges that, there are constantly representations. The dominatrix is a figure that appears in so much music, it’s just not representative. If you’re consuming music as somebody who’s aware of kink, you’re aware of representations all the time, and then there are more heavy-handed representations like the Rihanna song [“S&M”]. I appreciate Rihanna’s stuff in a lot of ways, I even think the song is pretty good, but it’s an “I wanna tie you up and whip you” kind of thing. But I think we see it in a lot of things in more subtle ways.



What music do you think does right by BDSM in these more subtle ways?

Smith: For me, Nine Inch Nails does this on a lot of levels. But again, we aren’t talking about BDSM and dungeons and domming you, it’s just the tone and the feeling of the music. And that’s probably far more common, but that’s just my preferred version of things. I think when we get into the more produced, more mainstream consumption, “let’s try to make this relatable somehow” stuff, you get into the territory where it’s gonna be superficial.

With Nine Inch Nails, the feeling of the song and what’s being said are adding to each other, whereas to contrast with the Selena video I just watched, the video is very much a fetish video. Like I could have made that and sold it on Clips4Sale. Just a close-up video of her touching her mouth with long nails, that’s very much visually appealing and fetish-y. And the words are not lining up with it.

I’m genuinely curious if Selena Gomez has heard of Clips4Sale.

Smith: Or maybe someone in her production team. But it has the tone of a maybe not-so-self-assured domme who makes some videos as like, an experimental thing. I can see my early years of being this like... "Oh, how can I convey what I want to say and make it sexy?" There’s something that’s not clicking between the visuals and the audio in that song for me.

Dr. Shuey: She was a Disney Channel kid, right? I’m surprised she’s using this terminology, having been a Disney star. But who knows — the s--t Miley Cyrus has pulled. It’s more surprising to me because I know the kind of contracts that Disney people have to sign. I was at a conference with Nickelodeon people, Kenan and Kel. They were like, “Absolutely not. Kel cannot take a picture with you with your vulva puppet.” He approached me to take a picture with it, and his agent shut that s--t down. And this was only two or three years ago.

Do you think it’s a positive thing that fetishes are making their way into other parts of the culture?

Smith: Well, I don’t think it’s that consequential, to be honest. Music videos, especially pop music videos, tend to sexualize girls. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a fact. I think it’s just another attempt at doing that, and trying to make it fresh by using a word that I haven’t heard used so much in pop music yet. I don’t think they were trying to open a conversation about fetish culture necessarily, but they’re trying to revamp a theme that’s existed for a long time.