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How many licks will make me cry if I want to?

Rob Maas
Leslie Gore and Lil’ Kim
I’d like to start by saying that I think Lil’ Kim’s “How Many Licks? is vastly inferior to Khia’s “My Neck, My Back? when it comes to modern rap songs about cunnilingus. That being said, the comparison between Kim and Leslie fundamentally shows us the changing sexual roles and societal expectations which arose as the result of the sexual revolution.
Leslie Gore’s 1966 hit “It’s My Party? is a story of the monogamous longings of a girl during the first years of the sexual revolution. She is firmly ensconced in the idea of monogamy, and her realization about Johnny’s perceived infidelity is met with tears. Gore typifies the pre-sexual revolution woman: she desires only one man, and sees other women as her competition. She passes no judgment on Johnny’s apparent disloyalty, nor is there an implicit indictment of his behavior. If anything, Judy is presented as the immoral character in the song. The setting of a birthday party, at which both boys and girls are present, indicates a coming of age. Gore (or the song’s narrator, if Gore is taking on a persona) is entering into the adult world of courtship and sexuality, but her first experience is a bitter one: that of infidelity. Of course, her response of tears is childish, but she also reminds us that “you would cry too/if it happened to you.? Romance and sex create strong emotional responses, regardless of our age. I have always found it humorous that in the sequel to this song, “Judy’s Turn to Cry?, that our singer takes Johnny back with open arms and gleefully informs us that her rival is now in tears. Apparently, there are no hard feelings toward Johnny at all.
Interestingly enough, Gore’s video was probably much more controversial than her song. The well-dressed dancing couples are probably dancing inappropriately (from an older generation’s perspective), but the choreographed go-go style gyrations of the women in slacks behind Gore were no doubt exceedingly risqué for their day and age. Gore herself, however, is wearing very conservative clothing, in keeping with the tone and delivery of her song.
We fast forward thirty-five years, and things are exceedingly different. First, I think it is important to deal with the difference in race. Black musical audiences have always been much more accepting of an open sexuality than the more puritanical white American audience. African American performers as far back as Ma Rainey and Dorothy Dandridge were exploiting sexuality in their works. So the idea that a black female would push the envelope is nothing new. That being said, the full effect of the sexual revolution is apparent in Lil’ Kim’s work. In “How Many Licks? Kim is not seeking any sort of relationship; in fact, she revels in her promiscuity. Sex –with very few, if any, of the trappings of a relationship- is a recreational activity for her. In fact, this song is primarily about oral sex, which is undertaken for pleasure’s sake, never for procreation. Kim mentions a variety of sexual partners, and fantasizes about being the object of masturbatory fantasies for men in jail. She is much more comparable to the character of Johnny in Leslie Gore’s song than she is to either of the female characters. Frankly, Johnny probably couldn’t handle her. Kim certainly would never cry if Johnny pursued another female. She would probably encourage it!
Visually, we see a drastic shift in tone and message. While both videos employ back-up dancers, Gore seems to be singing at some kind of party. Kim seems to be acting out her lyrics. Her back up dancers might be other sexual partners. Kim also presents herself as a sex doll. Her desire – as opposed to that of Gore – is to be used strictly for physical pleasure and fantasy. Kim’s recompense for this activity will be solely physical pleasure.
I do think it is interesting, however, that Kim is asking a question: “How many licks does it take to get to the center?? While I realize this is a play on words from an old candy commercial, I do wonder about Kim’s center. Is she, on some level, seeking a partner who will go beyond the pure physical and reach some sort of inner core? In her sexual experimentation with multiple partners, is she seeking a man who will get to her emotional, rather than physical center? And if she does find that man, and he chooses another woman, would she cry - or would she even want to?