Friday, January 21, 2011

Lykke Li's Vagina Dentata is Gonna Get Some

Lykke Li was asked to describe her new, not yet released album Wounded Rhymes, as an outfit. She responded in Bust Magazine's issue 67, "It would be black gothic clothes that someone has been wearing all night. Maybe like if Keith Richards was wearing all black and he'd been out and about for two weeks." A little gross, right? And her first single and video from that album has been grossly misunderstood. People are calling it a departure and charging her with using sex to sell an album. Really, if you look at this video carefully, you'll realize that she does show her legs, and her pants are off, but what's revealed is not easily consumable sex. It's more like PJ Harvey howling "lick my legs, I'm on fire" than it is Britney Spears yapping about whatever it is she does. Lykke Li is finally telling us what she wants, and if you aren't ready for it, she will hold you down and give it to you anyway.
Lykke Li without pants, in her video 'Get Some'
Are those metal claws on her vagina (dentata)? 
How often do you hear a women telling you not to pull your pants (up) until she is done? In a lesbian context, women say this to each other. In mainstream culture, though, does a man ever hear this from a woman? Although Lykke Li is shot in front of larger-than-life clips of old Hollywood films in which feral women on the beach beat down unsuspecting men, I don't read the song as ironic. It's more of a pastiche of strong, admittedly sex crazed women who are going to get what they want. She situates herself in what looks like an abandoned warehouse while drawing on some kind of magical ritual or supernatural power. The Keith Richards reference is telling. She is drawing on a similar gritty raw sexuality. What does it look like for a woman to want, rather than to look she wants to be wanted? Her gyrating pelvis is reminiscent of Mick Jagger, in that it is hungry, and thus, literally has metal teeth attached to it. It is not the come-get-me pelvis thrusts of Beyoncé, or even of the ever readily consumable and deliciously contradictory Lady Gaga.

Lykke Li in the Get Some video having a Kenneth Anger moment
Speaking of contradictions, I can't extol the virtues of this song without addressing the reference to prostitution. It's almost as if part of this song is from the perspective of a man. Lines like:
"Just say a prayer that it gone get done"
"Like the shotgun need an outcome"

Then she follows up the shotgun line with:
"I'm your prostitute, you gone get some"

When she sings about being being a prostitute, it is always right after being like a shotgun. In the associative logic of this song, the shotgun is an easy allusion to the penis, which she is going to give you, and when she does you are going to 'pray' that she finishes. How can a woman have a ferocious sexuality? Certainly we have a mainstream framework for understanding a scorned woman, one who desperately and creepily stalks the object of her unrequited attention. But do we ever understand this to be about fucking? Like it or not, the prostitute is the archetypal opposite of the virgin, and the only women in polite society who is sexual. If it's not the prostitute who harnesses the power of her sexuality, then who else can we turn to for signs of women as the owner of the shotgun/penis/clitoris. It's in the evocation of the image of a prostitute that the comparison with PJ Harvey is apt, because she also references archetypes without falling into retrograde categories. She does it to create an image of a thing that we don't often see.

In this video it becomes clear that Lykke Li has a little Kenneth Anger going on: she is interested in queering and camping gender. That is, if she's not a lesbian, which I wouldn't put my money (or my pants) on, just yet.


  1. This is a great meditation on the Lykke Li video. Look forward to seeing more insightful posts in the future.

  2. This is a nice little commentary, doesn't go into so much detail that it drags but not so brief that it comes off as a first year Film Studies student either. I had not noticed the toothy crotch in the video before, I wonder if it was shown more explicitly in the original cut but was then edited out to make it a more commercial portrayal of sexuality?

  3. wow, it`s a great article. thank you

  4. but why didn`t you write anything about triangle, which she made with her hands, and about black triangle?