- 16 May 19
Sex tends to simmer below the surface in Irish music.There are artists who have been explicit – but we need more of them! By Naoise Roo
"Where is the sex in Irish music?” At first, the question sort of stumped me.
Why? Because I always felt that I'd know where to find it. Everything Shook's ‘Come Back to Mine’ is the first song that pops into my head. Then I think of the dark, majestic eroticism of Laura Sheeran’s work. In fact, it's kinda interesting that I do think mostly of women when I ponder which Irish artists write seductive anthems. Let's never forget, however, that Republic of Loose were banned in South Africa for their song ‘Break’ – a ban that was based on the assumption it was about unprotected anal sex.
The Loose in general knew how to spin a sex song, with a helpful dose of good of humour (see ‘Greedy’). Even Hozier has a soft, cushy, underlying theme of sex in his work.
I guess we could pontificate all day on the argument that the Irish are repressed and we don’t talk about sex, but I don't think that's necessarily true on the music scene, especially nowadays. But I’m still curious as to why we don’t embrace explicit artists in the same way as, say, the Americans do.
In the brief I was given for this article, one of the people listed as an example of a fully realised, sexually free artist was Peaches, who I love – and who herself absconded from the North Americas to Berlin, which as we all know is a city more open-minded to explicit sexual content and wielding dildos onstage than almost anywhere else on the planet (though I most wholeheartedly would like to see more of that in Ireland!).
So what separates us from the unabashedly kinky home of sex clubs? Perhaps there’s another aspect to it. This is a small country. Maybe the local element of singing about our sexual desires has an affect. There is no anonymity here. Everyone knows you, and your ex, and their ex, and so on and on. Or perhaps, as with a lot of great pop music, the sex is brimming below the surface: I’m thinking of Peter Gabriel's ‘Sledgehammer’ or Cyndi Lauper's infamous masturbation anthem, ‘She Bop’.
Mind you, there are Irish acts who have had no problem putting sexually-themed songs out there. Artists like Gavin Friday and Sinéad O'Connor had no fear of singing about desire in an open and honest way. So maybe it is all down to individuals.
A FEW MORE DILDOS
My own experiences of having written a song, ‘Whore’, that focuses on the power-dynamics in a sexual relationship have been interesting. I remember playing it live and someone remarking that it was cool because it made everyone uncomfortable. I wondered, as an artist, how to take that. I still amn’t sure!
Are people so repressed that singing a song that expresses something that most people experience (albeit behind closed doors) would make you shift in your seat? Is it something to do with the song being written or performed by a woman? I mean, we still sing along unabashedly to songs like ‘My Sharona’, which is a thinly-veiled tribute to a man's fetish for young teenagers. Is that not more questionable – or offensive even – than a grown woman singing about a consensual relationship?
I remember when Vernon Jane's ‘Fuck Me’ came out, complete with a powerful animated video. I wonder if they experienced anything similar. Did people comment perhaps on the bravery of singing about sex; or did they baulk at the idea of it ,as people did when I released ‘Whore’? I must find out…
On balance, I suspect that sex has actually been a feature of Irish music as much as it is part of the human experience. Perhaps it is more often implied than stated – but I believe that as Ireland changes so will its music scene – and the work will reflect that. And maybe, in the future, a few more dildos will be happily wielded. Bring it on!
• Naoise Roo’s latest single ‘Black Hole’ will be released on 24 May .