Why “I’ll Make Love To You” makes me miss the 90s

I was ten when this song came out. I remember it clearly, and how even at that age such a sexual song seeped into our elementary school lives. I still know all of the lyrics, basically by heart, and am compelled to belt out to it every time it happens to play (aka every time I dig out my old CDs and put it on).

The last time this happened, in the serendipitous company of Vanessa and Chloe, I was struck by just how goddamn sweet, and dare I say feminist, these lyrics actually are. Compared to the song lyrics of today, these almost seem like a farce they are so damn sweet.

Take for example:

Pour the wine, light the fire
Girl, your wish is my command
I submit to your demands
I will do anything, girl, you need only ask
I’ll make love 2 you like you want me to
And I’ll hold you tight, baby, all through the night
I’ll make love 2 you when you want me to
And I will not let go ’til you tell me to

In today’s pop culture world this kind of refrain is basically unthinkable. “I’ll make love to you, when you want me to“? What the hell kind of consensual bullshit is that? “And I will not let go ’til you tell me to”–this guy is actually offering to cuddle ALL NIGHT? These kinds of men just can’t exist.

Obviously Boyz II Men’s fifteen minutes of fame has come and gone. For all I know if they were making music today these lyrics would be more like “I’m gonna ride a train on this b—-.” But I was happy to see Colorlines report that these sweet R&B guys just got their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame a few short weeks ago. It gives me comfort to know that 60 million people purchased their albums, and perhaps sometimes, like me, they pull them out of the back of their 90s closet and hear these super sweet and consensual lyrics.

What’s not to love about 60 million people singing the words “I’ll make love to you when you want me to” at the top of their lungs? I’d say that’s pretty good place to start with sex education.

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20 Comments

  1. Posted January 27, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Seriously! This song was unexpected, but fun to think back on. It gives me hope for pop music which, in the past few years seems to sexualize and objectify women even more than in the past, with “shorty working the pole” and “going down, down, down…” At least there are some gems out there that respect women and promote healthy sexual interactions and boundaries.

  2. Posted January 27, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Hell. Yes. I miss them and that whole era of the 90s. That’s before R&B got all New-Jack-Swinged and ridiculous. Boyz II Men is coming to the Austin Urban Music Festival this year, so I will try and find out if they’ve turned into misogynistic beasts. My guess is no, since they’re sharing the lineup with Miguel whose lyrics also have a slight feminist bent.

  3. Posted January 27, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Oh those striped shirts… this is amazing.

  4. Posted January 27, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I know that any industry with the dread fear of going broke will reach for the easiest way to make money. Misogynist and sexist lyrics are scandalous, meaning they grab the attention of people and often guide the financial decisions they will make.

    I think we’re going through an era of shock value and rampant sexuality. The industry made lots of money in the 1990s, but also blew it. For every success, they greedily put too much revenue into copycat bands or pet projects that tanked. There’s not a long history of wise money management, often because producers partied just as hard as their artists.

  5. Posted January 27, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    I see your point (and this is definitely *far* preferable to most music from the last 15 years or so)… But I have to admit that the line “I submit to your demands” makes me a little uncomfortable. Consensual sex isn’t supposed to be about submitting to anyone’s demands; it’s supposed to be about mutual satisfaction.

    Not to pull a “what about the menz,” but consider how different this song would seem if it were sung by a woman. That’s my point. It’s a minor objection, and I think the song is great overall, but I can’t applaud any song as feminist if it describes sex as submission to demands.

    • Posted January 27, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      What about consensual dom/sub – domination and submission? When someone says “I submit to your demands” in a song about sex, that’s where I go, but maybe that’s just me.

      • Posted January 28, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

        I think in the context of the song, it is to be interpreted, as rhian says, as generosity. But the “What about consensual dom/sub?” argument regarding art is difficult because it only works if consent is explicit in the artwork, which it often isn’t.

    • Posted January 27, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

      To add to what Jos said, I think that there’s a major dose of generosity in healthy sexual relationships, doing your partner’s favorite things even if they’re not yours. Since the lyrics talk about it being a special night and a celebration, I assumed that’s what was going on. I agree that the use of the phrase “submit to your demands” doesn’t quite fit this though.

  6. Posted January 27, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    I’ll die before I tire of this song.

  7. Posted January 27, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    I’m not really into R&B music, so I’m not that crazy for this song.

  8. Posted January 27, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    i’ll see your boys 2 men and raise you type o negative’s “love you to death.” youtube it. holy moly cannoli. that came out in high school and for as often as i listened to october rush, im not sure how i stayed a virgin.

  9. Posted January 27, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    october rust, i mean.

  10. Posted January 28, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Don’t lose hope for the 2000′s — A great song about mutually loving, stable, and equal relationships came to us in 2010 in the form of Bruno Mars and B.o.B’s ‘Nothing on You’.

    Granted, that was also the year Billboard’s Top 100 list included Chris Brown’s Dueces, and Akon’s Sexy Bitch… but, for what it’s worth, there are still guys out there who will write songs about showing respect for your loved one, and they can still make it to the top. Let’s give them our support (And maybe we’ll even get an album release of ‘Greatest feminist love songs’ including Boyz II Men and other good hits. Eh, a gal can dream.)

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      Love that idea of a “greatest feminist love songs” album. I guess that’s what makes me yearn for the 90s–an era when such a sweet and loving song can sell 90 million albums and be number 1. The artists you refer to are barely known.

  11. Posted January 28, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    I have to disagree that this is a 90′s vs. now thing. There was super misogynistic music in the 90′s (hip hop and otherwise), and there are still a lot of male-sung R&B songs with loving/feminist messages to or about women. I’m thinking of “Sexy Love” and “So Sick” by Ne-Yo, “Let Me Love You” by Mario, etc.

  12. Posted January 29, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    “this guy is actually offering to cuddle ALL NIGHT? These kinds of men just can’t exist.”

    You are implying that men that want to cuddle are too good to be true. There’s no point in cuddling when all a guy wants is sex. That doesn’t make them bad. I prefer to leave after sex as do most guys I hang out with. If a girl wants to cuddle I stop talking to them because I assume she is looking for a relationship as opposed to just a friendly hookup.

  13. Posted January 29, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    I completely agree and loooove this song, to the point where I know the harmonies. I have to nitpick, however, and point out that they lyrics are actually (as originally written in the post) ”I’ll make love to you, LIKE you want me to” and not ”WHEN you want me to”. I don’t think that this diminishes the impact though, because it basically says that they will make love IN A MANNER that she wants, which, presumably would mean at the desired time. I actually also love the lyrics ”Girl relax, let’s go slow. I ain’t got no where to go”. Super respectful and super hot.

    What else do we have today? Two recent hits ”Just a Kiss” and ”Don’t you want to Stay?” seem promising, but there’s a bit too much of a ”sex ruins true love” undertone for me to really get behind them.

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      There are actually two incidences of that line, one with “when you want me to” and one with “like you want me to.” Both are pretty great messages of consent, I would say.

  14. Posted January 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    “These kinds of men just can’t exist.” You mean in mainstream media they aren’t represented, right?! These kinds of men do exist, and it would be unfair to generalize.

    • Posted February 1, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Right. And I was using sarcasm.

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