Great Moments in Singing the Same Thing Over and Over Again Vol. 1: “Thong Song”
Hello and welcome to Great Moments in Singing the Same Thing Over and Over Again, where we take a minute to examine and appreciate some of history’s finest and most lyrically efficient songs. Like the Fonz preparing to run a comb through his magnificent head of hair, a true artist recognizes when they’ve already reached perfection, and instead of doing something different, simply decides to do the same thing all over again.
Our journey begins with arguably the most popular title in the Sisqo library, none other than “Thong Song.”
The second single off of his solo debut Unleash the Dragon, “Thong Song” was released as a single February 15, 2000, right as the world was trying to find its way down from the emotional high of the previous year. 1999 was a truly revolutionary time — Napster became a thing, and any song we could think of was just a click of the mouse and a 10 minute wait away. Big Mouth Billy Bass brought musical home decor to heights previously unseen. You could sit on your couch and enjoy a cool tube of go-gurt while watching that The Sopranos episode you’d saved to your new Tivo, and nothing in that sentence, aside from sitting on one’s couch, would’ve made an ounce of sense if you’d said it prior to that year. In 1999, the future had arrived, and we partied like Prince in 1982.
On the other hand, the dawn of the year 2000 was a moment long-shrouded in uncertainty. Decades before, we wondered if we’d have flying cars and video phones, robot butlers and meals that came in capsule form. In the years leading up to it, it was whether or not our computers would stop working correctly and/or take all our money and/or launch a swift and merciless rebellion against mankind. As concerned as we were about technology, however, the world enjoyed a sense of musical stability, as Juvenile had assured us all that Cash Money Records would be “taking over for the 99 as well as the 2000 [sic].”
(Note: Juvenile issued his Cash Money Proclamation at the beginning of 1999’s “Back That Thang Up,” and before we continue, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge just how tremendous a song that truly is. If that introduction kicks in, and a dance floor is anywhere within a 3.5 mile radius of where you’re stationed at the time, you’ll be on said dance floor bringing great dishonor to your family name before Juvenile so much as reaches the chorus for the first time. If I was sitting down at some kind of fancy reception, someone walked up like “Hey Chris, want to hold my newborn baby? Here you go,” and the intro to ‘Back that Thang Up’ came on?” Look, I’d like to think that I’d carefully hand that baby to someone else instead of leaving it on the table like a napkin before running to the dance floor, I really would. I can’t promise it, but I’d like to think it.)
Cash Money might have approached the new year with total confidence, but not everyone’s plans were set in stone, and 2000 was marred by a string of musical breakups. With legendary groups Rage against the Machine, Smashing Pumpkins and Color Me Badd all officially disbanding that year, there was once again room at the top of the music world, and the opportunity was seized by young Mark Althavean Andrews, more commonly known as Sisqo.
Sisqo’s “Thong Song” peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 (it couldn’t get past Faith Hill’s “Breathe” or “Maria Maria” by Santana) in May of 2000, and enjoyed its rise to fame right around the same time as Girls Gone Wild, which makes sense since both are things that certainly could exist now but definitely wouldn’t land the same. A man not only requesting to see a girl’s thong, but referring to it as a “thong-tha-thong-thong-thong,” and VHS tapes of women flashing a camera in exchange for a trucker hat both feel very early 2000s, and very much not early 2020s.
I’m not entirely sure who asked, but in a 2019 interview, Sisqo explained how he could have possibly been inspired to write a song about seeing a thong. If you’re in a hurry, allow me to spoil the surprise: He saw a thong. As for the extended origin story, it kind of feels like one of those stories you’d hear from that friend of yours who’s kind of a liar.
“So here’s the story,” he said, “I went on a date and saw the girl’s thong. We’re talking about 1998, so it was extremely taboo to wear one. I never saw one before, so she shows me and I was in awe! I was like, “What are you wearing?” She told me, “Oh this old thing? It’s just a thong.” [laughs] I thought it was glorious! I called my friends that night, like “Gather ‘round fellas! I have to tell you a tale.” Everyone leaned in and I put a flashlight under my chin. But then I was like, “Nah cut the lights on n — -a, I just saw something called a thong! It’s almost like dental floss, but they wear it as underwear!”
Okay, so in this scenario, Sisqo’s friends got together one night, he grabbed a flashlight, someone turned the lights off (or they were off the whole time and he was sitting in the dark like a creep), he put the flashlight under his chin like he was about to tell a scary story, then he cancelled the whole production and simply told them that he saw some very small underwear. Look, whether that’s true or not (I’m firmly on team “not,” but I’ve never hung out with Sisqo; maybe he just really enjoys wasting people’s time), this whole thing sounds exhausting. I’d be so mad if somebody asked me to turn the lights off and gather around, and then made me get up and go turn the lights back on just so he could tell me about his date’s underwear. I don’t care how nice that underwear is, I’m acting completely unimpressed when that story’s over, and all of my follow-up questions would be about making me turn the lights off and then back on. Sisqo would be like “So I told her I’d call her sometime, I drove back here, and that’s the story. Any questions?” and I’d say, “Yeah, so I actually heard it requires more power and therefore costs more money to turn a light off and on than it does to just leave it on, so you probably wasted some money on your story’s little fake introduction there — did it feel worth it to you?”
Anyway, now that the lyrical inspiration has been covered, it’s time to address the music of “Thong Song,” and if there’s one thing that all classic butt and butt-related songs have mastered, it’s never taking too long to identify themselves. From EU’s “Da Butt” all the way to Bubba Sparxx’ “Ms. New Booty,” a great butt-related song makes its presence known within an average of about .08 seconds of hitting play, which is precisely why in the almost 30 years of the song’s existence, literally nobody has ever been like “I don’t know, is this ‘Baby Got Back’ or some other song? I need to keep listening for another minute or two to be sure.”
(On the other hand, with no significant intro to speak of, not even the angelic voice of Nate Dogg could save Eminem’s “Shake That,” which is very much not a classic butt-related song, from being called a “throwaway” by Rolling Stone on its way to losing the 2007 Best Rap/Sung Collaboration Grammy to Justin Timberlake and TI.)
With that in mind, it was of the utmost importance for Sisqo to hit the ground running, so he took a page from Juvenile’s playbook and began his own butt-related song with a classical string instrument-based introduction. While “Back That Thang Up” producer Mannie Fresh essentially just copied his string compositions from the beginning of UGK’s 1994 song “Underground,” Sisqo, who’s credited as a producer on “Thong Song,” had to outsource his theft. Let’s pick up in that same interview after the flashlight incident — you were saying, Sisqo?
“Then everybody just started leaving the room — it was like they were on a pilgrimage to find this thing called a thong.” (Note: Yeah, this also feels kind of inaccurate. Sorry, please continue, Sisqo.) “So I’m making the album, and producers [Tim Kelley and Bob Robinson] sent me a CD with like 20 songs. At the end, there was this sample of [The Beatles’ 1966 song “Eleanor Rigby”] that was about 30 seconds. I called them back saying I needed to stretch that sample into three minutes.”
“I know a lot of artists stole from Michael Jackson [who bought the Beatles’ publishing rights in 1985], but I wasn’t gonna pay him for this sample — he already had enough money! So I re-wrote the melody, and got some string [instrumentalists] who played the music on Star Wars.”
Sneaky, cheap, and almost certainly a casual liar, but the man sure knows how to make a hit. Most of all, he knows when there’s no need for additional lyrics, and chose not to waste his time or ours by coming up with a single additional “Thong Song” verse. Taking the words of famed industrialist Scrooge McDuck to heart, Sisqo worked smarter, not harder, and essentially just said the same thing three times throughout the course of the song. It was not only a wise move, but one that changed the course of popular music forever. Well, it did if you ask him.
“I was trying to come up with something for the second verse, and I thought it would really dope to sing it exactly like the first, just in a different octave. Do you know how many people didn’t know all three verses are exactly the same? Again, sorry for breaking music! Because now all people do is repeat things!
I don’t know if I would’ve gone so far as to call it “breaking music,” but kudos to Sisqo for understanding that enough was enough after just one verse. After all, what did you possibly need to know in “Thong Song” that the man hadn’t disclosed by the time the chorus came around? There’s a woman who enjoys dancing, she has dumps like a truck, and her thighs are impressively constructed as well. There’s not much more to the story, and there certainly doesn’t need to be. In fact, he couldn’t even tell you about the thong in question, because he’s simply asking (well, kind of demanding, I suppose) to see it. Nobody has ever needed a sense of closure from “Thong Song;” it really just is what it is.
Speaking of dumps like a truck and thighs like what, in a song where a man sings the same verse three times, it’s the height of audacity to not only sing that pre-chorus twice before each chorus, as he did, but to literally say “I think I’ll sing it again,” when doing so. In fact, he even says “I think I’ll sing it again” before he moves on, sings the chorus for the final time, and ends the song. Sisqo was so dedicated to simply copying and pasting, he didn’t even bother to change the lyrics when they no longer applied, and that, my friends, is how you secure your spot among the greatest, most lyrically efficient songs in history.
Until next time, this has been Great Moments in Singing the Same Thing Over and Over Again, reminding you all that where there’s a will, there’s a way, and where there’s a way, there’s a shortcut.