I distinctly remember the moment when, merrily humming along to my old childhood standby The Beatles, I first put together that "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was a thinly veiled stand-in for "LSD." I distinctly remember, because that's the precise moment my last vestige of innocence was ripped from me like a particularly stubborn Band-Aid. From there on, it was a steep downward spiral of lyric realizations — their even cheerier ditty "Ticket to Ride" apparently about the card German prostitutes carried as proof they were STD-free, Third Eye Blind's jangly "Semi-Charmed Kind of Life" detailing Trainspotting levels of meth addiction, on and on.
Worst of all, though, were those cheesy early-aughts pop tunes of my youth, so harmless-seeming at the time and yet so insanely dirty upon revisiting. First off, there's your right-there-on-the-damn-surface songs like "Digital Get Down," *NSYNC's ode to "getting freaky-deaky" via videophone — to me, just another jumble of croony words from dudes with frosted tips and matching outfits. Not even the Spice Girls were safe: I mean, the overall subject matter of "2 Become 1" was never really a mystery, but I totally missed the fact that "be a little bit wiser, baby, put it on, put it on" was a blatant reference to taking responsible birth control precautions.
Still, perhaps my greatest then-vs.-now meaning gap comes with Christina Aguilera's 15-year-old "Genie in a Bottle," a once blithely Aladdin-reminiscent love song revealed to be about a jaded girl who's had a lot of terrible sex.
Don't believe me? Let's break this one down together.
I feel like I've been locked up tight
For a century of lonely nights
Waiting for someone to release me
Some pretty standard genie imagery, sure — but a need for "release" after "lonely nights" does smack a little provocative to more experienced ears, right?
You're lickin' your lips and blowing kisses my way,
But that don't mean I'm gonna give it away
Baby, baby, baby
Okay, can I be the first to say, "Fucking EW"? Who is this man, and what Drakkar Noir trashgoblin taught him how to flirt?! "Licking your lips and blowing kisses" — that is full-body-shudder levels of awful.
Not only does that not mean I'm going to "give it away," that permanently guarantees that I have taken it and hidden it deep in the heart of a Minotaur-filled inception maze. Were I Christina, the song would abruptly cut out here so I could go take a series of long, cathartic showers. (Also, side note, you've gotta love it when songwriters just give up and toss in a whole line of "Baby" — which, for the record, happens twice in this song. Twice.)
Still, apparently this man's unfortunate mouth antics aren't a dealbreaker for our songstress — she has been "locked up tight" for quite some time, after all — so she continues in her considerations:
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, my body's sayin' let's go
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, but my heart is sayin' no
Taken out of context, this sounds like a pretty straightforward "no sex without love" declaration, par for the Madonna/whore course — but now, I take it to mean something more like "my heart's just not in it." As in, she knows better than to be fooled into thinking this guy will give her the release she requires, so she's declining his advances, reluctantly, perhaps with a wistful sigh. And why, pray tell, is she so cynical?
If you wanna be with me, baby, there's a price to pay
I'm a genie in a bottle; you gotta rub me the right way
Because, let's just say it, guys: She's talking about her clitoris. And, specifically, these dudes' inability to find it.
(While I'm at it, here's the Pokémon Cloyster, also clearly being a vagina. You are so very welcome.)
If you wanna be with me, I can make your wish come true
You gotta make a big impression, I gotta like what you do
Yeah, he's gotta make a big impression — against the front of his pants, amirite? Just in case you think I'm reading a little too much into that one, check the low-angle pelvic slap close-up that accompanies that line in the music video.
Okay, it's possible she's talking more about performance than literal heft, but I'd assert that it's at least a double entendre. Point being, whatever's going on here, it's happening below the belt — or, rather, isn't, much to her frustration.
The music's fading and the lights down low
Just one more dance and then we're good to go
Waiting for someone who needs me
Wait — which one is it? Is she "good to go" or is she waiting? Because, I mean, it seemed like Mr. Lip-lick "needed" her; isn't the whole point that she needs him for particular rubbing purposes? (I have a feeling the songwriters didn't put an excessive amount of thought into this verse.)
Hormones racing at the speed of light
But that don't mean it's gotta be tonight
Baby, baby, baby
Okay, did anyone else completely miss that "hormones" line back in the day?! I now feel utterly justified in my smuttier reading of this song. And then, in case you didn't catch it the first time, she repeats like chorus for another 2 minutes, just to, well, rub it in:
So, there you have it, kids. "Genie in a Bottle" is about a hot-to-trot girl who goes out dancing, gets hit on by grody dudes, and reluctantly turns them down because she already knows they won't be able to get her off.
To which I have nothing left to say but a mournful, all-too-empathetic "Baby, baby, baby."