Men in pop music describe the ideal female as a ‘freak in the sheets and a lady in the streets.” Of course, this is merely a reflection of society’s mores. Men decide what the acceptable level of sexuality is. It is a precise calibration: Do it like this and you will be accepted; go against this and you will be scorned, or worse alone. And you know women are just dying for male company.
The push back has been less a shunning than a shunting of female desire: Women in pop took the freak out of the sheets and into the studio. It is a tricky paradigm given that that freedom just might make more males happy—more ‘happy’ than happy in any case. But at least the woman gets to decide where exactly that ‘freakishness’ is displayed. We’ll call that a victory, pyrrhic or no.
So when Nigerian singer Seyi Shay sings about making out in public (she isn’t referring to PDA) on her debut album Seyi or Shay we have to consider this the literal endpoint of the pop music push back.
This freak-in-studio scenario doesn’t exclude the problem; it complicates it. As when Ms Seyi Shay paints a picture of a sexually available woman on ‘Right Now’. “That is why I surrender…from the midnight to the sunrise, the love dey enter…” Any man listening to that, with its clear invitation to what can be surmised as endless near-contortionist sex, is thinking: I need me one of that. What is the female response? Not sure but the feminist response should be enlightening. One can only imagine the horrified look on their faces when Seyi Shay goes literal on ‘Crazy’: “You tell me jump baby, I ask how high.” Hmm, there you go modern woman.
On the aforementioned song ‘In Public’—where she says, ‘I give it to him wherever like a freak’—she recruits Cynthia Morgan, another woman making a way through the testosterone-laden Nigerian scene, one sexual innuendo a time. Together they present the new woman in pop as an empowered being—with both the libido and the dirty-mouth of their male colleagues. Suddenly Omawumi’s singing about a young man’s inability ‘to handle it’ on 2013’s ‘Warn Yourself’ sounds toothless. Sass is out. Freak is in.
Seyi or Shay runs the gamut of sex. Heterosexual coupling is dominant but there is also the subtly homosexual. On ‘Mary’, Seyi or Shay (hard to tell the difference, really) is attracted to the ‘baddest b*tch in the club’ whose virginal name must be part of the allure. A deliciously slow-burn tune that incorporates Beyonce-style shouts and chants of Hail Mary, our singer can’t quite decide if the attraction is sexual or sisterly: towards the end Mary is “like a best friend now”. It is with some disappoinment the listener realises that what she assumed was female sexual empowerment is merely a projection of a male fantasy.
In case this reading of the song is missed, Phyno enforces it with a slurred braggadocio verse involving a threesome. It is easy to guess that Phyno's preferred arrangement involves two women, Seyi or Shay and new best friend Mary. So that, once again, female freedom appears indistinguishable from sexual availability forged around a man's desire.
Non-sexual concerns don’t quite work on Seyi or Shay. For example, the song ‘Healer’ has Ms. Seyi imply that love is what our economy needs. At that point you want to tell the well-meaning madam to keep her solutions to herself. The song’s reggae backing clearly meant to give gravitas by association only serves to amplify the song’s corniness. It serves the album well, though, since it offers Ms. Seyi an opportunity to sneak in the popular “make love not war” slogan—considering the rest of the album, that line is, of course, accompanied with an audible wink.
At 19 tracks, Seyi or Shay is comprised of several sounds. Pop, afro pop, reggae, R&B, hip hop and afrobeat find a place. And all of the genres are represented by a reigning male czar: Olamide and Phyno for hip hop, Wizkid, Timaya and D’Banj for pop, Boj for the alternative sound, Patoranking for reggae, Iyanya and Banky W for R&B, and Femi Kuti scion of Fela for afrobeat. It is hard to think of this collection of oft-engaging overproduced music as anything other than calculated and rehearsed. This may be the route to follow as a female artist in a male dominated industry.
“Been around the world/I’m tryna get me famous,” Ms. Seyi Shay sings at some point. Well she has gotten some of the fame she seeks and has released a debut album in quite a short time. In essence, the singer will soar on her determination alone.
What about the album? Well, sex, as they say, sells. So Seyi or Shay, designed for the market and for radio, should do just as well as the singer. Mind you, if her audience becomes puritan overnight and the sex on display sells neither singer nor album, then the successful acts she has featured will do so. As everyone knows by now, nothing succeeds like success.