“Pretty Mess” is not a good song, exactly, but you have to admit it’s efficient in communicating its message. if there were any doubts about what Vanity is singing about, those would be tidily removed by the video, which manages at least six metaphors for genitalia and the substances that come out of genitalia. These metaphors are as follows:
- at 1:06, Vanity getting showered in white feathers
- at 1:26, the female bartender dripping honey all over the counter
- at 2:04, Vanity getting showered with champagne that’s gushing out of the bottle
- at 2:37, Vanity attempting to catch a white throw pillow (and notably failing to catch it)
- at 3:02, Vanity dancing at the rear of a long, arguably flesh-colored hallway while singing “and then he found a hallway that went all the way”
- at 3:08, Vanity and her male companion getting showered in white confetti
I’d imagine that if you were in your car listening to the radio during the few weeks “Pretty Mess” would have been getting airplay back in 1984 and you were just hearing the lyrics, you might ask yourself, “Wait, is she singing about getting jizzed on?” But if you were watching the video, the message would be clear: Yes, she really is singing about getting jizzed on. I liken it to Grace Jones’ 1981 track “Pull Up to the Bumper,” which seems like it’s about having sex with a guy with a big black dick but which Jones herself insists is not the case. It’s maybe even funnier for Jones to pretend that she just made a song about parking a car, but the video at least keeps it ambiguous: It’s just Grace Jones dancing onstage, superimposed on images of traffic.
Not that there’s anything wrong with writing and performing a song about getting ejaculated upon, I suppose.
People who have been reading this blog for a while might remember that I wrote about “Pretty Mess” before. However, since that posting, the video disappeared from the internet. I’m posting this today because I finally found the video again but also because looking back on the original post, I hate the way I talked about this song. The post title was “‘Pretty Mess’ Is a Filthy Song for Prostitutes,” and I was implying that Vanity shouldn’t have made this song. If I thought this back then, I no longer think so now. I love that she made this song, bad as it is, and I think we can celebrate it in the context of “Wow, can you believe this song got made? Can you believe she got away with this video?” And it’s all the more notable when you consider that “Pretty Mess” was Vanity’s first solo single after dropping out of Vanity 6, the girl group assembled by Prince and the group responsible for the 1982 hit “Nasty Girl.” As Prince was wont to do, he gave Vanity her stage name, though it the context of this song, it’s notable to point out that she told People in 1984 that he initially wanted to dub her “Vagina.” Even considering how forthright sexuality was a part of Vanity’s persona since the beginning of her music career, “Pretty Mess” still seems remarkable in how blatantly it discusses the matter at hand. (Or you know, at other body parts.)
So please, pop singers of the future, if you feel inclined to write further songs about being ejaculated upon, feel free to do so. It doesn’t seem like a tall order to make a jizz-positive song that’s better than this one.