“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.
- Ten years after “Pretty Mess,” Vanity overdosed and nearly died. She subsequently converted to born-again Christianity and cut all ties with the music industry. In Matthew Rettenmund’s book Totally Awesome 80s, Vanity is quoted as saying, “When I came to the Lord Jesus Christ, I threw out about 1,000 tapes of mine—interview, every tape, every video, everything.”
- I don’t know if it’s even possible, but I wonder if her decision to distance herself from her music career had something to do with the “Pretty Mess” video suddenly becoming unavailable online. For a few years, you just could not find this video, when it was easy to find before that. This struck me as weird. “Pretty Mess” was a Motown Records release that did kinda-sorta okay on the Billboard charts, after all, and it’s odd to have a video for a major release such as this just vanish. I’d periodically look for it—often propelled to do so after exclaiming something along the lines of “Oh my god, you have to see the video for this song”—and it has only returned following Vanity’s death in February 2016. At the very least, I can hope that other people looking for it end up here.
- Another explanation for its unavailability online? It’s just not that great of a song. At several points during the song, Vanity sounds like Miss Piggy in heat, and I apologize if me pointing this out damages your mental image of Miss Piggy.
- Pop songs about ejaculation seem to be rare, and those about ejaculate specifically even more so.
- I’m unclear whether Vanity wrote “Pretty Mess.” The Wikipedia page credits her as the sole writer, while the page for the album Wild Animal credits Bill Wolfer. I like the song more if I think that she chose to write and perform it herself, rather than some man handing it to her and saying, “It’s a song about spooge. You’re singing it now.”
- Vanity plays the female lead in Enter the Dragon, but her acting career began before Prince’s involvement in her life. Notably, she play, the girl in the sexy Egyptian girl costume in the 1980 Jamie Lee Curtis slasher Terror Train, which means that she and David Copperfield share a movie credit. (She’s credited as D.D. Winters, though she was born Denise Katrina Matthews.)
- I can’t tell if Vanity is also playing the female bartender into the video or if the actress cast just looks like her. Anyone?
- Vanity’s love interest in the video suggests a hypothetical love child created by Limahl and a lesbian New Wave amazon.
Bonus video tidbit: Speaking of Prince muses who have surprisingly literal music videos, have you ever seen the video for Sheena Easton’s “Morning Train”? It's more or less what you might expect until you realize that the dude she’s singing about is actually the train conductor. He takes the train because his job is driving the train.
That’s... weird, right?