For a song that consists merely of two lines repeated throughout, the hullabaloo it caused and the amount of lyrical analysis that went on is pretty impressive. ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ released by The Prodigy in 1997, is considered to be one of the most controversial songs of all time. Sorry, Pauline Pantsdown. ‘Change my pitch up / Smack my bitch up’ are the aforementioned lyrics and critics took no time in over-enthusiastic dissection of those eight words. Most interpretations decided they contained misogynist insinuations and decided the group was in some way promoting violence against women – despite the fact the lyrics were merely a sample (from the Ultramagnetic MCs ‘Give the Drummer Some’, if you’re interested in modern poetry and want to experience the whole shebang) and were not actually written by The Prodigy themselves.
And my goodness gracious was there uproar upon its release?! Music industry chaos! Madness! Industry turmoil! Germaine Greer would have had a field day, were she partial to electronic music and not so focused on the demise of Katie Price (which began at birth, by the way). Representatives from the US National Organization for Women were declaring that it promoted violence against women as a form of entertainment, it was banned by the BBC and it was also forbidden to be shown on MTV for a time (back due to popular demand, but only after midnight).
What kind of a song is this?! I’ll tell you. It’s a ‘get you going, I am drunk or about to be, I am in the midst of Sydney’s cocaine blizzard’ type track (please see the following ridiculous article for further information and the only reason why I make these assumptions). The mixing is brilliant, it is accessible (to those not of the ‘illogically feminist’ species) and it is appropriate for certain occasions and situations. Such as hot fight scenes in Charlie’s Angels with Drew Barrymore. There is a beautiful sample of Sheild Chandra performing a delectably Prodigy-skewed version of ‘Nana (The Dreaming)’, which provides a fantastic contrast to the rest of the song and an insight into the mind of somebody who has just been hit with daylight after stumbling out of a nightclub at some obscure time of the morning with minimal comprehension of reality. You know the feeling.
Ok. The thing is, much of the controversy surrounded the video clip, which was a fast-paced (well yeah, it is an electronic music video) whirlwind trip of – an admittedly rather full-on – night out via first-person. Initially you have the perspective of an unknown and apparently lawless entity that uses drugs, has appalling purple satin sheets and enjoys violence, alcohol and breasts. From the harmless beginnings of shaving and hand-washing, the song very quickly descends into frantic shotting, cocaine snorting, much boob-grabbing of involuntary women in various clubs and bars, violence and vomiting, finishing with a graphic and tastefully distasteful stripper sex scene. It spasms and blurs the way a distorted human mind would, with the correct cocktail of chemical additions. The funny part is, one naturally assumes that it is viewed from the perspective of a male.. The clip ends with the stripper (model Teresa May) leaving the rather derelict-looking apartment of purplesatinsheets and the protagonist looking into the mirror briefly before passing out, revealing that ‘he’ is actually a young, Courtney Love-esque, busty blonde female. Thus the stereotype is reversed and the feminist ‘bah humbug’ ranting is left looking confused and misguided. Not that they acknowledged that, mind you.
Frankly, this song has simply been over-analysed. The Prodigy are not attempting to be T.S. Eliot here. Nor are they looking to make a particular statement, other than to perhaps provoke the easily-provoked. They didn’t even write the bloody lyrics! Leeroy, who at the time was a member of the group, said “people take things too literally… There is no message in Prodigy music really, it’s just an expression of hardness. We’re not trying to put messages in about ‘it’s cool to beat up women’, because that’s just pathetic’”. Liam Howlett, also a member, stated it was the “most pointless song I’ve ever written. But live, it works… Sometimes things can be so fucking simple and you don’t need an explanation of the lyrics. Why explain the lyrics?” Well Liam, apparently you are an artist and artists are supposed to be consistently creating material of depth, rather than that which can be used to elevate the heart rate or (shock/horror) instigate ‘fun’.
So basically, one of the most controversial songs of all time is such because people like to be pedantic and annoying. It’s just a fun, full-on electronic dance track that I would not recommend playing during a dinner party. But perhaps, given the company and where the dinner party intends on going… I may recommend for dessert. The video is hardly anything you haven’t seen before in real-life.
The Prodigy – ‘Smack My Bitch Up’