Listen to this track by one-time indie poster girl and candour-driven singer-songwriter Liz Phair. It’s “H.W.C” as taken from the “non-clean” (ugh!) version of her 2003 record Liz Phair. In case you’re simply reading the title of this song without having heard it previously, the initials stands for “hot white cum”. Yes.
It’s not as if blatant sexuality in pop songs is a new thing. From Nina Simone’s “I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl”, to Musique’s “Push Push In the Bush”, to Frankie advising one to relax when one wishes to cum, there are an awful lot of examples through out pop music history of some pretty undeniable expressions of human carnality.
It’s not as if it’s an entirely unprecedented move for Liz Phair either. Her 1993 debut, Exile In Guyville was full of examples of her candour when it came to talking about sex. Exhibit A may be “Fuck and Run”, which maybe wouldn’t have been so shocking if it weren’t sung by a woman from a woman’s point of view in quite the way it was.
But, that’s only one of the reasons that Liz Phair made such an impact, and possibly why the album off of which “H.W.C” comes (ok, ok, stop that giggling in the back!) was absolutely pasted by the critics.
A big part of the critical drubbing of the album was the fact that Phair wrote a record aimed at the mainstream. This put something of a distance between her and the Pitchfork crowd who’d championed her. Also, her record company wanted to make sure that they’d get the most bang (yes …) for their buck. So, they insisted she write with The Matrix songwriting team, who’d also done work with Britney Spears, and perhaps most damaging of all – Avril Lavigne.
So, a lot of people were pretty uptight about the new record.
That’s why this song, which very annoyingly is not included on the “clean” version of the record, is such a gem. God, I hate that – “clean version”. Please. I suppose I can identify with the Pitchforkers on some things when it comes to Liz Phair’s record. Anyway, the song’s a gem. It’s a gem because it’s got a good melody, great playing, and it’s very, very commercial sounding all in one. It sounds like the kind of song that got played on top 40 radio when radio really mattered. But, it’s also absolutely filthy.
As such, this song isn’t simply one that’s about the health benefits of a good old fashioned facial. It also cuts the legs out from under the idea that accessible pop songs can’t be also be about taboo subjects, especially when sung by a woman. And I think it continues to demonstrate what Liz Phair has always done, which is to strive to make it OK for women to talk about fucking, and to do it openly, honestly, and in the most direct terms.
That’s an important trail to blaze, and to continue to pursue especially in the age of women being called sluts on public radio programs for wanting access to birth control and control over their own health. It’s certainly important in the face of draconian laws surrounding women’s health in general that we’ve seen in the news lately. There are still frontiers to be explored where sexual identity and expression in the mainstream is concerned, even a full ten years after this song was kept from the “clean” version of the album.
In the meantime there are lots “clean versions” of people’s ideas of how society works, or should work, where sexuality is concerned that are still out there. This very often translates to putting ideologies and wrongheaded religious doctrine above the experiences, sensibilities, and even the very lives of people.
That should be the real parental advisory right there.
Liz Phair is an active artist today. Investigate her site at lizphair.com.
UPDATE [September 5, 2019] To an earlier point about the critical drubbing of this album due to it being a departure from indie rock orthodoxy, here’s an interesting Twitter thread by the author of the Pitchfork review in 2003. Needless to say, his opinion has, shall we say, matured since he wrote it at age 19. https://twitter.com/mattlemay/status/1169739122451386371?s=19.
4 thoughts on “Liz Phair Sings “H.W.C””
Maybe I’m a closet Avril fan (I’m not – to the best of my knowledge), but I always LOVED that entire album. Every track is a great pop song – you want to crank the car radio right up… except with songs about facials, adultery, younger men, underwear and more, you might want to keep the windows rolled up (I have a story involving nuns and a song about train-spotting and masturbation that slots in here). Not all bubblegum though – eg Little Digger covers more serious ground.
Me & Liz go all the way back to Exile, but that doesn’t mean I can’t love this record too. And you’re right… we can happily play songs about devils and violence on the radio but a little bit of sex is a no-go. Same as video games & movies. *sigh*
Some of your most entertaining writing to date, Rob.
Brave and worthwhile post, Rob. A stand against sanctimony and double standards is always going to get my vote. Gee, I’d really value hearing responses from any female readers in the Delete Bin constituency too.
So would I!
Thanks for comments!