Thursday, April 19, 2012

If That's Your Boyfriend: A Wake-Up Call

Me'shell Ndegeocello adopts the persona of a cheating man's mistress in "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)." On the surface the song seems to be a diss track toward other women, especially based on pure lyrical content; however, further examination of the text (and specifically the accompanying video below) provides evidence of a commentary on the stereotypical dependence of woman on men in general.

The main idea of “If That’s Your Boyfriend” is obvious from a quick read of the song’s lyrics. Me’shell becomes a character who steals women’s boyfriends from them without hesitation or remorse. In the song’s chorus, Ndegeocello’s sing-song tone (“Boyfriend, boyfriend, yes I had your boy friend”) taunts the girlfriends of the men she has slept with in a way that is strikingly juvenile, yet viciously tears at them all the same.  The rapper’s lyrics are brash and confident:

“Now late at night he calls me on my telephone
That's why when you call him all you get is a busy busy tone
Grew upset cuz you one stuck up bitch
Maybe he needed a change a switch”

In her essay Cheryl Keyes notes “four distinct categories of women rappers emerg[ing] in rap music performance: ‘Queen Mother,’ ‘Fly Girl,’ ‘Sista with Attitude,’ and ‘Lesbian.’” Her placement of Ndegeocello into the final category should cause the listener to pause before he or she assumes that Ndegeocello’s persona has any legitimacy in the real world. Partially because Ndegeocello is openly lesbian, I would argue that this track is less about the aforementioned exploits of her persona and more about the women she affects. These victims are visibly diverse, yet they are unified by their jealousy, pain, and self-hate. Such feelings are strikingly portrayed in the music video by lipstick-stained cheeks and tearful confessions (“Once you have a child, suicide is no longer an option”).  Each woman’s life revolves around pleasing “her” man, simultaneously fighting off his other potential love interests. In this way women allow themselves to be placed on an inferior level, not directly by men, but instead by other women. “I’m a very, very jealous person; I don’t like other women,” comments one woman, while another concedes: “I want to be in love.” The rapper, portrayed as a “strong” masculine figure in the video, urges other women to realize how easily manipulated they are by men and other women alike; her song is a wake-up call.


  1. This is a very interesting and possibly accurate view on this song by Meshell Ndegeocello. Despite the victims being diverse, I agree that they are unified by their "jealousy, pain, and self-hate."

    However, I seemed to be on the fence with Jamie's statement, "Each woman’s life revolves around pleasing “her” man, simultaneously fighting off his other potential love interests." I believe this view is more a personal view of the subject that Meshell Ndegeocello is portraying to the audience, but one that shouldn't be categorized for all women.

    I like the observation that Meshell Ndegeocello was portrayed as a "strong" masculine figure in the video, as it furthers my point that she is trying to speak from universalize her opinion to what everyone believes (in order to speak about all females). Such a portrayal as a powerful male figure gives the audience some assurance that this story is not told from just another female that falls victim to the story being told. This, as Jamie says, is a wake-up call, not to be disregarded as an exaggerated story from a victim of this bad experience. Meshell Ndegeocello tries, and does so successfully in my opinion, to get such a point across to her listeners.

  2. While this song may initially appear to be a simple account of a woman who steals other people’s boyfriends, I agree with Jamie that this song actually has a much deeper meaning. Although it may seem like Ndegeocello is trying to attack other women in this song, I agree that what she is really trying to do is reveal how easily women can be manipulated and how foolish their jealous fights can be. Jamie mentioned that the chorus of the song (“Boyfriend, boyfriend, yes I have your boyfriend”) has a sing-song tone that taunts the girlfriends that Ndegeocello is addressing. I believe that the purpose of this taunting is not to attack these women but rather to show how immature and catty women can be. Although Ndegeocello does mention the man she is stealing in this song, the focus of the song is on her and the man’s girlfriend. Ndegeocello even makes claims about the man’s relationship with his girlfriend in lines such as, “Grew upset cuz you one stuck up bitch/ Maybe he needed a change a switch,” but we never actually get to see the perspective of the boyfriend himself. Therefore, I definitely agree with Jamie that this song is “less about the aforementioned exploits of [Ndegeocello’s] persona and more about the women she affects.” Ndegeocello is trying to make a point about how women are constantly attacking each other and letting their jealousy get the best of them. While people generally tend to focus on the power struggle between women and men, Ndegeocello creates an interesting twist here by focusing on the struggle between women and other women instead.


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