I'm not really sure where the term "vagina music" originated. The first time I heard it was in Nicole Holofcener's awesome film Walking and Talking, when a male character complains to his female car-trip cohorts, "Are we gonna listen to this vagina music the whole way there?" ("Yes!") The second time was almost a decade later, on an episode of Six Feet Under where one of Claire's art-school friends demands , "You guys are gonna have to change this vagina music immediately." From these, we can infer that vagina music = music that others feel subjected to and wish to avoid.
Nonfictionally, in my own life, it's come up in less confrontational instances, usually in discussions of the famed Michigan Womyn's Music Festival—which was originally founded to showcase what was specifically called women's music—or the once-mighty Lilith Fair. I used the expression just last weekend to refer to a band playing Portland's Pride festivities whose skinny jeans and self-conscious rattails screamed '80s synth revival, but whose amps bleated out something much more Indigo/DiFranco.
From this, we can infer that when people—like, uh, me—make reference to vagina music, it's to point out how interchangeable, how not-exciting, how generically female it is.
But it wasn't until I heard an acquaintance refer to Coldplay as "vagina music" that I began to rethink my own casual use of the phrase as a catchall descriptor for the descendents of Cris Williamson and Tracy Chapman. Because , while I am no fan of Coldplay (my hatred of Gwyneth Paltrow prevents me from acquiring any knowledge of the band beyond the fact that they, you know, exist), it's clear that describing them as vagina music was not this person's way of saying that their latest album reminded him of the oeuvre of Paula Cole.
So from this, we can infer that vagina music is not only music that others feel subjected to/wish to avoid, or music that sounds generically female, it's music for pussies. And pussies are pussies because they're…like women.
If vagina music was a direct analogue to "cock rock," that would be one thing: A canon of penis-aggrandizing that includes KISS's "Love Gun," AC/DC's "Let Me Put My Love Into You," and Aerosmith's "Big 10-Inch Record" and Led Zeppelin's "The Lemon Song," could bematched entendre for entendre by female musicians glorifying their junk, and that would be pretty cool. But that's not how it goes. The majority of songs about vaginas (and these already number far fewer than odes to cock) are songs by dudes —"Little Red Corvette," "Cherry Pie," "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang," "Winona's Big Brown Beaver," and, of course, Nirvana's duo of "Heart-Shaped Box" and "Moist Vagina," to say nothing of the dozens of blues classics that make mention of "jelly roll." Even "Sugar Walls," Sheena Easton's vagtastic 1980s hit, was penned by mentor Prince.
And there are women who've sung, or rapped, loud and proud about their lady parts: Missy Elliott's "Work It," and Khia's "My Neck, MyBack," are pretty much the most straightforward odes to downstairs business as have ever been put to a beat; more oblique references can be found in Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop" and The Divinyls' "I Touch Myself." And then there's Diamanda Galas's "Cunt," which is really more spoken-word than music, but I'd be seriously remiss to not mention it. So why does "vagina music" denote soft, femmey, and/or cloying rather than fun, saucy, and, in Galas's case, super scary?
And really, when you consider that artists who've been tagged as "vagina music" on Last.fm include everyone from Cat Power, to the Carpenters to Kimya Dawson to Nico, it underscores the sexism of the term. So what do you think? With rumors of a Lilth Fair comeback in 2010, is it time to reclaim, redefine, and raise the flag for vagina music? Or is reclaiming it accepting that rock still = cock?