1999 Was The Year Music Became Completely Obsessed With Butts
The Y2K bug threatened our lives with technological nuclear warfare and the industry responded by singing about butts.
The true democratisation of the ass anthem started in 1992 with Sir Mix-A-Lot, a man who truly could no longer lie about how much he liked big butts. But it was a few years later, in 1999, that we were completely overwhelmed bombastic odes inspired by one and the same source of inspiration.
Nothing short of iconoclastic in its lasting legacy, backsides have come to dominate the pop music canon, and without them, the world wouldn’t know the joy of shaking that ass.
Music has a rich history of embracing derrières, all starting in 1963, with Chicago’s doo-wop and soul phenomenon Five Du-Tones and their single, ‘Shake Your Tail Feather’ (recaptured by Nelly in 2003).
Rounding up the ’70s and ’80s were KC and the Sunshine Band’s ‘(Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty’, Queen’s ode to ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ and lest we forget LL Cool J’s ‘Big Ole Butt’. But it was the ’90s that came through with the cheekiest goods.
As the clinical and polite facade of music eroded, we were gifted one of the most memorable tributes to the power of the booty in Bell Biv DeVoe’s ‘Poison’: “Never trust a big butt and a smile.”
1992 may have given us ‘Baby Got Back’ by Sir Mix-a-Lot and Wreckx-N-Effect’s ‘Rump Shaker’ but it was exactly 20 years ago that everything was brought into perspective. The Y2K bug threatened our lives with technological nuclear warfare and the industry responded by leaving it’s stuffy, politeness behind for good.
1999 gifted us every iteration of ass anthem imaginable. Whether you prefer the introspection of Mos Def, the Latin-pop of Ricky Martin, or the ‘Thong Song’, these moments live on in the zeitgeist of today. Let’s have a look back at the greats.
Sisqó — ‘The Thong Song’
Sisqó’s solo debut album, Unleash The Dragon, was initially met with moderate success, but it was the release of its second single, ‘Thong Song’ that captured the hearts and hips of the world.
Months before, at just 19-years-old, the Baltimore rapper had no idea what a thong was. “I had never seen one before,” he told Billboard. “Apparently none of my friends had actually seen one before because, in 1999, there wasn’t a whole lot of thongs being worn unless it was in some sort of swimsuit ad.
“I just remembered first seeing one and it was like… you ever seen The Ten Commandments when Moses went up and his hair was black, and then he came back down and his hair was all silver? That was literally the joke I was making with [my] silver hair. [The thong] was stone tablet-ed into my mind.”
It was a labour of love that saw Sisqó go to incredible lengths. To prevent paying Michael Jackson, whose estate then owned the publishing rights to The Beatles catalogue, Sisqó rewrote the strings section and hired violinists and cellists to tackle the issue of clearing the ‘Eleanor Rigby’ sample used in the beat.
“This is pretty much like my ‘Thriller’,” Sisqó boasted. “It’s like a moment in time.” Its anachronistic soundscapes and visuals bolster ‘Thong Song’s place in ’90s history, and its continued relevance ceases to end. Sampled by Little Mix, Ludacris and DJ Sneak’s ‘Move Your Butt’, Sisqó’s reimagination of The Beatles lives on.
As far as renditions go, nothing compares to Sisqo’s performance of his breakout hit at his own wedding reception, in August of 2018. “I initially sang ‘Thong Song’ about the first thong that I ever saw,” he deduced. “So it was only right to sing it about the last one I will ever see…in private, that is.”
Mos Def — ‘Ms. Fat Booty’
The first single off the album, Black On Both Sides, ‘Ms. Fat Booty’ is a woozy red wine melody that shows off Mos Def’s poetic storytelling. Detailing the ill-fated tale of a woman with a lot to offer, his eloquence and honeyed words almost distract from the wounded narrator’s heartbreak.
The song and its chorus are both driven by multiple samples of Aretha Franklin’s ‘One Step Ahead’, a rare Columbia single released in 1965.
Juvenile — ‘Back That Azz Up’
From the opening strings and Lil Wayne’s verse to the production from Mannie Fresh, ‘Back That Azz Up’ is certified classic. Touted as one of the best songs to twerk to, Juvenile’s 1999 hit has remained omnipresent in the culture, with its slick and efficacious bars still dominating music today.
Wayne’s verse — “after you back it up and stop/ then drop, drop, drop, drop it like it’s hot” — was broadly adopted by hip-hop, first with Snoop Dogg’s number one hit ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’, and secondly by Wayne himself on ‘Lollipop’.
So next time you see your white friend twerking to ‘Back That Azz Up’, remember Mannie Fresh, Juvenile and Lil Wayne’s tireless work.
Before its release, producer Mannie Fresh took on the challenge of bolstering the then bare-bones track, which “was more like a DJ backspinning and him saying his rhymes.” His focus was to create something that “would [capture] white America too”.
Despite this, its unprecedented mainstream success took Fresh by surprise. “I remember Sharon Stone commenting about ‘Back Dat Azz Up’, he told Complex. ‘That’s my favourite song,’ and I’m like, ‘You got Sharon Stone backing that ass up? You arrived.'”
So next time you see your white friend twerking to ‘Back That Azz Up’, remember Mannie Fresh, Juvenile and Lil Wayne’s tireless work. From Drake’s ‘Pracitce’ to City Girls’ ‘Run Them Bands Up’, Juvenile fortified a moment of joy that has been continued by two decades of musicians and fans.
Ricky Martin — ‘Shake Your Bon Bon’
In 1999, the phenomenon of Latin music swept across the industry. Coined ‘The Latin Explosion’, it heralded a new era of stars from Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, and Santana to Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez.
Puerto Rican native Ricky Martin, whose electrifying brand of Latin-pop indicated bigger things on the horizon, released a multitude of hits, none more fun than ‘Shake Your Bon Bon’.
From his second eponymously titled album, ‘Shake Your Bon Bon’ was driven by his sex-symbol image. The video sets Martin on top of a car standing in between a sea of women, indicative of his then publicly-closeted life.
But ‘Shake Your Bon Bon’ is entirely more joyous in its modern reimagination: often performed as a stripped back, percussive salsa, Martin reminds us that there is a veritable feast of “bon bon” no matter how you choose to consume it, even if it’s Brad Pitt in this Japanese Toyota advertisement, featuring Ricky Martin’s butt-inspired hit.
Groove Armada — ‘I See You Baby’ Feat. Gram’ma Funk
After a chance meeting in London in the mid-90s, Tom Findlay and Andy Cato birthed Groove Armada. Together they calcified the sound of vocal house, and would be celebrated among the genres other legends.
‘I See You Baby’, which would come to be remixed by another house legend, Fatboy Slim in 2003, was first released in 1999.
The percussive melody was simple yet rhythmic, almost hypnotic in its repetition that is metered by a sly key change in the second half. The track was also recorded with the chorus line “Shakin’ that thang” (to replace “shakin’ that ass”) for various markets around the world, and notably for the MTV Cribs theme. There’s nothing we love more than a PG-rated a** shaking.
Jennifer Lopez — ‘Waiting For Tonight’
It’s almost hard to believe there was a time where people would utter, “does my butt look big in this” in a plea for the opposite to be true. This whitewashed stage of celebrity featured mainly thin, white women — making Jennifer Lopez’s abrupt musical debut a shock to the status quo.
The video debut of ‘Waiting For Tonight’ which featured close-ups of Lopez’s toned behind, created a craze in the mainstream media. The New York Post ran an article claiming that Jennifer Lopez had insured her backside for $1 billion, a rumour that still follows her today.
But when it comes to butts, their celebration, and who has the best one, this interview with Oprah from 1999, is the perfect summation.
Kish Lal is a writer and critic based in New York City. She is patiently awaiting the 20th anniversary of ‘I Wanna Rock (Doo Doo Brown)’. She tweets about raccoons and Cardi B at @kish_lal.
All this week, Junkee is heading back in time to relive the greatest moments in pop culture from 1999. For more 1999 content, head here.