Why Vanity 6's 'Nasty Girl' was and is important
Thanks to a heartfelt post from legendary drummer and fellow Prince associate Sheila E., we learned that Vanity, a.k.a. Denise Matthews, died at age 57 on Monday after a battle with sclerosis encapsulating peritonitis, a complex form of a kidney disease.
Matthews began her career as a model in her native Canada and met Prince, her musical mentor, at the 1980 American Music Awards. Prince gave her the name Vanity because he saw his "female reflection" in her, and he asked her to front his new girl group Vanity 6. That outfit, styled similarly to Prince's followup group Apollonia 6, would notch its biggest hit with the racy track "Nasty Girl," a twisted and explicit raunch-pop gem produced by Prince himself.
Matthews would later go solo and record tracks like "Pretty Mess" and "Under the Influence," which actually became her highest-charting single. But everything you need to know about Vanity's wicked flair is in "Nasty Girl."
In this clip, Vanity's lioness stare and vaudevillian accoutrement (something like half magician, half magician's assistant) take center stage as she coos about sexual dominance and the prospect of getting down on a limousine floor. Vanity's attitudinal girlishness was powerful thanks to its casual swagger. She wasn't boasting that she wanted sex; she was stating that she wanted sex. In the extended cut of "Nasty Girl," she even coos, "I need seven inches or more" -- a startling reference to, of course, the length of a 7" vinyl single.
There are bad girl anthems like Madonna's "Express Yourself" and Lady Gaga's "Poker Face," but Vanity 6's "Nasty Girl" was an anthem for the feminine glee that comes with knowing just how powerful your sex can make you. Indeed, "Nasty Girl" was an anthem for the baddest girls, women who preferred viperishness to coquettishness but amused themselves with feigned coyness anyway. This is a song about the pride in demand, the sexiness of assertion, and the ebullience in raunch. We'd get later anthems that celebrated such libidinous exuberance -- Missy Elliott's "Work It," Kelis' "Milkshake," and Khia's "My Neck, My Back" come to mind -- but "Nasty Girl" was one of the first to look us dead in the eye, purse its lips, and say, "I know what I want, and it's laughable that you might not."
RIP Denise Matthews: Your legacy was sexy, strong, and rad, and your blasé self-possession was a filthy, pretty mess.