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Tasting the Goods: A Brief Psycho-Social Analysis of Kelis’s “Milkshake”

September 17, 2011

Though Kelis’s “Milkshake” was released in 2003, it was only recently that I listened to the song in its entirety and actually paid attention to its lyrics.  It performed well commercially world-wide, but upon examining its somewhat troubling first stanza, one wonders if it deserved to.

“Milkshake” begins with the seemingly innocuous line, “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.”  Read a bit more deeply, however, is “the yard” an appropriate place to bring a milkshake?  If it is speaking of the yard of a private citizen, then certainly a property owner’s right to allow or deny access to the milkshake bringer—as well as all the boys—must be taken into account.  It is not clear if Kelis has done so (h/t to L. Holt).  If “the yard” refers to a prison yard, which is admittedly unlikely but not impossible, Kelis seems rather blasé about her own safety: an attractive, curvaceous young woman bringing a delectable snack into the midst of hardened, intimacy-starved criminals doesn’t demonstrate the best judgment.  (My colleague R. “Chewie” Stewart pointed out that “shank’n,” in one form or another, frequently occurs in such yards.)  Perhaps the yard refers to Tasty’s Yard, the restaurant in the video.  This, however, is a bit too literal to be taken seriously if for no other reason than Tasty’s Yard couldn’t accommodate all the boys (an obvious fire hazard), even if the restaurant’s immediate environs are included.

Even if we could find an appropriate yard to which to bring Kelis’s milkshake, this wording is even more problematic, not least to the lactose intolerant.  While she does not explicitly exclude women, in bringing “all the boys” to the yard is Kelis not overlooking females?  Surely the singer understands that many lesbians and bisexual women would also be interested in occupying a yard inhabited by a woman of her physical charms.  Kelis ignores this potentially very loyal and lucrative demographic to her detriment.  On a similar note, all the boys?  Honey, there’s not a milkshake on the planet that can bring them all to the yard.

The next two lines, “And they’re like, it’s better than yours/Damn right, it’s better than yours” yields another interesting topic of discussion.  Kelis rather boldly asserts the superiority of her milkshake to all others.  The first line on its own might simply describe a woman comfortable with, and acutely aware of, her milkshake’s appeal.  However, the needlessly combative second line’s repetition of said assertion indicates that Kelis may, in fact, not be so convinced of her milkshake’s preeminence.  (One sees the depth of meaning in line repetition quite often, perhaps most prominently in Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”: “And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.”)  In this context, let’s explore part of the first line again: “And they’re like, it’s better than yours” (emphasis mine).  What seemed insignificant before gains importance now.  Kelis assumes that the boys have informed their boos that her milkshake is better than all theirs.  However, she offers no proof, or even a scoring rubric for comparison.  Perhaps her omission of such an ordering scale is intentional, to disallow any testing of Kelis’s claim of milkshake superiority.  For a woman who has integrated the perceived perfection of her milkshake so deeply into her identity, what if it were proved that hers isn’t better than yours?  Such narcissistic injuries are not so easily healed.

The last line in the stanza, “I could teach you, but I’d have to charge” raises a host of other issues.  Is the yard properly zoned for commercial activity?  Does Kelis have the proper food-handling training and certification for milkshakes?  Has she even checked to see if a license is required to conduct any sort of business in the yard’s municipality?  It would be irresponsible and perhaps even dangerous to assume that Kelis has done so, given her other lapses in judgment.

None of this is to state unequivocally that Kelis’s has flaunted laws or property rights or social norms.  Her milkshake may not be strictly heteronormative.  She may have a superbly tasty milkshake; indeed, from the video, it appears that she does.  We ask only that when Kelis makes such assertions, she does so in a more overtly responsible, inclusive, and provable manner.

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