(FOR:) PLAY—A Review of GOAPELE’S Latest Single “PLAY”

Consider it a precious gift when a woman tells her lover she is ready to play.   In all its vulnerability, strength, and beauty, her Love must be recognized as sacred and held gently.  In the reality of the moment, the lover should understand the weight behind the softness in her eye and the longing in her voice—yes, she’s serious.  When she initiates, the lover must seize the opportunity and trust in the exciting potential of the surreal, exploratory world she wants to lead him to.    Her Love finds its root in the spirit realm and in the depth and integrity of her emotional self.  She is fully aware that her Love cannot be coaxed from her.  She cannot be coerced into loving.  She must give it freely—only then will it be genuine and whole.

Goapele’s latest single, “Play,” captures this profound union of the sacred and the sexy with the perfect marriage between a sensuous, dreamlike voice, snapping fingers, and the deep bass sounds reminiscent of heartbeats. Opening with the soft growl of a lion, “Play” is for the woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to say so.  “Play” is for the woman turned on by everything from the pulsing, hypnotic beats of Art of Noise in “Moments in Love” to the funky, nasty vibe of Ginuwine’s “Pony.”  It’s for the woman who is enticed by Floetry’s “Say Yes” and Alicia Keys’ “Unthinkable.”  It’s for the woman in the club, dancing to “Ill Na Na” by Foxy Brown & Jay-Z, feeling sexy and powerful for a brief moment, only to feel empty seconds later.  And most importantly, “Play” is for the woman turned on by leading—leading her lover to a magical, spiritual world that has no rules…and for the man who has no problem following.

Goapele takes the listener for an erotic ride that soothes and arouses in a single breath.  She begins by getting a sense of where her lover’s thoughts lie, singing, “I wanna know what you wanna do.  What if I could say there wasn’t any rules?  I wanna play, play around.”  No time is wasted—the desire to know what her lover is thinking reveals itself as a sexual invitation.  By the time we hear the second line, she makes it clear that she wants to play and dangles the idea of infinite possibilities.  All the lover knows is that this world is boundless and yet she sings, “Tell me if you think that you can get down!”  Her lover is given a playful challenge   to enter into this world of play—a world that has gone undefined, and thus all the more seductive.

The world is set in motion as we enter the refrain, and she tells her lover, “Come here baby I’m ready to touch you.  Listen to me, nothing’s too much, when I’m ready to play…Come here let me whisper in your ear.  Tell you how I’m about to make you feel. I’m ready to play, we could play this game all day.”    As she whispers in her lover’s ear, our imaginations fill in the gap, allowing us to envision what she has in mind—all the things that would satiate her desire; all the things that would make her lover call out her name.   From the whisper to the nameless game, Goapele’s words are provocative and filled with innuendo. Not only does this suggestive language draw in and honor the lover (and the listener), it also renders Woman as sexually healthy, not hypersexualized; she is in full control of her body and intent.   In a single verse, Goapele gracefully counters the image of the silent, passive woman relegated to disposable sex toy, while at the same time dodges potential critics eager to castigate a woman for being dirty and unladylike just because she is explicit.   In the whisper, she could be explicit or subtle.  We’d never know.   The beauty is that she remains a woman—complete and whole—regardless.

In the second verse, Goapele sings, “I wanna go where you’ve never been, and this not me trying to give in. Said you had a taste, but you really don’t know. I think I can help what you’re looking for.”   She points out, “…this is not me trying to give in,” being aware of the difference between choosing to act and being forced to act.  She’s not leading him to this world of play because she feels pressured.    Instead, this desire is born from her own will.  The woman is wholeheartedly leading the way to this place that is new to the lover. He’s only had a “taste,” but she possesses the fullness of Truth. She knows the epitome of exploratory play and ecstasy. It is so rich, so full that by the end of the song, she promises, “You’ll feel it all in your soul.”  This world of sexual play transcends the trappings of the flesh to the point where he will feel it in the very core of his being.  Through this experience, she offers a glimpse of the Divine.

This offering of the spirit realm is evident throughout the rest of the second verse in   Goapele’s lyrics, as well as in the music of her producers Electric Thunderbolt, Teddy Thunderbolt, and Dan Electric.    When comparing the second verse to the first, we see a couple of subtle, yet profound changes. In contrast to the first verse where she says, “Cause this is what I’m dying for.  I mean this is what I’m dying to do,” we find that in the second verse she sings,  “Cause this is what we’re living for.  I mean this is what we’re dying to do.”  Goapele switches from “I” to “we” as if to suggest that he has already accepted the invitation and a union has taken place.  This desire to play is not hers alone, but is a joint desire now.  We also see what was once an experience that she is “dying for” and “dying to do” has transformed into both “what we’re living for” and “what we’re dying for.”  Meanwhile, her lyrics are enhanced by sounds of the sky opening up and sunshowers falling to the Earth–sounds almost identical to what we hear when she sings, “You’ll feel it all in your soul.”

When one is living for something, there’s nothing else she’d rather do. Her dreams and fantasies have been fulfilled.  When one is dying to do something, he can’t wait for his dreams and fantasies to come true; the dream/fantasy has yet to unfold.  The ethereal sounds of sunshowers coupled with the paradox of both living and dying describe the height of sexual experiences—the place where the boundary between this world and the spirit realm is blurred; where we lie on the cusp of night and day; where speed is just as meaningful as being slow and steady; where the nasty and the sweet share a border that gets crossed daily.

Goapele’s “Play” is particularly striking because a woman is initiating sexual foreplay.   Although we live in an age where perhaps it is more acceptable (compared to decades ago) for women, within a heterosexual context, to “make the first move,” men are still, for the most part, socially conditioned to be the one to initiate romance and/or sex.  At the same time, women, in the name of modesty and decency, are taught to play hard to get and to eventually give in to a man’s pursuit, believing that his persistence is a sign of his true love.  As a result, she receives the message that it is acceptable, if not preferable, to become overwhelmed by a man’s advance and then give her love in return.   According to those who may consider themselves traditional, the act of a woman initiating a sexual advance is perceived as putting her at risk of losing the man since her “directness” may cause him to feel emasculated.  This song subtly challenges that paradigm.  The woman, of her own volition, knows that she is ready and invites her lover to a place he’s never been.   With broad strokes, she paints an image of this world of play, setting no limits.  The key is that the woman is leading.   She doesn’t need instructions.  She has the instruction manual. In fact, she wrote it.  And guess what?  It is fluid and filled with the potential for exploration and excitement.  When a woman’s sexual desire is born from her own will, she is fully invested and her sexual gratification becomes central.   The only questions that remain are: “Does she say how she wants her lover to make her feel? Can he keep up?  Is she satisfied?” Perhaps,  answers lie in the whisper.  Perhaps, in another song.  Or maybe the next play session.  Time will tell.  Break of Dawn drops this Monday, October 24.

Much respect to Goapele and her producers for sharing this song with the world.   “Play” embodies the sexy and the contemplative. It shatters the confines that divorce sex from the spiritual. Goapele reminds women that being led is passé as she carves a space for us to reclaim the power of our sexuality and be confident in leading our lovers to that place where the sacred and the sexy meet.

Copyright © 2012 Janet Stickmon

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