The year was 2000. My cousins and I had just been dropped off at the mall, a sick $20 bill in tow. After waving goodbye to our parents chauffeurs, we bolted to the nearest Wet Seal, where we proceeded to select matching pairs of thong underwear, each adorned with a rhinestoned butterfly. We giggled almost to the point of hyperventilation fantasizing about how hot we’d look with the glittery insects perched oh-so-maturely above our low-rise jeans.
For this heinously inappropriate fashion misstep, I have one man to blame: Mark Althavean Andrews, better known as Sisqó.
His hit song “The Thong Song,” released in 2000, was a timeless ode to G-string underpants and, in particular, their ability to make the booty housed within them go “duh dun duh.” Blasted across top 40 radio stations and MTV, the song soon became the anthem to which middle schoolers learned to bump and grind.
Sisqó was only 22 when “The Thong Song” came out, marking the eruption of his solo career. During the four years prior, he’d been making music with Dru Hill, an R&B quartet based in his hometown of Baltimore. But when “The Thong Song” came along, Sisqó could sense it was going to be his big break. “Nobody had seen a whole lot of thongs back then,” he explained in a phone interview. “It was one of those things, like, gather ‘round and I’ll tell you a tale. I was the guy with the torch by the fire.”
The song had all the unmistakeable makings of a hit. It was sexy without being explicit. With as many distinct lyrics as a nursery rhyme, it was easy to memorize and scream along to in a dance circle while bouncing your hips, the true sign of coolness for any insecure adolescent. And it was catchy as hell.
Not only did Sisqó expect his debut single to be an instant sensation, he knew it had staying power ― the makings of a true classic. “Fast forward 16 years later, and when you listen to it, you open up a time capsule,” he said. “I was thinking about that when I made it. That’s why we use those classical strings in the beginning. Much like the Renaissance period of art and music [...] that music and art is still appreciated today. I thought, let’s put a little classical air in this music. Hide some music within the gimmick, so the music will last longer than the gimmick.”
I asked Sisqó about that “Renaissance” touch he spoke about. Specifically, whether it has anything to do with a sample of Wes Montgomery’s cover of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” hidden within “The Thong Song,” as multiple websites claim. Sisqó says that, although the 1966 song was certainly an inspiration, it was more of a jumping-off point than an actual ingredient in the song. Mostly because of royalties.
“I’m a big fan of the late, great Michael Jackson but I wasn’t trying to pay him royalties on my song!” Sisqó said. Jackson owned The Beatles’ anthology at the time.
Sisqó says the string arrangements are different ― his is a different key, “inverted, demodulated” in comparison to “Eleanor Rigby.” He hummed the two separate riffs during our interview and I agree, they sound different. He then proceeded to explain that, if you listen closely to “The Thong Song,” there are also elements of the “Star Wars” theme song and Nikolai Rimsky-
“We got to put some of that in there, but not too much, so it’s not like plagiarism,” he assured me. I told Sisqó his stealthy tactics to educate the masses with classical music veiled beneath a booty-bumping beat reminded me of a mom sneaking broccoli into her kids’ brownie batter. He laughed in agreement. “We put broccoli right in between the thong.”
However Sisqó managed to endow his homage to underwear with staying power, he did good. These days he’s on tour with a bunch of similarly nostalgia-inducing acts including Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Sister Hazel and the Spin Doctors. Together under the moniker 90sFest, they’ll be in Columbus, Ohio, next month. After all this time, Sisqó has not at all tired of professing his love for thongs, on stage and off.
“I’m a heterosexual male,” he proclaimed. “Beautiful women from all over the world are still trying to brandish their underwear before me. I’m never tired of singing that song.”
Over these past 16 years, thongs have come a long way. They’ve emerged from low rider jeans, terrycloth sweatpants and peasant skirts, only to be hidden beneath more recent trends like mom jeans, trousers and onesies. These days, some heterosexual males prefer the more demure undergarment: boy shorts. One could postulate that, over time, the thong ― a symbol of performative, sexualized femininity ― has faded out of style, replaced by more comfortable, androgynous undies.
Similarly, “The Thong Song” has gone through its fair share of transitions, from school dances, Bar Mitzvahs and clubs to ‘90s nights, nostalgic encores and drunken karaoke bars. You might think that after so many years ― so many phases of the thong ― any and all controversies on the subject would have bubbled up to the surface, like a G-string tastefully emerging from behind business casual slacks. But one controversy remains.
There’s been a debate raging on Urban Dictionary since 2004 about a particular Sisqó lyric: “dumps like a truck.” What does it mean? There seem to be two leading camps on the subject. One believes the phrase is synonymous with “junk in the trunk,” i.e. a big ass. The other (what you might call the underdog camp) is convinced the turn of phrase is an expression for taking a large, truck-sized dump; a term used to describe a lady who drops a hefty deuce. I raised these two options to Sisqó.
The line, he guarantees, is not about poop. “That would mean I was some kind of fecal freak,” he said. “What I was really referring to was ― a dump truck when it backs up, it’s like, ‘beep, beep beep.’ So, ‘she had dumps like a dump truck’ is, like, when girls do a booty dance move and they look back at their butt. She’s like a dump truck back-back-backing it up.” Hm. I accepted the explanation. And at this point, his publicist suggested we wrap things up.
Once we reached this conclusion, there was little left to say. Sure, Sisqó has some other eccentric qualities. He usually eats only one meal a day ― and never before a show, so he isn’t “burping onstage.” When he’s not on tour, he prefers to eat off of square plates, a calculated symbol of a refined meal enjoyed in the comfort of his own home.
“You can’t normally get a square plate on the road. When I’m home, I have a real meal with a real knife and a real fork and a square plate,” he added.
But what else can you expect from a man who became an instant millionaire at 22, and has since remained fixed in an eternal stream of bouncing butts and flying underwear?
Before hanging up, I asked Sisqó which article of clothing he would choose to immortalize today, if given the opportunity, in song. After a pregnant pause, he replied, “Yoga pants. Yoga pants are so cool.”
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