Sisqó Talks 20 Years Of "Thong Song," Sampling The Beatles & Getting Props From Madonna
Mark "Sisqó" Andrews was making sizable waves in his R&B group Dru Hill and on Will Smith's "Wild Wild West" in the late '90s when he stumbled into one of the most quotable, unforgettable hits of the millennium while crafting his solo debut, Unleash The Dragon, which just celebrated its 20th birthday. While the ballad "Incomplete" went number-one on the Hot 100, the tune you undoubtedly remember from it was "Thong Song," a worldwide smash that shamelessly nicked from Ricky Martin, "The Flight Of The Bumblee," some horny Baltimore friends, and almost, just almost, the Beatles. Not bad for a song that infamously likened a woman's derriere to a dump truck.
But if you're among the many who still have that lone verse permanently grafted in your memory (not least because Sisqó repeats it three times), it’s a classic from the skittering beat and silky strings to the stuttered delivery of the woman's eveningwear it celebrates: that thong-th-thong-thong-thong. The song's defiant catchiness and fourth-wall-breaking silliness have kept it afloat for two decades now, from its four GRAMMY nominations to its use in "Pitch Perfect 2." We spoke to Sisqó via phone about how "Thong Song" has changed his life over the last two decades.
You sang "Thong Song" at your wedding last year. How did your extended family react to that?
It's 2019, 2020. Whatever "Thong Song" was back then, how risqué it was, it's like Disney now in comparison. [Laughs.] When I recorded the song there were a lot of things you couldn't say or do in songs or in videos. Fast forward to today, it’s super tame. It’s my kids' favorite song. When it came out there was some debate over whether soccer moms should let their kids hear it because I was on tour with 'NSYNC. But if you actually listen to the song, I was really careful with the lyrics. It was like… what's that new song from the country dude? [Starts singing "Old Town Road."]
"Old Town Road"?
"Thong Song" was "Old Town Road" back then. With my kids, it goes right in the playlist with "Old Town Road."
Who was the little girl at the beginning of the "Thong Song" video that finds the underwear?
That little girl was my daughter! She was four or five years old then, my daughter Shaione. She will be 24 on December 23.
Has she commented on her part in the video in the 20 years since she's grown up?
Here's the thing. My younger daughter, Kamiqo, is five. She saw my oldest daughter from a previous relationship on that video, and because they're now the same age, when she watches the video now, she mimics her big sister to a T: "Daddy, daddy." Her iPad was in front of her at dinner, so I thought she had the video on. But it was her saying it, just in perfect pitch with the video. [Laughs.]
You sampled the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" originally before going in a different classical direction with the strings. Did the lyrics or music come first?
Tim & Bob were the producers, they'd produced a couple of hits and they were super talented. They had sent me a CD with a bunch of tracks on it, and what became "Thong Song" was really just a 30-second snippet at the very end of a CD that had about 23 songs on it. It was a sample of the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby." I was like, "You guys have got some incredible tracks on this CD, but that snippet at the end, could you stretch that?" So they looped it for me and that's what I "wrote" to. "Wrote" is in quotes because I freestyled every song, ever since Dru Hill's "How Deep Is Your Love," off the top of my head.
How long did it take to write that iconic verse?
The one that repeats three times? [Laughs.] It was fairly quick. Like I said, it was a freestyle, so as it was playing I came up with the verse all the way up the "Livin' La Vida Loca" part. "How Deep" had a really, like, Spanish vibe to it. After that, the "Latin Invasion" happened in America, and I truly believe I might have had something to do with that. After Ricky Martin came out, I was truly trying to pay it forward. I wasn't really sure how to end the verse or what the chorus was gonna be, and that's where the infamous story came in. The night before, I had a date with the young lady who showed me her thong. It was like "The Ten Commandments" movie when he went to the mountaintop and came down and his hair was all white. Literally what happened. My hair's jet black but if you notice in the video, it was platinum silver. [Laughs.]
The next day, a close friend of mine comes in, Kidd, he was like "Yo, I went on a date today, guess what this girl gave me?" I was like, "What?" And he was like, "That thong-th-thong-thong-thong!" And it was like a mushroom cloud. I bust out laughing. He was like, "She had dumps. Like a dump truck. Beep beep. She had dumps like a truck." So he left to go, you know, find more thongs, and I was flowing and you know the music doesn't change, that’s the genius of the song, so any change had to come from the vocals. So that's when I came up with "dumps like a truck, truck, truck." It fit like surgically in the beat. And 20 years later, we're still laughing all the way to the bank.
Does the person who was wearing it know that the song was inspired by her?
You know, I don't even remember the person. It was very long ago, I wasn't married… I wish I remember who the person was. Or maybe not so much. Maybe they were one of the many people who tried to sue me who got thrown out of court like three times. Everybody tried to cash in on that song, it was bananas.
Who was the most unexpected person to tell you they were a fan of the song?
David Copperfield! He apparently had the music in his show, I spoke to him on the phone. He sent me an autographed copy of his magic book, which was awesome. When I was a kid he made the Statue of Liberty disappear. And Bill Clinton. I don't know if that was a surprise, but it was just awesome I got to meet him. His staff let me know that he liked the record, but I was able to take a photo with him so that was enough. Madonna! I’ve always been a fan of her work, so you can imagine my shock when I got a personal call from Madonna. I was like, "I think that was my bucket list, I'm good!" Then I disappeared for 20 years until now.
You remade the song with JCY in 2017, but you had turned down offers to remake it for years. Do you remember any of the pitches you had turned down?
Yeah, it was like a couple of commercials that just wasn't sexy. I can't quite remember but I think it had something to do with Pampers or something. That's my motto, it has to be sexy. If it’s not sexy, I can't do it. The one that shocked me the most was when I got the call from "Pitch Perfect 2." When they sang it in that movie, I was like, "I've made it." It’s just the gift that keeps on giving.
The world has to know: What's your second-favorite style of women's underwear?
Lace tanga. You know what that is? It’s like boy shorts. It’s gotta be almost nothing, or like, boy shorts.