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Uncovering the Hidden Misogyny of The Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up”

It’s no secret that sexism and misogyny have long been unfortunate aspects of popular music. If a beat is groovy and a melody is catchy enough, it’s easy to ignore. But pay attention to the lyrics for just a moment and you may make some shocking, uncomfortable discoveries. That’s what happened to me the other day when I was listening to The Prodigy’s big beat hit, “Smack My Bitch Up.”

Now, I hadn’t heard the song in well over a decade so I didn’t remember exactly how it went. Right out the gate I hear, “Change my pitch up! Smack my bitch up!” and I’m taken aback. I double-checked the lyrics just to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. Sure enough, right under the title of the song were the lyrics, “Smack my bitch up.”

I was still willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps in 1997, a term like “smack my bitch up” simply had a different, more innocuous connotation. Alas, no luck. Granted, as you might know, the phrase was sampled from “Give the Drummer Some” by Ultramagnetic MCs. But I did some further research, and it seems that kind of terminology was also inflammatory in the late 80s.

Not to play devil’s advocate, but it would be one thing if the song had used that phrase only one or two times. That wouldn’t make it “okay,” but it would certainly be better than what we ultimately get. It shows up a lot. In fact, lyrically, the whole song is basically just “Change my pitch up, smack my bitch up.” Sometimes they don’t even say the first part. I could’ve sworn there were some lines about how much fun it is to go out and celebrate (respectfully, of course) with friends across the gender spectrum. It seems this was a utopia wrought in my mind and only my mind.

Though the Prodigy found undeniable commercial and critical success with this song, I can’t help but wonder how much further they could’ve reached with less problematic lyrics. Something like “Whoa-oh. Hangin’ out at the club.” That would sound good over any beat.

Also, I haven’t had time to revisit the music video but I’ll be sure to report back if there’s anything about it that doesn’t hold up.