Applying the spirit of the Bechdel Test to dance songs

I wonder what Mo and Sydney think about dance songs; image courtesy of

So, I was having a breakroom chat on Friday with my co-worker friend Rebekah. She was asking my thoughts on the cause-and-effect relationship between Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” and “Monster.” We were discussing what we made of the idea of Gaga directly addressing the threat of sexual assault for women being flirty and getting trashed at a club, in effect providing social commentary for her breakout hit.

I spent a significant part of my week listening to Katy Perry and Ke$ha’s debut albums. In doing so, I thought about how pervasive drunkeness and/or hookups are in dance songs (sexual violence is not as prevalent, though Kiely Williams troubled the waters with “Spectacular”). Another friend is putting together a mix for her birthday party and helping her come up with a track list exacerbated the point. Though I don’t eschew getting drunk or hooking up, Rebekah and I struggled to come up with a song that didn’t focus on these things either with direct language or through euphemism. She mentioned that applying something like the Bechdel Test to dance songs might be interesting, though difficult.

I find a lot of value in the Bechdel Test. It originates from Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For comic series, wherein a character named Mo vows to only watch movies with 1) at least two women in them who 2) talk to each other about 3) something besides men. It’s a simple set of criteria to use on film that is actually difficult for most texts to abide by (in addition to the clip above, read Rachel McCarthy James‘s recent TelevIsm’s post about applying the test to television shows).

So I hope to draft a list where drunk behavior and hookups aren’t mentioned. I haven’t come up with a snazzy handle, but the idea is there. I came up with Sly and the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music,” ESG’s “Get Funky,” Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s Alright,” Out Hud’s “One Life to Leave,” and Hot Chip’s “Over and Over,” among others.

Prince – “1999”

Pylon – “Dub”

Le Tigre – “My Metrocard”

Gossip – “Pop Goes the World”

Janelle Monáe – “Tightrope”

Assuredly, there are others. Feel free to offer yours in the comments section, this blog’s Facebook page, or on Twitter (via @ms_vz).


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  2. kodiax

    Thanks for stopping by TRA. I gave your question some thought and came up with:

    The Propellerheads ft. Shirley Bassey – “History Repeating”
    Jamiroquai – “Canned Heat”
    M.I.A. – “Galang,” “Fire Fire,” and “Paper Planes”
    Electric Six – “Danger! High Voltage”
    Colette – “About Us”
    Lisa Shaw – “Let It Ride”

    The question was harder than I anticipated. Good article!

    • Alyx Vesey

      Nice! It’s totally a question that’s harder to answer than you anticipate. Totally love the first two, the latter’s subject bringing to mind The Ting Tings’ “Great Deejay,” for which Calvin Harris did a fun remix. I also like Lisa Shaw’s “Let It Ride,” which I hadn’t heard. I’d part with “Galang” and “Paper Planes” simply because they talk about chiefin’ the reef, but “Fire Fire” is a good call. Colette’s “About Us” seems to get us in another category entirely — the breakup anthem that uses the dance floor to reclaim independence.

      • kodiax

        Oh snap, that’s a great call with the Ting Tings “Great DJ!” I need to check out that Calvin Harris remix. And upon subsequent listens I agree with your objections to “Galang” and “Paper Planes,” so I will take back those submissions. Speaking of remixes, what do you think about dance mixes of non-dance songs that lyrically fall outside the hook-up/drink-up/smoke-up tropes? An example of this is Felix Da Housecat’s remix of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman.” Would that count because of its more traditional religious subject matter?

        So yeah the whole breakup category in dance music has quite the history from Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” to Kelis’s “Brave” with a whole bunch in between. It seems to be as common a theme in the genre as hooking up and/or getting wasted, and some songs do it better than others. That’s a post on its own.

      • Alyx Vesey

        I have heard Felix Da Housecat’s remix of that song and I’d include it. I’d also include the original because it’s awesome. 🙂

  3. noblecaboose

    Can you more clearly define “hooking up” in this context? Does reference to any sort of sex count or is it more clearly about just casual sex or something even more specific?
    What, precisely, do you mean by “hooking up”?

    • Alyx Vesey

      I mean more in the context of casual sex, though I’m looking for dance songs that don’t mention sex at all. In dance songs, people tend to meet on the dance floor and dancing becomes an indication of attraction, if not a stand-in or prelude for fucking. But I want to be clear that I’m not making judgments against casual sex. Rather, I wanted to point out how pervasive casual sex (and intoxication, often taken together) are in dance songs and propose a list where neither of things come into the equation.

  4. Kathy

    I’m curious how a similar set of standards could be applied to other styles of music. I’m not a huge fan of dance, but I think one could devise some sort of bechdel test for indie rock. (A lot of the music I listen to does mention casual hookups and drinking, but it’s usually tinged with regret — I guess that doesn’t nullify it, though.)

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