The first time I ever heard the phrase “rub one out,” my older brother had just returned from a Marine exercise down South. A fellow soldier, my sibling related, had announced in the barracks that he was about to go into the shower and, well, rub one out. You know. Polish the one-eyed gopher. Anyway, because it was the most practical, ho-hum, say-it-in-the-presence-of-your-mom-’cause-she’ll-never-get-it locution for the act I’d ever heard, it stuck with me, though it hasn’t fallen upon my red ears since then. Until now.
Whoa! is 2Gether’s evil-sibling boy band. The MTV teenpop creation’s “single” (well, it’s a single in the movie, anyway) splits the difference between the Chipmunks and the Buzzcocks’ “Orgasm Addict.” While 2Gether nudge the boundaries with exquisitely turned-out truisms like “In case we break up, can I still have sex with you?,” Whoa! identify the top and go way, way over it.
“Rub One Out” is possibly the most subversive song I’ve ever heard. Even if a cool seventh grader is listening to Op Ivy, do you think he cares that some punks can’t see the top of the bottom of the barrel? Such new teens (the most likely audience for this smooth brand of bubble-soul) are thinking about what only Whoa! are brave enough to address: Are they the only ones? Is God mad at them? Will they go blind? Of course, like all great artists, Whoa! approach these difficult questions obliquely, leaving room for interpretation.
“When I’m feelin’ lonely, and I want you to hold me, I rub one ow-ow-out, yeah.” Best of all is the chorus, where the ladies are invited in on the action: “Rub one out, girl don’t be shy. Rub one out, girl don’t ask why.” Since patently false male denials run rampant on junior high and high school campuses, guys often assuming that the chicks wouldn’t even think about making solo expeditions down under, Whoa! are not only initiating a dialogue long overdue, but setting a new standard for the ways in which this stuff gets hashed out in hushed conversations behind bleachers or over Pop’s Playboy. Girl, don’t be shy, indeed. (It’s also notable that clitoral orgasms are best attained through rubbing, as opposed to jerking. Whether or not the authors chose the construction “rub one out” over, say, “choking the chicken,” the particularities of the phrase are instructive in our consideration of the feminist aspect of the songwriting.)
The music itself merits consideration as well. While rising strings (which carry a slow, sweet outro) in the second half of the song suggest, well, you know, more important is the vocal interplay. The low, sultry voice playing off the high, floating lead evinces a traditionally gendered, het relationship. Of course the paradigm is subverted, because both singers are male—homoeroticism colors the tune, suggesting the gender confusion so many adolescents experience. The duality also reinforces Whoa!’s egalitarian take on sexual self-release. I wouldn’t dare, but they might just say spray it, don’t say it.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 2, 2000