Steven Soderbergh’s Channing Tatum vehicle Magic Mike is a thrilling if somewhat dialogue-light film set in a male strip club in Florida, chock-full of bared male body parts and shots of women reacting to their being unveiled. Much of the movie goes by in a series of montages and hip thrusts, but at one point, the swirling action both stops and becomes absolutely spellbinding: Tatum (upon whose stripper past the movie is based) takes the stage at Xquisite to Ginuwine’s glitchy, Timbaland-produced debut single “Pony.” This public performance actually doubles as a one-on-one love scene in a way; Tatum’s character’s romantic interest, played by the steely eyed Cody Horn, gets to see the dance unfold and gets appropriately intrigued. (With good reason; Tatum flexes an impressive array of the moves he learned while grinding away in the exotic-dancer salt mines.)
Tatum’s dance was, in a sense, the pinnacle (and one hopes culmination) of an online trend in which people would record themselves dancing alone to the song, trying to be “sexy” for the camera. Known simply as “Dancing Alone to Pony,” the one-note joke—the type of quick-ha-ha-inducing gag that would get passed around among friends on Facebook and be approvingly tagged with the term “viral” by some marketing mucky-muck—inspired a Tumblr and a few video mash-ups in addition to quite a bit of awkward thrusting; in one pairing, someone matched up Ginuwine’s slinky track with Thom Yorke’s herky-jerk movements from Radiohead’s 2011 video for the comparably dreary “Lotus Flower.”
In some sections of the Internet, the sort of sexuality that “Pony” celebrates—sorta louche, definitely overt, punctuated by electronic wiggles and blips—often gets derisively giggled at by the desk jockeys who steer the ship of workaday online discourse. But during Saturday’s Ginuwine show at B.B. King’s in Times Square, the mood was much more serious. Not in a dour way, mind you; the crowd, which was mostly made up of women (including one woman on a date near me who cheered and raised her arms when Ginuwine asked if there were any single ladies in the building, then sheepishly grabbed her male companion’s hand when she lowered them), hooted and hollered and sang along, and caught their breath as one when he undid a button on his shirt a few tracks in.
Before Saturday, Magic Mike, a scene from the 1983 Michael Keaton recession comedy Mr. Mom, and a couple of special sitcom episodes from the ’80s were as close as I’d gotten to the male-strip-club experience; the Ginuwine show supplanted all of those easily. The supper club setup of B.B. King’s helped; most of the crowd was seated (except for a few hopeful women who stood at the lip of the stage and waited to get some shine from the night’s main attraction), sipping cocktails and nibbling off small plates. But the need for release was the real reason for the charged atmosphere; before Ginuwine took the stage, an attendant arranged roses in buckets around his microphone, which prompted one woman at my table to say expectantly, “He’s going to give out roses and take off his shirt.” (He only wound up doing one of those things, though he effectively teased the other.)
The 41-year-old singer came out as his band—11 members, by my count, though there might have been more crowded onto the subterranean club’s stage—tore through a go-go vamp. Despite the electro snap of “Pony,” the musical mood for most of the night was rooted in older soul; Ginuwine roared and shuddered, his backup singers nearly matched him, saxophone solos squealed in a way that brought to mind Miami Vice montages, and the night’s set list included a cover of Michael Jackson’s Thriller deep cut “The Lady in My Life.” (The night wasn’t entirely of another time; at one point, he asked the crowd if anyone was on Twitter—a message early Monday morning linked to photos of the show—and he took out his cameraphone to snap a couple of pictures of the crowd.) He performed the defiant your-gal-pals-don’t-know track “None of Ur Friends Business” with a look on his face that seemed to be the result of him internally summoning the gossip that swirled around him; he treated the approving “In Those Jeans” like it was foreplay individually tailored to the needs of each member of the audience. Which wasn’t his only seasoned-pro move—he offered up a sweat-dappled towel; he said multiple times how much he loved playing B.B. King’s; and he shouted out past collaborators like Timbaland, Missy Elliott, and Aaliyah, as well as his son, who (surprise!) had done a turn as his opening act.
And then it was time for “Pony,” its Timbaland-supplied squawk overtaking the sound system before the band joined in. Ginuwine urged the crowd to get up out of their seats and disembarked the stage, hopping onto one of the barriers between B.B. King’s inner and outer bowls. Women surrounded him, cameraphones and adoration and sing-alongs at the ready, and while he didn’t take his shirt off—though he had changed into a tee earlier in the evening—his reception was no less rapturous. The back-and-forth of the pleading chorus went on for a while, Ginuwine basking in the adulation and the audience basking in the way he was soaking in it; the whole exchange probably could have lasted half an hour, and nobody would have minded, save the people scheduled to play the late show.
“Pony” was followed by a cover of Prince’s “Baby I’m a Star,” a track off the almost-30-year-old soundtrack to the funk-rock legend’s first film, Purple Rain. The song is a delighted boast in which Prince makes a case for his overwhelming magnetism; “Hey, look me over,” it declares in its opening line, and the torrid, breathlessly paced music makes the case for attention as much as any of the lyrical boasts. Following up “Pony” with this track on Saturday was an almost-too-perfect victory lap; sure, Ginuwine’s most notorious track remains sexy in its sweet 16th year of existence, but he sells it like no other, even as he keeps on his shirt and pants.