Demonstrations in Popular Music - Genie in a Bottle
(This is the second in a series on metaphors in pop music. It may help to read them in order. The first one is here)
Ok, so at first glance this is a rather inane pop song, and possibly also on second or third glance as well, but I do think it’s worth thinking through some of the implications of this particular song because it uses quite a few metaphorical conceptions of love and self. Did Chrisitina actually mean to express these philosophical views? Probably not. But by participating in the conceptualizations she by default made some interesting claims about the nature of reality. Take a look at the first verse.
I feel like I've been locked up tight
For a century of lonely nights
Waiting for someone to release me
You're lickin' your lips
And blowing kisses my way
But that don't mean I'm gonna give it away
Baby, baby, baby (Baby baby baby...)
The first metaphorical conceptualization she makes relates to “the self” which she envisions as "locked up tight” inside an object which I'm assuming is a lamp given the name of the song. This correlates to most people’s conception of the self where it's something inside the body that's trapped waiting to be released, possibly after death. In psychological terms this is relatable to the Homunculus problem, the misperception that there's a viewer inside the body that see's things on a screen, which then presents an infinite regression of viewers looking at screens. It also presents us with a viewer that is utterly alone, since no one can sit next to them and view their particular screen with them.
So given this conception of self we are faced with a problem, which is, "How do you free the self from its prison?" In this particular song what frees the self is not death (the soul leaving the body) but love, or rather, another person. She cannot free herself on her own. She needs someone to “release her”. But not just anyone can free her. It has to be the right person, a person that has the sensitivity to “rub her the right way” which we’ll get to later.
Also of note is that even though she describes herself as a prisoner that needs to be released, she also expresses some agency over the situation, such that she's not going to just "give it away", meaning, she's making some kind of deliberative choice as to who gets to release her from her prison. The fact that she says she's not going to give it away also implies that she views the act of release as a valuable commodity that needs an equally valuable return.
Ooohhh, my body's sayin' let's go
Ooohhh, but my heart is sayin' no
Here again we have the metaphor of the divided self (see Tainted Love for more divided self metaphors) where it's split into body parts, where each body part is ascribed a particular part of the overall personality. The “body self” wants to have sex, experience physical pleasure, but the “heart self” is resisting because it needs more meaning and conferred value, which may be understood by commitment “I value you so I am going to commit resources, time and energy toward you” or physical sensitivity “I value you so I'm going to put in the work to be highly sensitive to your physical needs”.
In this case of the divided self, the heart wins and pulls the body back from only seeking pleasure. In other cases we could imagine the brain being another self that tries to impose its more rational will against the body and the heart, where rational calculation outweighs emotional meaning and pleasure.
If you wanna be with me
Baby there's a price to pay
I'm a genie in a bottle
You gotta rub me the right way
So here we have Love is a Transaction. “The price to pay” is the work involved in the above-mentioned displays of commitment and/or sensitivity, both behaviors that require work from the other person. “Rubbing the right way” operates both in the meaningful sense, “Convince me that I am a valuable person” as well as the physical sense, “Touch me and be sensitive to my physical responses so as to give me pleasure.” If this can happen then Love is a Release, in that, “the self” is released from its prison so it can finally commune with another person, and simultaneously a sexual release where having an orgasm releases the sexual energy/pressure that's built up. That "release" functions in this dualistic way gives it a little bit of a buzz where we can flip back and forth between metaphorical conceptions and they both make sense in their own domain. For whatever reason there seems to be something pleasing about this dynamic as these double meanings are used frequently in pop songs, especially in relation to sex.
This whole conceptualization is framed of course in relation to a genie, where the genie is an all powerful wish granting entity, but nevertheless needs a master in order to be released. However, in this master/servant relationship, the genie always seems to subvert the will of the master by twisting their words into something they didn't want or they do give them what they want but it causes them great suffering, such as Midas desiring everything he touches be turned to gold. This isn't really dealt with in the song, but there is an interesting power dynamic here, that an all powerful supernatural entity needs a mere mortal to free them from their prison, which from an evolutionary point of view (female sexual selection) makes sense.
So this is a pretty complex conceptualization right? This song is hitting on a lot of metaphors of love and sex and has weaved them into a semi-coherent system in just a handful of lines. It presents us with the ideas that The Self is a Prisoner. The Self is Divided (into Body Parts). Acquiring Sex/Love is a Transaction and Love is a Release. Not bad for a silly pop song.