What makes a song sexy? Is it the lyrics? A particular groove? The tempo? Or maybe is the voice? The person signing it?
The answer is probably all of the above, though sexiness is subjective and as much dependent on intention as it is on reception – the perception of the listeners of what “sexy” is. While some artists and musical genres have come to embody sex and sensuality in the popular mind, sexiness is very much in the eye, or ear, of the beholder. Still, we can probably agree that there are songs that contain a certain intangible energy, created maybe through the combination of all or some of those elements, that manage to seduce both our senses and our imagination.
Though Phillip Phillips has covered his fair share of hot tunes—from Usher’s “Nice and Slow,” to Lil Wayne’s more explicit “Lollipop,” to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” to Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”—he has been more spiritual than seductive in his own writing about love (“Drive Me” from The World of the Side of the Moon is one exception). Enter Collateral, where two out of the twelve songs are openly about the more sensual side of love, “Magnetic” and of course “Love Junkie.” While “Love Junkie” expresses this through its lyrics, “Magnetic” does it more through its construction and delivery–a deliberately paced performance by Phillip that becomes intoxication in musical form.
Co-written and produced by the multi-talented songwriter and producer Nathan Chapman (best known for working with Taylor Swift and helping deliver some of her biggest hits), “Magnetic” exemplifies the new level of writing and singing that Phillip achieved in Collateral: if the writing got more direct, the vocals went on the other direction, exploring new, more complex melodic possibilities. As Phillip noted about “Magnetic” during an interview last year, “this is one of the first times I was really pushed as a vocalist. I was trying to write something that’s honest and emotional, but that song is just a sexy song and it has hooks–and we weren’t trying to write hooks, […] it just happened.” It was Chapman working his producer magic who ultimately pushed him as a vocalist into “ways I did not know I could sing.” The effort paid off, with “Magnetic” capturing a raw yet measured performance that truly showcases Phillip’s range and power as a singer.
Listen to Phillip talk about Magnetic
Form informing meaning and meaning informing form is what the best works of art are about. “Magnetic” is a song about attraction, and the melody, the lyrics and the pacing evoke this attraction throughout: “Baby, what goes up/must come back down/You’re the sky and I’m the ground,” Phillip sings in the opening verse. Though Phillip starts in his low register, as the verse progresses, his voice starts to go higher: “No matter what I do,” and higher into the falsetto “I keep falling into you,” and then starts falling again “It was hard but I figured it out.” Up and down, high and low; these are the images and they are mirrored by a heady, rollercoaster melody that effectively illustrates the ambivalence of trying to resist something you really don’t want to resist.
Phillip Phillips has sung a lot of sensuous lyrics (see the covers) but none has been sexier than “I’m right where I want to be, right where you’re wanting me,” a simple–but, oh so intense-statement that is as open ended as it is final. And if the beginning of the song is a surprise with that bright trumpet, so is the ending where Phillip is joined by a mystery female singer (the liner notes do not list the musicians’ credits) in a passionate duet that is pure electricity and release – release from all the tension that has been building during the course of the song. It’s brilliant writing, and the proof is that the song’s sexy, bluesy, slow burning spell works every time, whether on the studio version, live with a full band, or even with Phillip alone with a guitar.