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pop culture mysteries

Vulture Investigates: Is Toni Basil’s ‘Mickey’ Really About...Well, You Know?

This is the second entry in Vulture's occasional series: Pop Culture Mysteries. See our previous piece, about the Red Hot Chili Peppers song "Under the Bridge," here.

Few things stoke the prurient imagination — or the loins — of America more than the classic cheerleader look: the midriff-bearing half-tops and peek-a-boo skirts surrounded by an aura of wink-wink, tongue-in-cheek innocence. So it makes sense that we've had a three-decade-long boner for Toni Basil's smash pop hit "Mickey," which pom-pommed its way to the top of the charts back in 1982.

A persistent rumor has run alongside the song in the decades since. Lyrics like, "So come on and give it to me / Any way you can / Any way you want to do it / I'll take it like a man" have led to speculation that Basil wanted it served to her "like a man": In other words, delivered Santorum-style. In a review at the time, Robert Christgau stoked the gossip, saying that Basil was "the only woman ever to offer to take it up the ass on Top 40 radio." New York gay activist Jim Fouratt, who cofounded legendary eighties club Dancetaria, heard the same interpretation at the time: “The rumor spread like a prairie fire among my writer friends,” he told me. Were they just being cheeky? No matter, as the speculation (stoked, naturally, by the dirty collective mind of the Internet) has become a part of the song’s legend.

If your knowledge of U.S. pop culture begins at American Pie, here's a brief "Mickey" refresher: Basil, a dancer, choreographer, and actress, was well-known for choreographing rock videos and (speaking of innuendo) the Monkees’ 1968 movie Head. Basil was herself a burgeoning star on the music-video circuit (this was right before MTV conquered and annexed that market). Basil had been a pom-pom queen in high school and had an idea for a video about cheerleaders, based on the song "Kitty" — originally sung by the U.K. pop group Racey. Adding a chant to the top of the song and changing "Kitty" to "Mickey," Basil hired some healthy-looking cheerleaders from L.A.'s Dorsey High for the video. A few racy-sounding words later, and voilà! A pop-music mystery was born.

Several months ago, Vulture reached Basil at her home in L.A. and, admittedly, pussyfooted around the question for most of our time with her. We chatted about her other projects — experimental films, judging dance competitions in Tokyo, choreographing moves on RuPaul's Drag U. Basil's good friend and frequent collaborator Bette Midler had swung by recently and had decided to clean Basil's windows. "A diva without a venue is a maniac," Basil exclaimed. "She's a clean freak!" It seemed we were a bit stuck.

Then Basil herself (thankfully!) brought up the issue. When we asked if she chose the name "Mickey" because of her fondness for the Monkees' Micky Dolenz, she snapped: "Some guy decided that it would be funny to put that in my Wikipedia entry. He was adamant that ‘Mickey’ was about Micky Dolenz. I choreographed the Head movie but I didn't really know Micky at all. I knew Davy Jones much better. We finally got it off [Wikipedia]." (We hate to tell you, Toni, but it's back in there.)

But that question opened up the right can of whoopee. "People also think 'Mickey' is about butt-fucking!" Basil added.

[Pause.]

“So . . . is it?” we asked.

[Long, awkward pause.]

"NO! That's ridiculous. Everyone reads shit into everything. It's not about anything dirty. You change the name from boy to girl” — i.e., from "Kitty" to "Mickey" — “and they read anything they want into it! When it's a guy singing about a girl, it's a sweet line. But when a girl sings it, it must mean butt-fucking! This is how the wrong foot gets cut off when the doc wheels you into the E.R. Then it's Micky Dolenz and butt-fucking."

So there you have it, folks. "Mickey": It's not about Micky Dolenz, and it's definitely not about anal sex (or butt-fucking). But Bette Midler washing Toni's windows? That’s totally about frottage.

Photo: Youtube