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Devo - Whip It (1980)

  • Video Views 19,154,685
  • 80's Score 80's score: 1.24
  • Find this song on: Music Stack

"Whip It" is a song by American rock band Devo from their third album Freedom of Choice (1980). It is a new wave and ...

"Whip It" is a song by American rock band Devo from their third album Freedom of Choice (1980). It is a new wave and synth-pop song that features a synthesizer, electric guitar, bass guitar, and drums in its instrumentation. The apparently nonsensical lyrics have a common theme revolving around the ability to deal with one's problems by "whipping it". Co-written by bassist Gerald Casale and singer Mark Mothersbaugh, Devo recorded "Whip It" with producer Robert Margouleff at the Record Plant in Los Angeles.

Although "Whip It" was released as the second single from Freedom of Choice, Warner Bros. Records did not expect it to be a hit, due to its nonstandard tempo and strange lyrics. The disc jockey Kal Rudman took an interest in the song and it was soon being played on several radio stations in the Southeastern United States. Peaking at number fourteen on the Billboard Hot 100, "Whip It" became a hit single and found chart success in several countries. Mothersbaugh believes the song sold well because some people assumed the lyrics are about masturbation or sadomasochism.

An accompanying music video depicts these sexual themes; it features Mothersbaugh whipping clothing from a woman on a dude ranch. Despite some claims of misogynistic undertones, the video became popular on the fledgling television channel MTV.

Music video

A man wearing a black turtleneck and a red hat holds a whip while a woman in a black dress smoking a cigarette with a holder stands in front of him. In the background are onlooking cowboys and cowgirls, four men wearing black turtlenecks playing instruments, and a ranch house.

Although "Whip It" was not about masturbation or sadomasochism as some listeners believed, Devo used these sexual themes for an accompanying music video. The video is set on a dude ranch where cowboys and cowgirls are watching Mothersbaugh whip the clothing from a cigarette-smoking woman. A cross-eyed woman and a middle-aged woman making whipped cream watch from a ranch house while the other members of Devo perform the song in a cattle pen. The band members are wearing sleeveless black turtlenecks and red flowerpot-shaped hats called energy domes.

Devo was heavily committed to adding film aspects to its act; the band asked Warner Bros. to provide non-recoupable promotional money to make videos for "Girl U Want" and "Freedom of Choice". This was before the making of music videos had become standard industry practice, which confused label executives. When "Whip It" started to receive radio airplay, the record company embraced the concept and asked the band to produce a video for "Whip It" with a $15,000 budget. The idea for the video came from an article in a 1962 issue of The Dude magazine, which revolved around a former stuntman who marries a stripper and moves to a dude ranch in Arizona. For entertainment, the man would use a whip to remove the clothes from his wife, who would remain unhurt. Mothersbaugh stated; "That's the kind of stuff that fed us creatively. It was just so stupid and so low, and yet so great."

The video was partially a reaction to President Ronald Reagan's previous career as a Hollywood actor; Devo wanted to make a video that satirized both the cowboy mythos and "right-wing racist values". In the video, the whip does not strike the woman's clothes; they were tied to a fishing line and pulled away after each whip crack. The whip did, however, strike the cigarette holder to knock it out of her mouth. For the first few months after its release, the video was seen by a limited audience, primarily on late-night talk shows. The American television channel MTV, which was launched in 1981, gave the video so much exposure that it temporarily revived the song's popularity, shortly before the release of Devo's next album New Traditionalists (1981).

The video attracted some controversy, particularly for its perceived misogynistic undertones. Casale said the band members intended the video to appear tasteless and demeaning but also funny. The claims of misogyny increased when Devo was cut from a live performance on an episode of The Midnight Special hosted by Lily Tomlin. After watching the video, Tomlin refused to host the show unless Devo was cut. There were also claims that MTV banned the video but these claims were ultimately proven false.


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