Way back in 2015, the Jezebel staff took on a task of Herculean proportions: we attempted to masturbate to the very dramatic, very long soundtrack to the very awful film Fifty Shades of Grey, sex-jam by sex-jam. It was surprisingly effective! But to varying degrees. We all emerged wiser and more satisfied.
In 2017, the Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack beckoned: it was longer and, if this is even possible, more dramatic. Could we do it to ourselves, again? And so, in our continued efforts to relate as much as possible to the spirited Anastasia Steele—which also included living out her every dream (and nightmare!!!) while passing around pints of vodka in a darkened theater—the staff set forth to see exactly how sexy the sex jams were on the soundtrack Fifty Shades Darker by attempting to masturbate to every song, one by one. Multiple staffers were suffering from UTIs. This is our story.
1. ZAYN f. Taylor Swift, “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)”
This started out easy enough because, frankly, I just had to imagine ZAYN’s falsetto yearning was directed towards me. ZAYN, if you hadn’t noticed, is a very attractive man! Like, the hottest. Possibly not a lot going on in the cerebral cortex, but that’s not what we’re measuring here. Once it got to the chorus—“I don’t wanna LIVE! For-EVER!”—we were really motoring! ZAYN can’t live without me! He would rather die than be separated from my beautiful bod and fire mind! Let’s do this!
Then Taylor Swift started singing, and the whole construct was shattered, as I was distracted by thoughts of Squads and how much fun Taylor probably had cutting this song with her best friend Gigi Hadid’s boyfriend. There were probably studio selfies, if they were even in the same time zone when they recorded this, and so part of the song’s fantasy—and its baggage—is that we are supposed to be reminded of how cool and carefree these wealthy and beautiful youths are. You know what is a real boner killer, so to speak? Thinking about Taylor Swift’s Instagram persona.
I still like this song, though. It’s just not that sexy.
2. Halsey, “Not Afraid Anymore”
Not to brag, but I’m great at masturbating. In the interest of giving myself a challenge, I asked the entire Jez staff and a few other people unfortunately cc’d on the email about this assignment, “Can we only think about the movie while listening?” No one answered, but I set that as a parameter for myself. There are certain fantasies I could get off to even if the John Philip Sousa orchestra was playing at full blast, and that felt like cheating.
Most of the sex scenes in Fifty Shades Darker are considerably hotter than those in Fifty Shades of Grey. The only thing I really remember from that movie are Dakota Johnson’s CGI pubes, which seemed to be breathing at a different pace from the rest of her body. There was plenty to choose from in part two. The only bad scene, in my opinion, was when he suddenly flipped her while her ankles are strapped to a pole. I know it’s supposed to be about how strong and masterful he is, but it just made me think, “That has to be bad for your knees.” Take care of your joints during rough sex play!
So, yeah this is a sexy song, and I came a bunch before it ended. I think it’s about not being afraid anymore, particularly of spanking. I was never afraid of spanking, so maybe I was TOO liberated by this? That said, I would probably not be able to have actual sex to this song, because the refrain “I am not afraid anymore” sends a weird message to your partner that would probably be better communicated in a conversation. Discuss your dos and don’ts openly, don’t ask Halsey to do it in a breathy chorus.
I also lit a candle, but I like to do that even when not masturbating because it makes me feel like watching Netflix is an “event.”
3. JRY f. Rooty, “Pray”
As this track begins, you sort of think it will do the trick. The pulsating beat is straight out of a sexy thriller from the ’90s, and the singer (is he JRY or Rooty?) is like a dive bar version of John Legend—the kind of guy who’ll do in a pinch. So, good! Tonally, it’s working just fine. Then, after about a minute, any hope for a successful conclusion goes out the window.
The bombastic chorus, with its introduction of a gospel choir and wailing new vocalist (is she JRY or Rooty?), is an explosive musical release that makes the dangerous assumption that all its listeners (or at least the ones who are masturbating) are mid-orgasm. Unfortunately that prayer for a collective climax was not answered, and my inability to meet JRY and Rooty’s expectations led to an unshakeable feeling of anxiety that lasted for the remainder of the song.
I guess they should have prayed harder.
4. Tove Lo, “Lies in the Dark”
I gave this song a preliminary listen before completing the assignment. First impression: not a fan, even though I typically like Tove Lo, but I could see myself getting off to it if it were 3 am and I were very drunk and 19 years old. So I tried to channel that during the real thing. Yes, I came, and it only took two and a half listens to get me there. However, it was because I am a superb masturbator, and not because of the song, which was, if anything, an impediment. I really tried to time my orgasm to the song’s climax at about the three-minute mark, but it didn’t work. Afterwards, I got up and made myself a grilled cheese sandwich. It was spectacular.
5. Toulouse, “No Running From Me”
This song is fine and not all that distracting, which, from a Fifty Shades soundtrack standpoint, is about the best you could hope for. It doesn’t have the pained, forced sexiness of The Weeknd, and I could certainly see being able to ignore it long enough to attempt to get off. However, when the time came to do this assignment, I was laid up in the couch with some kind of kidney infection or UTI or something monstrous, and did not even attempt it. Not very sexy, but then again neither is dating a weirdo control freak with truly chilling mommy issues.
6. John Legend, “One Woman Man”
Yes, it’s possible, and that’s even if you’re as bored by John Legend’s late-life schmaltzy turn as I am. “One Woman Man” sounds like Legend’s “All Of Me,” which sounds like Legend’s “Love Me Now,” and all three are songs that would put me to sleep were I not gamely masturbating to one for work. But if you generally find the concepts of monogamy and baby-raising to be sexy—even coming from a man who once wrote an entire (fantastic) album about his infidelity—then this shit is for you, I guess. I finished about halfway through, when Legend sings, “I never thought that I would say this, but I can see us having babies.” I am NOT proud of this or even really able to make sense of it. Earnestly Schmaltzy John Legend has successfully manipulated my ovaries. Bring back Get Lifted-era scumbag John Legend!
7. The-Dream, “Code Blue”
Had I not forgotten to do this until Monday, asked Julianne to give me an extension, and then gotten a UTI on Monday night, I predict that I would have had zero problems jilling it to this totally inoffensive and honestly good song. Instead I just laid in bed listening to it with my cat while I read about Mike Flynn’s resignation on my phone—a surreally appropriate soundtrack (“There’s no forever baby,” etc.). I considered tweeting, and then didn’t, and then the song ended, and I stared at the ceiling and thought about PizzaGate.
8. Nick Jonas & Nicki Minaj, “Bom Bidi Bom”
When we were given the assignment, I planned on playing a song, halfheartedly trying to something going, and then writing a very charming blurb about how prudish I am and how I could NEVER jill when I knew my coworkers and also the world were watching. But then I was assigned the sexiest song I ever heard.
I was unable to “do it” in just the time of the song, but it was an overall positive experience, even though Nick Jonas periodically sexually moans in a way I find to be too much, and if we were in a room together I would tell him to quiet down. But other than that, good. Also, there’s a Nicki verse, which is a universal aphrodisiac. Also, this is a good song that will make you feel sexy even if you aren’t doing a work assignment.
9. Sia, “Helium”
This song is very much a slo-mo walk around in the rain montage with the camera dramatically swirling around, which I believe is exactly how it was used in the movie. It’s a slow tempo, which I guess is good if you’re imagining deep thrusts or get off on crying during sex, but mostly I just tuned the song out because it was making me sad. It happened, but in spite of Sia’s raggedy sighs, not because of them.
10. Kygo f. Andrew Jackson, “Cruise”
This is some prettyboy Equinox nonsense that is not my shit at all. Adam Levine is bad enough without imitating him poorly. This song does not make me feel sexy or want to fuck. No thank you.
11. Corinne Bailey Rae, “The Scientist”
A few things about me that it might be helpful to understand before I explain how I came to come to a Corinne Bailey Rae song:
1) Though I am a slow jam enthusiast who has spent a good deal of time pondering what makes for good (and bad) sex music, music doesn’t particularly turn me on, itself. It’s backdrop that I usually play for the sake of my partner/general ambiance, and hasn’t been any kind of sexual main course in my life since the advent of early ’90s sexually explicit hip-hop (which gave me many ideas and orgasms).
2) I have a dick.
That said, Corinne Bailey Rae’s “The Scientist” posed a particular sexualizing challenge, as it isn’t any kind of jam, which by my definition, requires a deep bass design. This is a treacly piano ballad with no bottom end that you might hear in some depressing public space one day when it’s drizzling, like the Goodwill or DMV, and maybe would make you feel sad about your life up to that point and then sadder that your life is at the point when a Corinne Bailey Rae song is making you sad in public. But whatever, I was determined to not let this song distract me and just do what I had my dick out to do until something started nagging at me. I was momentarily thrown off course, like during a random hook-up when you smell the plaque on his unflossed teeth or suddenly realize that you met this person somewhere else a while ago (or worse, already hooked up and you totally forgot about it up till now). I had heard this song before... but where?
Letting my dick go for a second, I Googled it and what do you know, this is a fucking miserable cover of a miserable Coldplay song from 2002.
But you know what? Nobody is gonna break my stride, so I ignored that, the screechy intonations of Corinne Bailey Rae’s voice (which I generally enjoy), and everything else and I came after one and a quarter plays of this because I take my job seriously and the dick wants what it wants.
12. José James, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”
This reminds me of someone dancing the foxtrot with their dad at a military ball. Haha no.
13. JP Cooper, “Birthday”
I was optimistic when I heard the opening bars of “Birthday” because I’ve always found that bluesy/slow dance “bwap” of a guitar—like the one you hear on Beyoncé’s “All Night”—very appealing, but then... oof. I don’t know anything about JP Cooper, but this song really sounds like the first release from an Adam Levine mentee on The Voice. I can accept that this kind of male-falsetto Levine-meets-Timberlake style is up a lot of people’s sex lanes, but it does not work for me. After listening several times—and at the beginning of my second commercial break because I subscribe to the poor man’s Spotify—I had to shut the whole thing down, mainly because I’d rather come to silence than a commercial for nerdwallet.com.
14. The Avener, “I Need a Good One (f. Mark Asari)”
“I Need A Good One” is three minutes and 48 seconds long; it took me two listens through to complete my assignment, an accomplishment I feel quite proud of, given that a Spotify ad interrupted me in the middle of it all. I was unfamiliar with “The Avener”’s work before this, nor was I aware of Mark Asari, the vocalist on the track; I now know the former is a “French deep house and electric music producer” (real name Tristan Casaro), and it’s always nice to learn something new. While the fear with these kind of tasks is that they will be challenging because the subject matter is so bad, I found I had the opposite problem with this one: focusing required tuning out the song because it’s quite a jam! Reminded me a bit of Craig David. Good stuff.
15. Joseph Angel, “Empty Pack of Cigarettes”
Let’s see. Decent slow jam, smooth voice, longing clearly audible. I can absolutely get off to this.
[Lets YouTube play to the end and through to the next song on the soundtrack]
Oh, yeah, I can work with this.
[YouTube just picking songs randomly now, somehow on Michael Bolton]
Things are getting a little raw now, but sure, why not.
[Hüsker Dü? What the hell?]
I’m a trooper, so yes.
[On a wild tour of YouTube’s random selections, including Eve 6, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Herb Alpert, the Star Wars soundtrack, the BBC’s Shipping Forecast, a weird recording of a Cold War-era Soviet numbers station, audio of Timothy Treadwell being mauled by a bear, Glenn Miller, some really aggressive drone, the theme song to Friends, and a demonstration of the Wilhelm scream]
Final verdict: This song is eminently get-off-toable. But I’m a low bar to clear.
16. Anderson East, “What Would It Take?”
17. Frances, “What Is Love?”
This started out way too dramatic in a gentle-tissue way, but I soldiered on. It has a nice build to parallel your climax, but I couldn’t sync it.
18. Danny Elfman, “On His Knees”
Not as distracting as I thought it would be, so tip of the hat to Danny Elfman. Sort of like quiet spa music. It all worked out fine.
19. Danny Elfman, “Making It Real”
This is kind of what it must sound like to sex in a magical forest, which is not necessarily what I’m into, but it was pretty sweet. Too short, though, so when the song ended after a couple minutes I just reflected on the concept of sex in a magical forest.