“She says she likes the accent
She thinks it’s so polite
I think she going to like it more
When we’re alone tonight”
— Adam Ant, Vanity (1983)
Prince Rodgers Nelson wanted to mentor a girl group since seeing Barbra Streisand’s version of A Star Is Born in the 1970s. By 1982, he was hard at work in Minneapolis on what would become his fifth album, the sprawling 1999. Yet he took time out to bring his pop protégés idea to fruition — a scantily clad trio called The Hookers that would sing hyper-sexual songs in their underwear.
They comprised of Brenda Bennett, Susan Moonsie and Canadian foxtress born Denise Katrina Matthews, an aspiring model and actress with the same apparent self-assurance, bravado and cool as him. Though, like the group, Prince renamed her Vanity.
Yet another stomper he could’ve kept for himself, the Purple One wrote and produced Nasty Girl, a raunchy disco ode to the aphrodisiac powers of limousine floors and, er, drum machines. Boasting a backing track by The Time (the ‘pimps’ to V6’s ‘hookers’ (their original name), it was one of his filthiest, funniest giveaways.
Depending how you see it, it’s either an ode to sexual liberation, as a trio of young women state rather explicity their desires; or an ode to sexual exploitation, as Prince two-steps over the gender divide to translate his erotic fantasies through three empty vessels.
Prince also christened his new, tasty triumvirate Vanity 6 (helpfully, the group’s name enumerated the number of breasts among its three members), and the girls probably purified themselves in the waters of Lake Minnetonka forthwith. In fact, in later years Vanity did become an evangelist Christian minister and denounced the song and its sexually charged and seductive image.
Indeed, forty years ago this group were in direct competition with Rick James’ Mary Jane Girls, and knocked many collective socks off with lingerie as outfits and explicit records that included breathy Donna Summer-style moaning and groaning, yet with such an unapologetically risqué stage act, they paved the way for Madonna’s something-old-something-new persona to such a degree they should have asked for royalties.
“I think it’s wonderful to be outrageous, to live out every fantasy onstage,” Susan told Billboard in 1982. Brenda added, matter of factly, “The stage is the one place in the world where you can be anything you want and get away with it.”
All I know is these are words that I personally live by…
Nasty Girl went to #1 on the Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 and Hot Dance Club Play chart, though its success wasn’t replicated across the pond. Its pulsating post-disco beat would prove the perfect sample for Britney Spears’ I’m A Slave 4 U, which — as any Britney bitch knows — is peak Britney.
However, two decades later Eurodance DJ Mousse T. produced a cover version of Nasty Girl for Brooklyn’s Inaya Day, which — hurrah! — gave the song and its cheeky MJ‘s Don‘t Stop Til You Get Enough disco purloinings belated bona fide hit status, reaching a creditable No. 9 in the UK in 2005.
Such was her glamourpuss status, the first time Prince struck a pose on the cover of Rolling Stone, Vanity was right there beside him — romantically linked enough that she was a contender for the Purple Rain role that ultimately went to Apollonia when she left the group to pursue a solo career.
For a period, she was also involved with Rick James, engaged to Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx, and in 1983 Vanity would inspire the Adam Ant song of the same name (they were dating that same year), which is here.
Prince learned of Vanity’s untimely death just before he went onstage in Melbourne for the first performance of his solo Piano & A Microphone tour Down Under in February 2016, just prior to the Sydney show that blew me away. He mentioned his former protégé several times during his opening set, and changed the lyrics of The Beautiful Ones, which Matthews in part inspired, to honour her.
The diminutive one checked out of the planet just nine weeks later, but not before he paid this tribute
“Her and I used to love each other deeply. She loved me for the artist I was, I loved her for the artist she was trying to be. She and I would fight. She was very headstrong ‘cause she knew she was the finest woman in the world. She never missed an opportunity to tell you that.”
There can be no finer epitaph.