Before this week, Brian McKnight was an internationally known, GRAMMY-nominated R&B songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and singer known for gentle, romantic tracks like "Back at One" and "Love Is." Now, with the release and subsequent ubiquity of the raunchy "How Your Pu**y Works (If You're Ready to Learn)," McKnight can add "unlikely viral star" to his list of accomplishments. I already tried to guess the singer's out-of-character motivations, but figured the best thing would be to talk to the man himself. McKnight spoke to Fuse from his Los Angeles home about the song's origins, its polarizing online reaction, his new website and his, um, personal experience on the song's subject matter.
Fuse: “How Your P**sy Works” exploded on the Web. What’s the story behind the song?
Brian McKnight: I recently posed the question to my Twitter followers on what subjects they wanted me to discuss. it’s not that I wasn’t being serious; I just wanted to see where people’s heads were at. I prefaced it by saying that this is an adult mixtape. If you go to a hotel room and it says “Adult Movies,” you don’t go in there thinking you’re going to see Steel Magnolias. You’re probably gonna see some sex.
It’s funny to me that people’s perceptions of me were like, “No, you can’t even be thinking about talking about sex. Oh no!” I could’ve toned [the song] down, but that would defeat the purpose of making it “adult.” This wasn’t for the radio; this wasn’t a career change. It was one funny day because I just had Achilles tendon surgery and I’m stuck in my house. I thought that for my 40,000 [Twitter] followers, this might be funny. I had no idea it would blow up. I wish I could predict that something like this would happen.
So this wasn’t some viral marketing gimmick?
Not at all. I was sitting in my room Monday night until three in the morning just looking at my timeline saying, “I think I just mind-effed the whole world.” There are people on my timeline who have so much to say about what they think my career is, but they don’t know that I’ve released 10 albums since the last time they heard me. Here’s the thing: If you listen to the song, it’s an actual song. It’s not just, “Let me f**k you. Let me f**k you. Let me f**k you. In your a**. In your a**.” It’s a song, people.
On your Twitter page, you refer to the track as “parody.” Was that the idea from the beginning?
Yeah, because people who have seen me on tour—I did 120 shows last year—know that I use humor in between the serious love songs that I sing. That’s who I really am. But it’s so funny to me that all of these people have this perception when they don’t know much about me at all. And this really wasn’t for them. This isn’t for everyone. That’s why it says “Adult.” Are you really not able to look at yourself like I am and laugh?
Do you think it’s a question of artist perception? People see you as a soft, clean singer, so it’s weird to hear you sing, “Bet you didn’t know that it could squirt.”
Definitely. You see it all over my timeline that, “You should just stay in your lane.” On what radio station are people still playing those songs? Why has Celine Dion not made a record? Why has Justin Timberlake decided to just do movies? Because we can’t be creative anymore. We can’t continue to do what we really love because there is no outlet for it. But these same people who are high and mighty will listen to worse songs than this. I said two words [“p**sy” and “squirt”] that were questionable; everything else was pretty f**kin’ clever actually. I’m actually trying to say that men need to pay more attention to their women and take care of them.
If you're with your significant other and you’re about to get down and dirty, this is for you. Or if you just want to have a laugh, whatever. This is entertainment. This isn’t what I normally do, which is try to make you think about your situation about love. This is a distraction from all of that. I can write anything. I can make anything sound good.
Listen to Brian McKnight Explain "How Your Pu**y Works (If You're Ready to Learn)"
You said in the video that you were doing a mixtape. Have you worked out details on that?
You know, I don’t even know what a mixtape is [laughs]. My kids tell me this is what people do. I had no idea. I wasn’t even going to finish it until all this happened. Now it may be on iTunes next week! (Ed. Note: It will be.) I didn’t plan this but now that I got it, f**k that, I’m using it [laughs]. I’ll probably do three or four songs like this just to get it out of my system and then go back to doing what I do. It may not even be a whole mixtape, though. I may just release a couple of songs. We’ll see what happens. I doubt I’m ever going to release a whole album again. If I release a song a month, that's 12 songs in a year, the time it would’ve taken me to make a full record anyway.
It sounds like you have a good sense of humor about this. Why did you take the video down from your own YouTube channel?
That was the only part of this that was calculated. I knew that if people could find it easily, it would go away. So when I took it off and they actually had to search for it, I think that heightened the fury. Someone ripped it and put it on WorldStarHipHop and then it went all over the world.
MTV wrote that “Fans seemed to be undecided and about whether or not they’re willing to take the journey with him.” What’s your response?
I would say that this song is not for everyone and if you want that smooth, sultry safe music, I’ve got 14 CDs full of that, but by no stretch of the imagination am I only doing this from now on. I’ve got 1,000 songs that are just like those smooth ones; I’m just having some fun.
So you don’t take any of the negative comments personally?
I’m not sensitive to it. I’ve been putting my work on the line for more than half my life, so I’ve had to deal with all sorts of things people would say or not being the sexy enough choice to be on this or that track. When I saw some of the things people were saying [on the Internet], you have to take it with a grain of salt because they’re sitting in a dark room by themselves completely anonymous. You can say whatever you want; just spell my name right.
Do you know what trolling means?
Naw, I don’t know any of the lingo.
It’s when people make comments for the sole purpose of getting you to react.
Oh, there’s a whole lot of that [laughs]. It’s tough not to respond, though with a bit of humor that’s way funnier than whatever they said. I’m way funnier than most of those people.
The rapper N.O.R.E. tweeted at you about wanting to do a remix. Thoughts?
I think if people want to take it and run with it, I’m all for it. But I don’t necessarily want to become the guy singing the hook on a bunch of nasty rap songs.
You’re launching a new website in June. Will we see more of these behind-the-scenes videos?
Yeah. This whole site is to bring people into my studio and give you a bird’s eye view of what I’m doing right now. E-mail addresses are the currency of the future. So whatever song that you watched me do last week is now available on my website and you get that e-mail on your phone and hopefully 10% of those people that are signed up will go and buy it.
What was your reaction to “Brian McKnight” becoming a worldwide trending topic on Twitter?
I was in my bedroom and my sons, who are 22 and 19, were calling my name at the top of their lungs, “Do you know that you’re trending worldwide No. 1?” I was like, “I don’t even know what that means.” I don’t even have words to describe how ridiculous this is, but I’ll take it.
So just to sum up: Brian McKnight is not the new R. Kelly.
Naw, but people that know me know that, frankly, I love p**sy. I always have. It’s got me in lots of trouble. Because I’ve seen so much of it and had so much of it, I could be an authority on it. The funniest thing is that girls that I’ve been with who are trying to be anonymous about being with me are on my timeline saying how much they love the song. That’s some funny s**t.