Prince Writes a ‘Nasty’ Anthem for Vanity 6: 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
Four years before Janet Jackson (with assistance from former Prince associates Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis) decided she didn’t like nasty boys, the ladies of Vanity 6 (under the aegis of Prince) proclaimed themselves nasty girls. The trio’s most well-known hit topped the U.S. dance chart in late 1982 and became a modern classic thanks to its saucy lyrics and an irresistible groove.
In the song, lead singer Vanity (Denise Matthews) lays down stringent requirements for what she’s looking for in a male partner. The list of requirements includes being able to do it on a limousine floor, not knowing Vanity’s name and -- most famously -- Vanity need for “seven inches or more." It was quite an upfront statement of purpose, particularly from a female artist.
As with most Prince proteges, the artists themselves were initially credited with the writing and production of “Nasty Girl," but the truth is that Prince not only wrote and produced the song, but played every instrument as well.
The Vanity 6 story began when Prince decided to create an all-female group. Per Nilsen’s biography Prince: Dance Music Sex Romance (The First Decade) quotes Andre Cymone (Prince’s childhood friend and the original bassist in his band) as coming up with the idea first. Andre said, “I put a girl group together. ... I was trying to get them a deal and then once again Prince got Vanity out before my girl group.”
The hyper-sexual image that Vanity 6 made their calling card was shocking to some music listeners, and the group members commented on that in a 1983 cover story for Jet. “It’s a shame that people make a big deal out of it when women deal with sexual themes in songs,” Vanity stated. “It doesn’t mean we’re loose or perverts. We can deal with these themes in songs just like men.” Prince and his publicity team raised more eyebrows by lowering the ages of the group members, listing Vanity as being 19 and Susan Moonsie at 16 when, in reality, they were 23 and 20.
When choosing the group members, Prince decided to enlist Susan, his girlfriend at the time, friend Jamie Shoop and Brenda Bennett (who was married to Roy Bennett, who designed the lighting at Prince’s concerts), Prince named the group the Hookers and began writing material even more sexually explicit than the work he’d released under his own name. At the 1982 American Music Awards, he met Matthews and was taken enough by her that he decided to center his new group around her. Initially naming Matthews "Vagina," Prince eventually settled on Vanity as the stage name for his new protege. The Hookers were thus re-named Vanity 6, which was a not-so-subtle reference to the number of total breasts in the group.
“Nasty Girl” was the first Vanity 6 single issued in the U.S., where it was a substantial R&B and club hit. It peaked at No. 7 on the former chart, and wound up topping the latter list, where it was replaced by, ironically, Prince’s “1999." On the pop chart, it narrowly missed the Top 100, peaking at No. 1 on Billboard’s “Bubbling Under” list. The record’s success was boosted by a video featuring the scantily clad members and a memorable performance on the syndicated variety show Soul Train. Its parent album sold moderately well, going gold in 1985.
“Nasty Girl” turned out to be Vanity 6’s only hit single. Further singles released from their debut failed to make much noise, despite the band receiving a ton of press and touring the country on the “Triple Threat” jaunt alongside Prince and the Time. After beginning work on the group’s second album and being cast as the romantic interest of Prince in Purple Rain, Vanity decided to leave the group. Actress Patricia “Apollonia” Kotero took over Vanity’s acting and performing duties, and the reconstituted trio (now Apollonia 6) had a minor hit with 1984’s “Sex Shooter” before splitting up for good.
Vanity signed with Motown Records as a solo artist, recorded two moderately successful albums, and co-starred in several movies like Action Jackson and The Last Dragon. She experienced a religious conversion in the early ‘90s after nearly dying as a consequence of extreme drug use. After the conversion, she disavowed her Vanity persona, telling Jet, “It was drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, that whole sexual thing. Vanity was praying to die because she was lost and hurting inside.”
After years of health struggles, Vanity died in February 2017 at the age of 57, two months before Prince himself passed. At one of his final shows, Prince paid tribute to Vanity by saying, "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.”
“Nasty Girl” has gone on to have an influence that stretches far beyond its climb to the middle reaches of the pop charts, It appeared in the 1983 film Private School as well as the 1984 blockbuster Beverly Hills Cop. Prince himself added the song to the Girl 6 soundtrack in 1996, and while not outright sampled, there are a handful of 21st century hits that owe its sound to “Nasty Girl”, like Britney Spears’ “I’m A Slave 4 U” and Beyonce’s “Naughty Girl.” Anaya Day released a version in 2004 that reached the Top 20 on the Australian charts.