Njoroge Njoroge begins Chocolate Surrealism with the line “Music always expresses the interrelationships of movement, memory, and history” (Njoroge 2016). Music, especially popular music, is composed of many different elements of society and culture. This essay demonstrates how popular music from 1990 to 2015 reflects both chocolate’s history and the industry’s marketing of chocolate products. This exercise is thought provoking in revealing how certain pieces of chocolate’s history are found in western popular music and others are largely absent. Particularly, the elements of chocolate’s history that are unhelpful for advertisers are missing from the chocolate references in western popular music. Marketing is a powerful force in our society. “Advertising has created, and reinforced, particular uses and identities” for different chocolate products (Robertson 2009). Importantly, popular music supports these uses, identities, and histories of chocolate provided by the chocolate industry. This further uplifts some elements of chocolate’s past while suppressing other parts of it. This essay demonstrates chocolate references in western popular music from 1990 to 2015 are rooted in chocolate’s history and the industry’s marketing of chocolate.
Chocolate has historically been attributed many medical properties and health benefits. This history is reflected in “Cigarettes and Chocolate” by Rufus Wainwright (2001), “Morphine & Chocolate” by 4 Non Blondes (1992) and “Chocolate Makes You Happy” by Xiu Xiu (2010). The Aztec believed cacao could be used to combat fatigue. The Aztec Emperor Montezuma II is quoted as saying chocolate is a “… divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue.” (Castell et al 2013). The Europeans who took cacao and chocolate from the natives of Central America also became interested in the medical properties of cacao. M. de la Cruz, a Spanish instructor at Santa Cruz College in Mexico City, suggested that cacao “be used in case of angina, constipation, dental problems in case of tartar, dysentery, dyspepsia, indigestion, fatigue, gout, and hemorrhoids” (Lippi 2013). Between the mid-16th century and the 18th century, chocolate was considered, by various members of the European medical community, everything from a treatment for kidney disease to a universal medicine (Ibid).
More contemporary chocolate advertisements have utilized links between chocolate and various health benefits. Rowntree, the English chocolate company, targeted housewives arguing that their cocoa was “more bone and muscle building” and that good mothers should provide Rowntree cocoa for their children (Robertson 2009). Similarly, the Rowntree cartoon “Coco” was depicted battling bears while “fortified by Rowntree” products (Ibid). During World War Two, female demolition workers were pictured drinking mugs of cocoa and the caption read, “and that’s what Amazons are made of” (Ibid). This reference to the Amazons, a mythical tribe of powerful female warriors, implies that drinking chocolate makes these workers stronger, more Amazon-like.
The three song selections presented below reflect the above history and chocolate companies’ efforts to promote the purported benefits of chocolate. The 4 Non-Blondes (1992) sing:
“Morphine & chocolate are my substitute, substitutes,
morphine & chocolate can bring me up,
can warm my heart whenever I want it”
While Xiu Xiu (2010) sings:
“Chocolate makes you happy, and it keeps you awake”
In both examples above chocolate is presented as a stimulant and a mood booster. In the 4 Non-Blondes track chocolate is equated with the drug morphine. Morphine is an opioid pain medication which is used to “treat moderate to severe pain” (Morphine 2017). This is a powerful allusion. Chocolate is depicted in this song as having a similar effect on the body as a potent pain drug. While both songs present chocolate in a positive light, Rufus Wainwright’s “Cigarettes and Chocolate” does not. His lyrics go:
“Cigarettes and chocolate milk,
These are just a couple of my cravings,
everything it seems I like’s a little bit stronger,
A little bit thicker, a little bit harmful for me”
In this song, Wainwright recognizes the negative qualities and impacts of chocolate with the line, “A little bit harmful for me.” At the same time, Wainwright points to chocolate as a craving. Chocolate is presented as something that pulls at him like cigarettes. Cigarettes contain the incredibly addictive chemical nicotine which causes people to develop a physiological addiction to them. The highlighting of chocolate’s drug-like qualities and addictiveness in popular music reveals the influence of chocolate companies’ marketing because modern science has largely refuted the popular view of chocolate’s addictive ability and is unclear at best about whether chocolate provides the consumer with any health benefits.
In her history of the medical use of chocolate, Lippi (2013) provides an illuminating vignette about chocolate and medicine. She relays the following story about chocolate’s early years in Florence, Italy writing, “Zeti was worried that … ‘bad talking’ about chocolate could provoke a decrease of customers and … wrote a short book in defense of chocolate” (Ibid). Francesco Zeti represents an untold number of chocolate producers who strove to ensure that their products were viewed as having positive health benefits. Major chocolate companies, like Rowntree and Cadbury, have followed in this long tradition by promoting the benefits of chocolate in their advertisements and at times burying evidence that might impact their products’ sales (Satre 2005).
While chocolate advertising has perpetuated claims about its health benefits, a review of clinical evidence for chocolate’s health benefits provides a picture that is mixed at best (Castell et al. 2013). The article points out that cocoa has been linked to “enhance[d] antioxidant defenses and “a cardioprotective effect” (Ibid). These claims are tempered by their conclusion that “further studies are necessary in order to identify the active constituents in the nervous system among the various cocoa polyphenols and to understand their mechanism of action in the brain” (Ibid). This conclusion is far from a ringing endorsement and arguably evidence to suggest that marketing by chocolate companies has influenced public perception of chocolate’s health benefits and medical uses.
In addition to its medical properties, chocolate has been long associated with pleasure, romantic courtship, and female sexuality. These associations are found explicitly in popular music’s references to chocolate. These associations are rooted in both past and present chocolate marketing.
In her review of Rowntree and Cadbury advertising, Robertson (2009) argues that their “adverts… placed consumption firmly within heterosexual courtship: chocolate was to be a gift from a man to a woman.” She goes on to explain that Rowntree used snippets of love letters in their advertising of certain products (Ibid). Furthermore, early chocolate advertisements suggested that dissatisfaction in a relationship could be resolved by a gift of chocolate. An example of the above shows a woman complaining that her man is “so interested in his awful football match that he didn’t seem to notice me” (Ibid). This dissatisfaction is then alleviated by the presentation of Black Magic chocolate as a makeup gift. While Rowntree and Cadbury were using these techniques in the 1940s and 1950s, modern advertising has continued promoting the link between chocolate and romance.
The above Russell Stover ad says, “give her” the chocolate in a heart shaped box. This ad encapsulates contemporary efforts to connect chocolate consumption to romance and love, continuing another marketing tradition.
This connection between chocolate and romance was the most common use of chocolate in popular music. “Chocolate” by Snow Patrol (2003), “Chocolate Box” by Cold Cut (1993), “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.” by Pulp (1995), “Sweet Like Chocolate” by Shanks & Bigfoot (1999), and “Chocolate” by Kylie Minogue (2003) all provide examples of this connection.
Comparing “Chocolate Box” (Cold Cut 1993) and “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.” (Pulp 1995) highlight the diverse ways in which this connection can be used in music. In this comparison, there are two contrasting uses of the iconic chocolate box, but in both chocolate boxes are explicitly connected to romantic relationships. In “Chocolate Box”, Cold Cut (1993) sings, “I send my love a note, in a chocolate box.” This line is part of larger love song with lines like, “And in that loving note, I offered him my hand, Gave him my heart, True love from the start.” In this song, the chocolate boxes are part of a positive relationship experience. In “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.” by Pulp (1995), chocolate boxes are used as a positive ideal to contrast the singer’s experience. They sing:
“So what do I do?
I’ve got a slightly sick feeling in my stomach.
Like I’m standing on top of a very high building,
oh yeah, all the stuff they tell you about in the movies.
But this isn’t chocolate boxes and rose, it’s dirtier than that”
In these lyrics, the artist argues that life and relationships are not simply chocolate boxes and roses, the good and positive ideals. Relationships can be hard and complicated, and the chocolate box is used as a positive ideal to contrast with the challenges of reality. While in different framings, both songs use chocolate boxes in a way that connects chocolate directly with romantic relationships.
The next pairing demonstrates using chocolate as a metaphor for a positive relationship or relationship experience. In “Sweet Like Chocolate” by Shanks & Bigfoot (1999) the United Kingdom dance duo use the lyrics:
“You’re sweet like chocolate boy,
Sweet like chocolate,
You bring me so much joy,
You’re sweet like chocolate boy,
In a very similar vein, “Chocolate” by Australian artist Kylie Minogue (2003) features the lyrics:
“Hold me and control me and then,
melt me slowly down,
like chocolate come here,
zoom in, catch the smile,
there’s no doubt it’s from you and I’m addicted to it now”
In both examples chocolate represents the positive aspects of a relationship, “you are sweet like chocolate,” you are so good I am “addicted” to you. These lyrics clearly indicate chocolate’s connection to romance and courtship.
The final song in this section uses chocolate a bit more indirectly than the first four examples. “Chocolate” by Snow Patrol (2003) does not mention chocolate at all in the song’s lyrics, but still connects it to romantic relationships. This song is written from the perspective of a person who has messed up a romantic relationship and wants to start over. It features the lyrics “A simple mistake starts the hardest time, I promise I’ll do anything you ask, this time.” The song’s title alludes to the history of using chocolate as a makeup gift, an attempt to “resolve” dissatisfaction in the relationship. This example recalls the Rowntree women complaining about her husband and the company’s proposed solution of presenting her with chocolate. Chocolate companies past and present have sought to connect their products with romance and courtship. They have been incredibly successful, as popular musicians now often use chocolate in very similar ways to their advertisements.
In addition to songs that connect chocolate to romantic relationships, there are another set of popular songs that explicitly relate chocolate and sex, at times specifically to sex with a black person. This connection also has roots in chocolate’s history and company marketing. The below link is to the music video for “Ms. Chocolate” by Lil’Jon, featuring R. Kelly and Mario (2010).
This song features lyrics such as “This is for the chocolate girls, all around the world”, “So sweet, so round, so thick, so nasty… so smooth, so creamy,” and “So hot you gon’ melt, eat you all up by myself… It’s a chocolate fix I’m after” (Lil’ Jon 2010). As seen in the video, the artists are shown with several scantily clad black women. Interspersed throughout the video are pictures of chocolate bars and other chocolate products. This song objectifies the black female body and uses the word chocolate to describe that body as a sex object.
In addition to Lil’ Jon’s work, there are less explicitly sexual songs that do not directly objectify the black body. Soul Control’s (2004) “Chocolate” includes the lyrics:
“Everybody in the world likes chocolate,
Hmm we love it,
Oh it makes you happy,
Yeah it gets you sexy,
It makes you fat…
but we don’t care about that”
And this is followed by:
“Everybody wants a chocolate (A choco choco)
All the girls want candy candy,
All the boys get randy randy
Everybody want a chocolate”
In a live performance of this piece, as shown in the below link, the singers thrust their hips suggestively with each “All the boys get randy randy.” This song is less explicitly about sex but it is largely implied through the lyrics and chocolate is a thinly veiled metaphor for sex.
The use of chocolate as a metaphor for the black body has been satirized by the creators of the American adult sitcom South Park. “Chocolate Salty Balls” (1998) is a song performed by American artist Isaac Hayes on South Park. While originally featured on the show, “Chocolate Salty Balls” (1998) received international radio time, hitting #1 on the United Kingdom Singles charts (Official Charts 2017). Isaac Hayes sings:
“Say everybody, have you seen my balls?
They’re big and salty and brown,
If you ever need a quick pick me up,
Just stick my balls in your mouth
Ooh, suck on my chocolate salted balls
Stick ‘em in your mouth, and suck ‘em
Suck on my chocolate salted balls
They’re packed full of vitamins and good for you
So suck on my balls”
In this case, the lyrics are absurd. They are exaggerating the very sexualization seen in Lil’ Jon’s “Ms. Chocolate” (2010) with comedic intent.
The metaphors seen in the above songs again have their roots in chocolate marketing. Women in Dairy Box rhymes were frequently referred to as ‘sweet’ themselves, “implying that they may be consumed following the courtship gifting ritual” (Robertson 2009). In addition, this was a clearly observable strategy during the Second World War as chocolate companies “objectified women as sexual objects to maintain male morale” (Ibid). This technique of equating chocolate with sex can be seen in a substantial amount of contemporary chocolate advertising.
The above link is for a chocolate ad by the French company Chocolat Poulian and features a woman sensually enjoying the touch of cacao beans. It is directly playing on the connection between chocolate and sex. This connection is promoted by chocolate companies through advertisements, is then picked up by popular music artists, and in turn gets reinforced through their music.
In the above examples from popular music, chocolate was used as a metaphor for sex with the black body, extolled for its stimulating properties, and celebrated for its taste. These uses at times reflect chocolate’s history and at others reflect chocolate industry’s marketing techniques. There are also instances when the history is a product of marketing techniques as seen in the example of chocolate’s connection to romance and courtship. It is critical to notice who and what is missing from the above references. Robertson (2009) argued that “Imperial violence seems to have no place in the past of such a pleasurable commodity.” She is right and it is apparent from the fact that there is no mention of the cacao worker in these examples from western popular music. A celebration of chocolate in western popular music does not acknowledge its actual production or its colonial history. It is helpful that Rufus Wainwright (2001) at least recognizes that milk-chocolate is not healthy, but even his references to chocolate leave the people behind chocolate invisible. Much of chocolate industry marketing presents chocolate a certain way and ignores the people who provide the raw cacao and struggle to make chocolate available to the developed world. Popular music artists pick up on these marketing themes and continue to ignore the darker side of the chocolate industry. This invisibility makes it much easier for cacao workers to be exploited by companies thousands of miles away.
4 Non Blondes. 1992. Morphine & Chocolate.
Castell, Margarida, Francisco Jose Pérez-Cano, and Jean-François Bisson. 2013. “Clinical Benefits of Cocoa: An Overview.” In Chocolate in Health and Nutrition, edited by Ronald Ross Watson, Victor R. Preedy, and Sherma Zibadi. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press. http://link.springer.com/10.1007/978-1-61779-803-0.
Cold Cut. 1993. Chocolate Box.
Hayes, Isaac. 1998. Chocolate Salty Balls.
Lil’ Jon. 2010. Ms. Chocolate.
Lippi, Donatella. 2013. “History of the Medical Use of Chocolate.” In Chocolate in Health and Nutrition, edited by Ronald Ross Watson, Victor R. Preedy, and Sherma Zibadi. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press. http://link.springer.com/10.1007/978-1-61779-803-0.
Minogue, Kylie. 2003. Chocolate.
“Morphine: Uses, Dosage, Side Effects, Warnings.” 2017. Drugs.com. Accessed May 4. https://www.drugs.com/morphine.html.
Njoroge, Njoroge. 2016. Chocolate Surrealism: Music, Movement, Memory, and History in the Circum-Caribbean. Caribbean Studies Series (Jackson, Miss.). Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
“Official Charts Company.” 2017. Accessed May 6. http://www.officialcharts.com/artist/39995/chef/.
Pulp. 1995. F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.
Robertson, Emma. 2009. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Studies in Imperialism (Manchester, England). Manchester ; New York : New York: Manchester University Press ; Distributed in the United States exclusively by Palgrave Macmillan.
Satre, Lowell J. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. 1st ed. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.
Shanks & Bigfoot. 1999. Sweet Like Chocolate.
Snow Patrol. 2003. Chocolate.
Soul Control. 2004. Chocolate.
Wainwright, Rufus. 2001. Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk.
Xiu Xiu. 2010. Chocolate Makes You Happy.