As modern humans forced to live and love in a time of hot takes, one of our most prevalent obsessions is the specter of what could have been — and not just as it applies to existential realizations of mortality. We ask ourselves “what if?” to ponder what might have happened if certain pop culture projects had adopted different, sometimes grotesque new shapes. (What if Hillary Duff hadn’t turned down “Since U Been Gone”? Seriously, can you imagine?)
One of my personal favorite daydream contemplations has haunted me over the past decade, and its answer morphs every year, to delightful brainstorm degree: What if “Lady Marmalade” had been recorded today? Who would be involved? Who’d be Xtina? Who’d be Missy!?
Perfection was achieved in 2001 when Christina Aguilera, Pink, Lil’ Kim, Mya, and Missy Elliot united to cover the 1975 Labelle bop for Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! Their decidedly naughtier version spent five weeks at No. 1; since then, the closest we’ve even remotely come to that collaborative brand of riffing magnitude is “Bang Bang” or that time Mariah Carey sneezed through two octaves. “Lady Marmalade” is the albatross, the unattainable lightning-in-a-boudoir that taught millions of kids how to say sexy things in French and became the mega-hit earworm you could never quite turn off (or sing on-key). Should a new quartet of singers unite to re-record it? No. But if they did…who would it be?
Well, someone has answered my question, and her answer may be terrible. In an interview with The Sun, Rita Ora reportedly asserted her desire to re-sculpt the David with help from Miley Cyrus, Iggy Azalea, and Charli XCX. (Azalea later tweeted that she wants nothing to do with this idea).
The problem is not only that Ora wants to cover the quartet to end all quartets, but that the “squad” she’s conjured up doesn’t even attempt to do justice to the very specific archetypes of”Lady Marmalade.”
THE RIFF QUEEN
Before there were key changes in “Love On Top,” there were riffs in “Lady Marmalade,” and we can thank St. Christina Aguilera for those unforgettable licks. Matching her serpentine runs was one of 2001’s most enthusing radio hobbies; as such, any update of “Marmalade” would require a powerhouse singer of equal or greater volume who could wax Aguileran and carry the group to vocal valhalla.
Possible players: Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson, Ariana Grande, Carrie Underwood, Lady Gaga, Adele if she ever comes back
Lil’ Kim’s verse may be one of the top five rap verses known to everyone across demographics and fandoms. As we ponder a potential replacement for 2015, there’s only one obvious name who could fill Kim’s Loubs and then some. Anyone else would be le catastrophique.
Possible players: Nicki Minaj — and let’s just agree, there’s no way “Marmalade” could, would, or should happen without her.
THE TOUGH GIRL
Pink brought pop-rock pugnaciousness to the quartet despite being saddled with arguably the least interesting verse (please, tell me more about Magnolia wine). A 2015 cover deserves a pop princess who brings the spiked punch.
Possible players: Rihanna, Sia, Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, Gwen Stefani, Jess Glynne, still Pink
Arguably the Hawkeye of “Lady Marmalade,” this stranger snuck into the sleepover and nobody had the heart to tell her she had to leave. An artist of moderate fame, The Mya must have enough past success that you don’t feel immediately compelled to raise the alarm, but she must also be just obscure enough that you still only recognize her from that time she recorded the Rugrats theme in 1998.
Possible players: Literally Rita Ora, Meghan Trainor, one of the harmonies from Fifth Harmony, Becky G
Missy Elliot adopted a crucial role as the cabaret’s mistress of ceremonies, shouting a modern-day willkommen and ripping through the roll call that defined the everyone-gets-a-syllable finale.
Possible players: Madonna, who just wanted to be involved.