HIGH NOTES: 7 Songs About MDMA, Because It’s MDMAzing

Madonna in an MDNA era shoot by fashion photographers Mert Alaş and Marcus Piggott.

MDMA has long been closely intertwined with music. It’s many festival and nightclub-goers’ drug of choice, and for good reason: it has a way of making every song sound infectious and every flashing light look vivid and brilliant.

It’s not surprising either that a whole lot of artists have chosen to sing about this energizing, psychedelic substance. Here are the funniest, realest, and most poetic songs sung about MDMA.

MDMAmazing by Beans on Toast

Perhaps the most straightforward of the bunch, this song is relatable AF to anyone who’s rolled at a music festival. Beans on Toast narrates all the best and worst parts of an MDMA trip, from “we danced to an unknown DJ and sneaked a little kiss” to “I’m gurning my face off, but I’m really really glad.” It ends on a less cheerful note: “Well I’ve missed my lift to London / my moneys all been spunked / I’ve even lost my mobile phone/ I think I’m fucked.” But it’s all good, because then his dancing/kissing partner comes back with acid. All’s well that ends well.

“We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus

Is she singing “dancing with Miley” or “dancing with molly”? The eternal question. The truth is, it’s intentionally ambiguous. “If you’re aged ten [the lyric is] Miley,” she told The Daily Mail. “If you know what I’m talking about, then you know. I just wanted it to be played on the radio and they’ve already had to edit it so much.” With lyrics like “Red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere / Hands in the air like we don’t care,” it’s easy to see how it could be molly, which Cyrus has called a “happy drug.”

“Take Ecstasy With Me” by The Magnetic Fields

This dreamy, nostalgic song will likely conjure memories of your very first roll. The Magnetic Fields convey the joyful and easily distractable state one might be in under the influence of MDMA with lyrics like, “I want to slide down the carpeted stairs / Or down the bannister / I got a new kaleidoscope / And I got a stack of records / It’s on your head so don’t dare move / We could be happy just listening to your pulse.”

“Molly” by Tyga

In this song, Tyga is on a mission: to find molly. He enlists the help of Siri, whose voice rhythmically repeats “molly” throughout the track, and raps about an adventure that seems to involve a number of other substances as well: “Weed so loud it’s distorted / Got champagne and we pourin’ it / She poppin’ it and she snortin’ it.” Let’s just hope he’s not mixing all these drugs.

“I’m Addicted” by Madonna

Madonna’s love for MDMA is well-documented; she did, after all, name one of her albums MDNA (presumably a portmanteau of MDMA and DNA) and ask a crowd at the music festival Ultra, “Have you seen molly?” She also sprinkles her fair share of MDMA references into her music. In “I’m Addicted,” she compares it to a lover, singing, “Now that your name / Pumps like the blood in my veins / Pulse through my body, igniting my mind / It’s like MDMA and that’s OK.” She then sings “I need to dance,” which… yeah, sounds appropriate, and closes the song by repeating the letters MDMA repeatedly.

“Empire State of Mind” by JAY-Z featuring Alicia Keys

“Came here for school, graduated to the high life / Ball players, rap stars, addicted to the limelight /MDMA got you feelin’ like a champion / The city never sleeps, better slip you a Ambien,” JAY-Z raps in this song. Great rhyme, though again, let’s hope he’s not actually combining those drugs.

“We Found Love” by Rihanna

Is the “hopeless place” Rihanna found love in an MDMA trip? Some think the “yellow diamonds” in the lyrics represent molly, but the real giveaway is the video, where Rihanna and actor Dudley O’Shaughnessy skateboard (possibly a subtle reference to rolling?) and have passionate sex amid montages of pills and dilating pupils. Anyone who’s ever taken MDMA with a partner will feel heartbroken by the unbridled joy shattered by the devastating comedown in this video.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Political Popstars, Return of the 2000s & More

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Pussy Riot

Political Popstars, Return of the 2000s & More

By Jasmine Williams

Pussy Riot Forever!

Days after members of Pussy Riot were arrested for staging a protest during the World Cup, the Russian firebrands were awarded a settlement relating to their 2012 jail sentences for performing a “punk prayer” at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. On Tuesday the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia has to pay around $57,000 in damages to Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova for being unfairly imprisoned. Following the World Cup, Pussy Riot released a new music video called “Track About Good Cop.”


This week, another controversial female musician returns. M.I.A. has never been one to shy away from politics, forever finding a way to inject global news stories into earworm hooks. (“All I wanna do is bang, bang, bang, and get your money” has to be the most gangster satire on anti-immigrant sentiments, ever.)

Finally, fans of Maya Arulpragasam will be able to get an insider view into her life through an upcoming documentary. Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. will journey from her childhood among Tamil Tigers to her Super Bowl settlement. The film comes out this September.

That New New

It’s not just early aughts fashion that’s back, three of your favorite feely bands from the 2000s have dropped videos this week. Death Cab for Cutie and The Blow both released new clips that veer into art-student-film-project territory while Cat Power debuted the song “Wanderer,” featuring unlikely collaborator (and tour mate), Lana Del Rey.

Chance The Rapper announced his foray into media with a new track. “I Might Need Security” discloses his purchase of local news site, The Chicagoist.

Alt-rappers Brockhampton also entered new waters this week, the group dropped a music video for “1998 Truman,” their first release since the departure of ex-member, Ameer Vann, due to allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct.

End Notes

  • Pitchfork Music Festival is this weekend in Chicago. You can livestream many of the acts, including Lauryn Hill, Blood Orange, and Courtney Barnett on Pitchfork’s YouTube channel.


  • Fans who were worried about SZA can breathe a sigh of relief. After missing some dates on TDE’s Championship tour due to damaged vocal cords, the Drew Barrymore singer made a valiant comeback at Firefly Festival.


  • Jay-Z is disputing with Philadelphia mayor, Jim Kenney over the music festival that the rapper founded six years ago. Since its 2012 inception, Made in America Festival has been held in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art,  but this may be about to change. Without talking to festival organizers, Kenney told local news that the fest’s busy location was inconveniencing the city and would have to be moved in 2019. In response to the mayor, Jay-Z published a statement in the The Inquirer to voice his disapproval. Maybe op-eds are the new rap battle?


  • Mad Decent Block Party returns to New York after taking a one-year hiatus from the city. On September 24, TroyBoi, Walshy Fire, and more will play at the Brooklyn Mirage.


ONLY NOISE: Big Sister’s Clothes

Who are the great musical influencers of our lives? Lovers, friends, parents, librarians. The people who were in close proximity when our cultural preferences were still small, squishy, and developing. Their impact on our taste was indispensable and unforgettable, as they passed down songs to us like cherished family recipes. Rare is the record collection built solely from autonomous discovery – because that wouldn’t be very interesting, would it?

But what about that other person in your life? The one who got the bigger bedroom, the better car, and all of the boys? The keeper of crucial adolescent information, such as the definition of words like “Phat,” “wangsta,” and the meaning of Limp Bizkit’s LP Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water? The wearer of JNCO Jeans and “candy” bracelets. What about your big sister?

Until recently, I might’ve excluded my big sister – one of them at least – from any Pop Culture Sherpa accolades. But that would’ve been a great injustice. Older siblings are often our first reference points for culture and cool – or perhaps they were before children had handheld access to the Kardashian lifestyle brand 24/7. But our crib didn’t even have dial-up…until several years later, when everyone was on that high-speed shit already.

Our household was always a stride behind the times, and the only window to the cool kid world was through my big sister, Miranda. At five years my senior, she wasn’t always thrilled to share her secrets with me, however. Pleas to hang out in her room, watch her play AOL chat, and borrow any article of clothing were frequently denied. The latter was a pretty fair decision though, as an eight-year-old might have looked questionable in pleather snakeskin bellbottoms.

Her closet and clique of friends were off limits. Music, on the other hand, served as diplomatic territory, although I was never sure why. Maybe Miranda just needed an audience for her carefully choreographed dance routines to the pop gems she exposed me to. The moves for Ace of Base’s “Don’t Turn Around” for instance, featured literal interpretations of the lyrics: turning around, grabbing and “breaking” her heart, a bicep curl to show that she was “gonna be strong.” This was nuanced stuff, I tell ya, and I ogled over her creativity and grace. She was always better at dancing; had a long, lean dancer’s body that must have come from her biological father. My own frame couldn’t be more disparate: short and hippy with an inexplicably large ass. We look almost nothing alike.

Miranda was my mainline to the cool world. Her dance performances were sacred ceremonies that were known to us alone. Whether it was this consecrated exchange, or the music itself, I loved everything Miranda played for me…and singing along to that breakout Ace of Base record The Sign is one of the earliest memories of sisterly peacekeeping I can recall. We fought a lot, but so long as a pop song was playing, a ceasefire ensued long enough to dance and sing.

If there is one artist I associate with Miranda the most, it has to be Mariah Carey, whose 1995 masterpiece Daydream dominated our living room sound system. My sister knew every word, and therefore, I knew every word – kind of. “Always Be My Baby” and “Fantasy” were our favorite cuts, the latter inspiring many a dance performance. If I slipped up on the lyrics, I could always resort to the many “Sha-da-da-da-da-da-da-doos” throughout, while Miranda hit those “freestyle” high notes (with more passion than pitch per se). “One Sweet Day” was also a big one for us, as it was Mimi’s collaboration with another childhood staple: Boyz II Men. Listening now I realize “One Sweet Day” is about a dead person, speaking to Mariah from behind the grave, embodied in the sultry voices of Boyz II Men. But at the time we embraced it as a syrupy love song, and that was enough for us.

Those were the early days – when pop felt innocent (as we all say when we get older). Our favorite songs were about heartbreak, staying strong, dancing, and loving ghosts. Kid stuff! In a few years the pop paradigm would shift however, sprinkling our newly complicated lives with subversive content. By 1999 Miranda was a teenager, and I was an awkward 10-year-old completely adrift in a post-divorce family. My big sister was engaging in increasingly hazardous behavior, and our relationship was often on the rocks, to put it lightly. But despite our tumultuous sisterhood, I never stopped wanting to be a part of her clan. Sure, she may have been hanging out with the “bad kids” at school, and maybe she was even doing “bad things,” but she still looked fabulous.

I distinctly remember a trip Miranda, my mom, and I took to Southern California during spring break of ’99. We were visiting my grandparents, who lived a stone’s throw from the ocean in Huntington Beach – a place rife with all the beautiful tan people we didn’t have in rainy Washington State. There were swimming pools, and beach days, and ice cream trucks. We went to the glamorous South Coast Plaza mall, which had an Abercrombie and Fitch! Miranda procured a pair of purple pleather flair pants that fell low across her hipless body. I think they were from Spencer Gifts, or maybe Wet Seal – high-class establishments we had limited access to in our hometown. God I wanted those pants. It was as if Miranda knew that pleather was about to be the number one fashion look – because spring break of ’99 wasn’t just monumental for us – it was a big moment for Ms. Britney Spears, too.

Our grandparents had something we lacked: MTV. For years we didn’t even have basic cable, so it was a treat visiting Grandma and Grandpa, who were apparently much cooler than us. Few music memories are as clearly etched as sitting on their couch that trip and watching the video for “Oops!…I did It Again,” which mesmerized us. The pleather. The lip-gloss. The weave. The shoddy space narrative. The pleather!

It was a massive turning point in our musical education. Britney was “not that innocent” anymore, and neither were we. Our minds were further infected with pop’s sex appeal – for it was the same week that Pink’s revenge-tinged “There You Go” dropped, as well as Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin,’” Crazy Town’s “Butterfly,” and of course, Sisqo’s “Thong Song.” Sisqo’s hit especially appealed to my young demographic, as “That thong-thong-thong-thong-thong” were super easy lyrics to remember. What a time to be 10.

Thanks to pop, and Miranda’s dutiful descriptions, that was the week I learned what a pimp was, what “come” meant (as in “Butterfly’s” “Come my lady, come come my lady”), and that letting your thong rise above your low-slung (pleather) pants was really cool. And called a “whale tail.”

It wasn’t long before I acquired my own pleather snakeskin pants, began anointing my forehead with a bindi a la Gwen Stefani, and for reasons I’ll never understand, started putting shimmery blue eye shadow on…my eyebrows. It was a sweet spot of time when my interests intersected with Miranda’s. Punk hadn’t quite entered my life yet to temporarily obliterate my love of melody. Back then, I loved everything she loved, simply because she loved it. I wanted to be the Monica to her Brandy in the video for “The Boy Is Mine.” I wanted to put on living room lip synch concerts to No Doubt’s “Spiderwebs” and Aaliyah’s “Try Again.”  And I must say – I still do.



Last Superbowl, while Peyton Manning cradled the Lombardi Trophy and showered Budweiser with delicious, beery shout-outs, Jersey boys Billy the Kid and Nickey Knoxx (of Camden and Trenton, respectively) were huddled around their family televisions with baited breath. A music supervisor had more or less greenlighted the duo’s song, “Champion” for use during the annual football bonanza, but as as lives go, those of professional musicians are rife with uncertainty. Plans are made and changed, nary a certitude. At last, they both heard it: their track echoing behind Manning’s words while confetti rained down in Levi’s Stadium. And just like that, Epoch Failure (pronounced epic) turned over a new leaf.

Joanie Wolkoff for AudioFemme: What was that fateful moment like for you guys?

Nickey Knoxx: I was about to give up and zone out cuz the show was wrapping up, but then while Peyton Manning said something about going home and drinking a lot of Budweisers, all of a sudden I heard our song. I definitely lost my shit.

Billy the Kidd: I mean, Superbowl is the mecca of American sports. I’m gonna be honest, I’d been drinking tons with my family and I just teared up.

The American American Dream came true!

Billy the Kidd: We always say we didn’t do too bad for two kids from the inner city.

Nickey Knoxx: When I was growing up, my mom- being from South Carolina- listened to a lot of country and gospel…Dwight Yoakam, Dolly Parton, Travis Tritt, Donnnie McClurkin, James Brown, Reba McEntire… I’m a Brown American. My mother’s Native American and Black and my father’s Black and Puerto Rican with a Jewish-German mom. So, I am the melting pot.

Billy the Kidd: I’m just Puerto Rican, first generation American. My dad’s a South Philly guy, so I grew up on Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, a lot of Harlem renaissance swag, also Bellamy Brothers, Earth Wind and Fire, the Bee Gees, Bon Jovi and Metallica. Every Friday my dad would pour a glass of gin, smoke a cigar and listen to the Stones on vinyl for hours.

 So you guys cut your milk teeth on American music?

Nickey Knoxx: Definitely. Then, when we started exploring other music in high school it was all hip hop- Biggie, Naz, Wu Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, Tupac, Jay Z. My sister also got me into rock and a lot of Prince.

Billy the Kidd: I loved all the heavy hitters in rap but I also got into punk and pop. It’s just that at the time… well, you can’t tell people in the hood you listen to five white boys singing in harmony. I love Iggy Pop, too. Saliva, Limp Biscuit, Slipknot- I went the rock route.

Your live performances are bursting with kinetic energy. Did seeing any of your influences in concert shape how you carry out your music in front of an audience?

Nickey Knoxx: We go apeshit! After watching all those pop-punk bands growing up, seeing the energy those guys bring to the music- the way they pour their heart and soul into it- that’s what we do. We end up chest-naked.

Billy the Kidd: You could say we get that full blown rock energy combined with the hip hop demeanor. It’s urban pop: full of hooks but still very much blended with hip hop elements, because this is the time we live in. We’ve got a dope drummer- Mad Mike- and our bassist Lowdown Dirty Shane and DJ Big Jay. We’re each other’s hype men.

Is it possible that a band name like Epoch Failure might come across as… anti-hype?

Nickey Knoxx: We’re from the inner city and we’ve been on this musical journey together for four years together. It’s been a new epoch for our failures (laughs)… but we’re gonna make it epic! I’ve lived on both sides of life but it’s what made me and it’s what made Billy. It gave us the drive to see the other side.

What does the other side look like?

Billy the Kidd: Music is a grind. You have to treat everybody you meet like a somebody because you never know what they’re gonna bring to the table. I think young musicians need to know not to quit their day job. If you’re an artist, living by the skin of your teeth can’t work that way…. but as Will Smith said, if you focus too much on plan B, you’ll forget about plan A. The dream is music. To live it, breathe it every day, wake up and do it.

What do you do to supplement your music career?

Nickey Knoxx: I’m a combat photographer in the US Army. Billy is an electrician.

Billy the Kidd: Our day jobs feed our creativity. My work is blue collar- it’s the way I was raised. It motivates me. When I get off of work I’m all dirty and grimy and sweaty and I just want to go home and make the best song ever, so that maybe tomorrow I won’t have to go and get dirty and grimy and sweaty.

Did anyone in particular transmit this wisdom to you?

Billy the Kidd: When I was in seventh grade and my grandfather was ill and on his way out, he said, “Never give up.” Whether you’re making music or in the military or marketing or flipping burgers… be the best fucking burger flipper there is. Have some pride. We were meant to be great in what we do. A guy with a million dollars could have a penny attitude, so stay humble and dream big.

Nickey Knoxx: The best advice I ever got was to floss my teeth and wear underwear. Clean underwear make the world go round.

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FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Cross-Genre Covers

Glastonbury Festival 2008

In 2005, Ben Folds recorded an indie-rock cover of Dr. Dre’s 1992 gangsta rap song “Bitches Ain’t Shit.” Although the recording was a half-joke, Folds’ introspective take on the gruff, expletive-riddled track was such a massive success that he eventually got tired of playing the song and retired it from his set list, ceremonially performing “Bitches”‘s swan song at Glastonbury Festival in 2008. Interestingly enough, that very same year, Jay Z had originally been turned away by the festival–Glastonbury, its representatives claimed, focused on guitar-based music, and didn’t include hip hop acts in their line up–but wound up performing due to overwhelming demand. Unaccustomed to have festivals turn him down, the rapper retaliated. He began his set with a farcical Oasis cover, holding an electric guitar in his hands, fumbling chords, and butchering the lyrics to “Wonderwall.” When the song was finished, he looked out into the audience with a spectacular poker face. Glastonbury’s booking agents may have felt Jay Z was the wrong performer for the festival; his audience disagreed. An oceanically huge crowd went nuts at the end of the “Oasis” spoof, and screamed even louder as he launched into “99 Problems.”

All of which gets me to thinking about cross-genre covers. Both Glastonbury songs–a hip hop song played as a rock song, and a rock song played as a hip hop song–garnered a massive and positive response and poked fun–to varying extent–at the genre they emulated. They were novelties; that is, when the songs changed genre, they assumed bizarre new meaning, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, and sometimes just for the more hilarious. Without further ado, here are five more bizarre cross-genre covers of songs you’ve heard before, and now may never hear the same way again.

1. “99 Problems” by Hugo: An artist who is himself a cross-genre mash-up of sorts, Hugo Chakrabongse Levy is a half-Thai, half-British bluegrass musician who covered Jay Z’s classic song on his 2011 debut album Old Tyme Religion. Hugo’s vocals on this song sound live, with a very slight Memphis-style slapback-like sound to them, and are accompanied by a strong bass line and knee-slapping percussion and banjo. It works, channeling a slightly more sinister aspect of the song as opposed to Jay Z’s liberated, powerful original.


2. “My Humps” by Alanis Morissette: This song is simply bizarre. The original is bizarre, and the cover is bizarre in an entirely different way. Sorrowful and pretty, closely backed by a piano, Morissette’s clear and unironic enunciation of the lyrics in Black Eyed Peas’ 2005 release makes the song hilarious, even though the vocals and piano melody are quite lovely.


3. “Enter Sandman” by Iron Horse: Here’s my theory as to why bluegrass covers both metal and hip hop so well: though they’re all very different genres instrumentally, all three lend themselves to minor mode and dark thematic matter. Since 2001, Iron Horse has released eleven whole albums full of tribute material, several of which covered Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, and, as here, Metallica.


4.  “Believe” by Dollar Store: As much as I love Cher, “Believe” is not my favorite–all I got out of the 1998 original was that someone in the studio was really excited about using a vocoder that day. What the track really needed was some loud-ass slide guitar. No, seriously: really unabashed, powerhouse country is the genre that “Believe” should have been recorded in all along. It just matches the song so well. There, I said it.


5. “Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are)” by Pras featuring Maya & Ol’ Dirty Bastard: Released in 1998, this hip hip cover of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ “Islands In The Stream” replaced the duo’s close-harmony pop verses with rap lyrics and kept the chorus similar to the original rendition. As it happens, though, this song is kind of a super-cover, because although Parton and Rogers recorded the song in 1983 and have since been considered its performers, “Islands” was originally written by the Bee Gees, and was named after an Ernest Hemingway novel by the same name.