When singer Sandra Gillette's debut single became a national dance club hit last fall, she had to deal with complaints that the novelty record's title and lyrics were a derogatory reference to small male genitalia.
Now that the record has a new title--"Short, Short Man"--and is a Top 10 single, she is having to answer complaints that the record is an attack on short people.
"People are missing the boat on that," says Gillette, a 20-year-old former University of Houston drama student who still can't quite believe she scored a national hit on her first try. "Believe me, the song has nothing to do with height. When people complain about that, I say, 'Listen very carefully to the words.' "
Except for the title change, the record is identical to the original version, "Short D--- Man." The ribald title was changed to overcome resistance at some radio stations around the country.
"The easiest thing to do was to double the Shorts and drop out that X-rated word so radio would play it," explains Manny Mohr of 20 Fingers, the production team that wrote and produced the frisky dance hit. "But that word didn't change the point of the song."
And the point of the song, Gillette says, is to strike back at all the women-bashing songs in pop, especially in rap.
"Some guys think nothing of putting down women, and I think that's disgusting," she says. "I'm a feminist, and I want to defend women. Maybe after hearing this, some of the men will think twice before they bash women. Women really love this record."
Tracy Austin, music director of L.A. radio station KIIS-FM, supports that claim. "It's mostly a young female crowd that listens to the record," she says. "They really have fun with it, and they love the message."
The success of the original single, on S.O.S. Records, took everyone by surprise.
When the song was recorded last summer, Chicago-based 20 Fingers had been together for just six months and had modest goals.
"We wanted to do something shocking--something we could easily get played in the clubs," explains Mohr, who came up with the original title. "We figured there were all these songs by men bashing women and treating women like sex objects. So we decided a song that turned the tables on men might attract some attention."
They hired their friend Gillette to sing the lyrics. "I was shocked by the song at first, and I wasn't sure I could do it," she recalls. "But they talked me into it, and I'm glad they did."
After the single exploded, the independent S.O.S. label realized it didn't have the resources to push it to the next level. Enter Zoo Entertainment, a Hollywood-based label owned by the conglomerate BMG.
"At first, some people thought it might be a four-to-six-week novelty record," says Bill Pfordresher, Zoo's vice president of promotion. "But after a while we saw it had more potential than that--with an album and a long-range career for Gillette."
Though critics of "Short, Short Man" would like to see Gillette and the single fade away, Gillette has a chance to stick around for a while.
She does more saucy male-bashing on her debut album, "On the Attack," which came out in December. After a slow start (fans had just been buying the single), album sales should pick up with the second single, "Mr. Personality." Even though it doesn't hit stores until Monday, there's already a strong buzz.
" 'Mr. Personality' is the biggest requesting record I've seen since I've been at this station," reports KIIS-FM's Austin.
Does Gillette worry about being typed as a male-bashing dance artist?
"Not really," she says. "Considering that I wasn't even thinking about a record career this time last year, I'll ride along to wherever this takes me."