But how is she using the line? And why are so many other multi-culti female singers using a phrase that some consider to be a racist and/or sexist slur? Can the meaning change over time, depending on who is using it and why?
“That phrase is so loaded,” said performance artist Allison Roh Park. “People don’t understand the history behind that.”
“Me love you long time” — how the phrase is typically quoted — came into prominence with Stanley Kubrick’s as a Vietnamese prostitute tries to pick up Matthew Modine’s character with broken English. The phrase was then popularly picked up by 2 Live Crew in the song “Me So Horny.”
“From that point on, it became a hook,” said Ryan Suda, who runs clothing company Black Lava.
“It’s so many different kinds of slurs in one,” comedian Margaret Cho said. “It’s instantly putting you in the position of being a foreigner, an outsider and a sexual stereotype. It’s an all-in-one combo.”
“Asian women get exotified and hyper-sexualized to the point where it really affects our day-to-day life,” Park said.
“A lot of times when people use phrases like that, they neglect the background,” Suda said. “Like sex trafficking. So if a guy goes up to someone in a bar, and he’s using that phrase, and he’s imagining that scene for some reason, I’m sure they mean it as a fun thing. I don’t think they mean it to be malicious. They know she’s not a prostitute. But it’s attached to that. It’s a lot more than a simple phrase.”
But even musicians who lifted the phrase from 2 Live Crew didn’t always know they got it from a depiction of a prostitute’s pickup line and sometimes wrongly assumed the rappers had coined the phrase all on their own — and were therefore ignorant of the connotations.
“I first heard it in the 2 Live Crew song,” said Fergie, who used the phrase in her song “London Bridge.” “And then I was watching ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ and I’m going, ‘Ohhhhhh! That’s where 2 Live Crew got it. OK.’ But back in the day, everybody would be saying that.”
And they still do — you hear it in jokes on “Family Guy” and — but the context keeps changing.
” ‘Love you long time’ comes out of a fairly stereotypical situation, and it’s recycled itself back into the culture,” said playwright David Henry Hwang. “Now it’s being used as an empowerment phrase, like to deny it — ‘I won’t love you long time’ — or women who take the phrase and use it to assert themselves.”
“That’s such a weird song,” she said. “It came from this cool, dark, powerful place which all women possess. I guess I just took that and ran with it, because that phrase just came to mind. ‘Love you long time’ — it just seemed powerful for a woman to possess that much energy. All she has to say is four little words and she’s got everybody eating out of the palm of her hand.”
Mariah Carey didn’t just refer to the oft-quoted line — she built a whole song around it. But she corrects the grammar, so the connotation changes. “Female artists like to play with words,” Furtado said. “Missy Elliott did that quite well with ‘bitch.’ She started saying, ‘She’s a bitch, I’m a bitch.’ And she owned the word. Women should be grateful to her for that. She’s a modern-day feminist.”
“It’s just one of those sayings that’s kind of pushed its way into our slang and our vocabulary,” Fergie said. “I think it’s just part of pop culture now.”
There’s a clothing line in London called “Love You Long Time” (fashion designer Katy Horwood counts Vanessa Carlton as one of her clients), but to counteract any possible negative interpretation of the use of the phrase in fashion, Suda’s Black Lava clothing line sells a shirt that reads “I Will Not Love You Long Time.”
“It’s definitely one of the more popular shirts, by far,” Suda said. “People, when they see it, they just laugh, like, ‘Oh my god, I get this all the time! Guys come up to me in bars and they always say this line to me.’ ”
“I was walking down the street and this guy yells from his car, ‘Love you long time, me love you long time,’ ” Cho related. “And I was so horrified. Of course he’s talking to me, to the Asian woman walking down the street. And he left.
“I don’t mind it when it’s used in songs, like when women use it,” Cho continued. “Fergie uses it, that doesn’t bother me. But when it’s shouted in the street and they don’t wait to hear the response? What if I was actually going to go, ‘Oh, OK’? They never stick around to hear the answer.”