A (Mis)Interpretation of the Living Single Theme Song
Raise your hand if, like me, you have been rewatching the classic TV sitcom, Living Single, during these quarantimes? For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show (whaaattt?), Yvette Lee Bowser’s Living Single was a ’90s TV sitcom that centered on the personal and professional lives of six Black 20-something friends living in a Brooklyn, New York brownstone. Basically, it is the OG and superior version of Friends, and a staple of Black culture.
My daily lockdown routine has consisted of waking up, taking care of my personal hygiene, and commuting from my bedroom to the living room where I turn on the television to TVOne and watch reruns of Living Single as I work. Every time I hear the opening notes of the theme song, without fail, I find myself singing along with Queen Latifah’s smooth vocals:
We are living (Hey)
And in a nineties kind of world
I’m glad I got my pearls)
Hold up, wait a minute. I know what you’re thinking: “Those are the wrong lyrics, boomer.” (For the record, I am a millennial. Albeit, an elder millennial, but I digress). However, I can’t possibly be the only person who hears Queen Latifah sing “pearls” instead of “girls”, right? I definitely hear a soft “puh” sound instead of a hard “guh” sound. Now, a quick search for the song on Genius.com easily verifies that the correct lyric is, in fact, girls. But hear me out. If she had sung “pearls,” then the song lyrics still would have fit the underlying themes of the iconic television show.
When most people think of pearls, they usually think of a beautiful and expensive piece of jewelry. However, throughout history, the gemstone has come to symbolize the notions of purity, generosity, integrity, and loyalty, as well as strength in relationships. Pearls can be formed in a variety of colors, including the incredibly rare black pearl. According to Chinese culture, the black pearl also symbolizes wisdom and the female energy. Needless to say, the multitude of symbolic meanings attributed to these gemstones perfectly encapsulate the overarching themes of Living Single.
The strong bonds of Black friendship — and, in particular, Black female friendship — was the cornerstone of the sitcom, and Khadijah James (Queen Latifah) served as the glue that bound them all together. Joined by her cousin Synclaire James (Kim Coles), childhood friend Régine Hunter (Kim Fields), and college BFF Maxine “Max” Shaw (Erika Alexander), the four women always supported each other through the highs and lows of their careers and romantic entanglements. As Queen Latifah sang at the top of every episode:
Whenever this life get tough, you gotta fight
With my homegirls standing to my left and my right
True blue, it’s tight like glue
This unwavering support was displayed when, for example, Synclaire and Régine stepped up to help run Flavor magazine while Khadijah was sick and on bed rest; when Max encouraged Synclaire to pursue her acting dreams and confronted the director when he unfairly dismissed Synclaire before she could audition; and when the group — along with neighbors Kyle Barker (T.C. Carson) and Overton Wakefield Jones (John Henton) —suffered through a comedy of travel mishaps to celebrate Khadijah’s win at a journalism award ceremony.
A notable episode that exemplified the strength of their friendship involved Kyle having to choose between a job promotion and his friendship with the ladies when he overheard his boss lying about his date with Régine and later uttering a misogynistic term. Posing the iconic question, “Who you callin’ a bitch?”, Kyle chose to defend his friends, displaying a sense of loyalty, integrity, and platonic love for Black women that was worthy of admiration.
As the title suggests, the TV series also explored the women’s healthy dating lives. From Max “deflowering” her young boyfriend, to Régine dating a father and his son at the same time while on her unabashed quest to marry a man with money, no scenario was off limits and the ladies were not afraid of exuding their female energy to get who they wanted.
Ultimately, Living Single exposed viewers to positive images of Black love by focusing on the romantic relationships at the core of the show. We witnessed Synclaire and Overton’s love story from its very beginnings, from their innocent flirtations as neighbors to their not-so-pure come-ons as a married couple. We also watched as Khadijah and Scooter (Cress Williams) rekindled their childhood friendship, which evolved into an intimate relationship by the end of the series. But above them all, the on-again, off-again love affair between Max and Kyle was one for the ages. Their sexual tension made us clutch our pearls with every sarcastic dig and sweaty serenade.
Finally, while the group’s romantic pursuits were often front and center, they never let it get in the way of their career aspirations. Khadijah’s hard-working, entrepreneurial spirit raised Flavor magazine’s profile in the world of journalism. Régine parlayed her passion for fashion into a career as a buyer for an upscale clothing boutique and then as a costume assistant for a TV soap opera. And even Synclaire finessed her receptionist job at Flavor into a career as a working actress.
The series also highlighted the obstacles that are often encountered by Black professionals in the corporate world. For instance, on her climb to becoming partner at her law firm, Max abruptly quit when she realized that the firm would continue to retaliate against her for a previous mistake she made. Instead, she devoted her legal career to working as a public defender and riding “The Maverick” as an alderwoman for the city council. As a Wall Street stockbroker, Kyle’s position was once again called into question when he learned that his style of hair may be holding him back from a job promotion. In an impassioned speech to his bosses, he proclaimed that his locs were symbolic of his African heritage and that he would not compromise his pride for his heritage for a job.
In all, the group’s successful careers illustrated just how gifted they were within their diverse professions and how they handled difficult situations with amazing grace and wisdom.
Overall, in the nineties when we had many amazing Black sitcoms to enjoy (R.I.P. UPN), these underlying lessons on Black friendship, love, and wisdom made Living Single one of the rarest pearls amid them all.