Back On The Pony: Why We Can’t Get Enough Of Magic Mike

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Two blockbuster films and another on the way, sell-out musicals in Las Vegas, Germany, Australia and London, plus an HBO Max reality show, Finding Magic Mike, currently streaming in the US… It's fair to say that Magic Mike has caused something of a cultural shift since its release in 2012. 
Based on his experiences as a young stripper in Tampa, Florida, the first Magic Mike film follows Channing Tatum (Mike) as he inducts Adam (Alex Pettyfer) into working alongside him at the Xquisite strip club. Run by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), the troupe really does have a man for every taste: "white chocolate" Mike, "virgin" Adam, penis-pumping Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), clean-cut Ken (Matt Bomer), spicy Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and, finally, Tarzan (Kevin Nash), for the ladies looking for a little extra rough. Hey, there’s no judgement – we're in a safe space here.
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A compelling storyline, authentic script and genuinely laugh-out-loud moments where the characters lean earnestly into their craft help to make Magic Mike cool rather than cringe.

Most of the cast returned for a road trip to the Myrtle Beach stripping convention in Magic Mike XXL, with the addition of actual Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) and American football player-turned-TV host Michael Strahan.
Now, a long six years after the last instalment, Magic Mike’s Last Dance has been announced – a title that implies the end of seeing Channing grind to Ginuwine’s "Pony" for the foreseeable future. And with murmurs of a certain Thandiwe Newton joining the cast, the hype is real. Replies to Channing’s announcement range from excited to thirsty AF, with one woman in her 60s pledging to see the film for "the art of dancing". Sure. I, on the other hand, am happy to admit I’ll be watching for the pure fantasy of being thrown around by a strong, sinewy man who seems to have lost his clothes somewhere along the way. 
Photo by Moviestore/Shutterstock
Since 2012 the franchise has grown into a behemoth, landing at cultish status in 2021. Aside from handsome, sweaty men thrusting and grinding all over the stage, what is it about Magic Mike that keeps us coming back for more (and more, and more)? 
Magic Mike is not the film many people first thought it might be. The story about male strippers could have ended up feeling cheesy or camp, much like Brit flick The Full Monty. Instead, the film has grit. Inspired by Channing’s own experiences as a cash-strapped teen in Tampa and directed by Academy Award-winner Steven Soderbergh (the man behind Ocean's Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen, Contagion and Solaris), Magic Mike is a story about a college dropout searching for focus and a hardworking hustler looking to fund his dreams (of building a custom furniture company, of course). There’s drink, drugs and debauchery but Magic Mike doesn’t shy away from the problems that come with the excessive and dangerous lifestyle.
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Initially sold as a stripping rom-com, early trailers did not do justice to the depth and heart in Magic Mike, instead focusing on Mike’s interest in Adam’s sister, Brooke (Cody Horn). That relationship takes a back seat to Mike’s promise to look out for Adam and the tumultuous relationships with his fellow dancers. There’s less stripping than you might expect – just 19 of the movie's 110 minutes, although it’s safe to say every single second counts. Even the extras got caught up in the action, ripping Matthew McConaughey’s G-string in one memorable scene. Ever the professional, Matthew worked it into his performance, despite it not being in the script.
All of this, plus a compelling storyline, authentic script and genuinely laugh-out-loud moments where the characters lean earnestly into their craft help to make Magic Mike cool rather than cringe. Then there’s that soundtrack… Has consent ever sounded as sexy as Ro James’ slow jam "Permission"? Will we ever hear 50 Cent’s "Candy Shop" without thinking about Tito licking chocolate off our thighs? It goes without saying that "Pony" has become synonymous with Magic Mike, despite not making it onto the official soundtrack. The film’s release sparked a sharp increase in downloads of the track before Jenna Dewan recreated her then-husband’s iconic Magic Mike XXL performance on Lip Sync Battle in 2016.
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These shows are a safe space for women to laugh, scream and even be aroused, and while some women feel liberated knowing that the excitement ends when the show is over, others enjoy being in a public space with no likelihood of violence or any unwanted behaviour.

Lucy Beresford
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in 2015, Ginuwine said: "[Channing's] made me stay out there. He’s allowed people to continue to know who I am. I’m grateful for that … I wrote the song in 1993. It came out in 1996. To see it sustain this amount of power for so long, it's a great thing."
This whole backstory elevates the Magic Mike franchise above the likes of the Chippendales or Dreamboys, whose history feels slightly hollow in comparison. It’s also the reason people will shell out up to £129 a ticket to see Magic Mike Live at the Hippodrome Casino in London, to buy into the – ahem – magic.
Having had the pure pleasure of watching Magic Mike Live myself, I expected naked men, crotches thrust in my face and screaming women. While all of those wishes were fulfilled (and then some), what I didn’t expect was how feminist and inclusive the show would be. The show follows Michelangelo, a waiter plucked from service and shown how to perform for the crowd’s pleasure, with a little help from female MC Sophie Linder-Lee.
Photo by Claudette Barius/Warner Brothers/Kobal/Shutterstock
Magic Mike Live describes itself as "a place where women can feel what it’s like to exist in a world where their desires are heard and they are treated like goddesses." It's a thread pulled through from Magic Mike XXL, Rome’s empowering strip club (hello, Jada Pinkett Smith) and Ken’s holistic healing serenades – soothing and sexy. The second film sees a more diverse cast of women treated to performances from Mike and his band of merry men, while Donald Glover’s character has one clear message: all women deserve to feel appreciated. 
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Without spoilers, Magic Mike Live is 90 minutes of pure escapism in a safe space with a man for every taste, where the cast is guaranteed to be attracted to you and invading your personal space is very much welcomed. As Mike tells Adam in the first film, these women "came here tonight to be bothered". That’s why the show’s FAQs advise wearing trousers to maximise the chances of one-on-one contact.

The joy of people knowing that they're sexual beings is important after nearly two years of negativity – it's good to be reminded to prioritise our essential sexual needs.

LUCY BERESFORD
"So much around sex happens in our head," explains psychotherapist, relationships expert and broadcaster Lucy Beresford. "Women like to be aroused mentally as well as visually, so a show that offers plenty of opportunities to imagine things, as well as see real bodies, is the perfect combination. These shows are a safe space for women to laugh, scream and even be aroused, and while some women feel liberated knowing that the excitement ends when the show is over, others enjoy being in a public space with no likelihood of violence or any unwanted behaviour."
As for why we’re so excited for Magic Mike’s Last Dance? According to Lucy, it’s all about timing. "There is a real hunger for escapism at the moment, and possibly an idea of look-don’t-touch, too. The joy of people knowing that they’re sexual beings is important after nearly two years of negativity – it’s good to be reminded to prioritise our essential sexual needs."
Alright alright alright, I think it’s time for a rewatch...

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