What is "whip appeal"? It's that way of talking that's "better than words."
One of the great bedroom burners of the era, this song tells the story of a couple who don't do a lot of talking, but have a very healthy sexual relationship - they can get through a rough day knowing what's to come at night.
Babyface didn't invent the phrase "whip appeal," but he certainly popularized it. The song makes the meaning very obvious, but a glance at the title led many to believe it was either about S&M or a guy who is "whipped," meaning he's henpecked by his woman.
Perri Smith, better known as the singer Pebbles, wrote this song with Babyface, who produced it with L.A. Reid, his musical and business partner. Pebbles and Reid were a couple, and they got married around the time the album came out.
L.A. and Babyface worked on the first (self-titled) Pebbles album and wrote her breakout hit, "Girlfriend." It was her song "Mercedes Boy" that got her a deal with the label, and she wrote that one herself. Bringing a female perspective to the table, she also co-wrote the title track to Tender Lover. Her writing credit has appeared as "Perri Smith," "Perri Reid" and her birth name, "Perri McKissack."
The album version runs a relaxed 5:49, but the single was edited down to 4:31, with less "whippin' on me."
The video was directed by Jim Yukich, who did many of the Phil Collins and Genesis videos that were very popular on MTV. The "Whip Appeal" video is extended, with an opening scene where we hear a DJ talking down another Babyface track, "It's No Crime," and going into a rap about the sweltering heat and the poor folks stuck in traffic. He then throws to a live broadcast, where Holly Robinson introduces "Babyface and the L.A. Revue." We then see Babyface and his backup dancers perform the song in a lavish nightclub.
At the time, Robinson was starring in the TV series 21 Jump Street alongside Johnny Depp. She would later marry the football player Rodney Peete.
When asked about the song title, Babyface told Entertainment Weekly in 2015: "I heard that phrase and I said, 'Oh, I need to write that!' Sometimes you can hear words but there's no way you can sing it or make it feel good. People were like, 'What is 'whip appeal'?' Fortunately the song explained it. I didn't know it was going to turn into what it turned into. It feels like an even more special record now."