On August 6 of this year, citizens of the world were blessed with the first collaboration between two of the world’s most prominent female rappers. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s new single “WAP” shook up the music world with its raunchy lyrics and hot shot release. Having debuted at #1 on Billboard's “Hot 100” chart, WAP is currently the most listened to song in the world.
Rocketed forward by its star-studded video, featuring the likes of Kylie Jenner and Normani, and its sex-forward perspective, WAP has made waves in pop culture that have enticed commentators from all sectors of U.S. influence to comment. Quickly after its debut, conservative commentators condemned the song as dangerous and a poor influence. James P. Bradley, a Republican House candidate for California’s 33rd District which includes portions of Los Angeles County including Palos Verdes and Bel Air, had a strong reaction on Twitter, saying “Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion are what happens when children are raised without God and without a strong father figure. Their new ‘song’ The #WAP (which I heard accidentally) made me want to pour holy water in my ears and I feel sorry for future girls if this is their role model!” Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro had similarly strong feelings, repeating the lyrics of the track on the Ben Shapiro Show, his daily political podcast and live radio show, while expressing his disdain and commenting “This is what feminists fought for…This is what the feminist movement was all about, and if you say anything differently it’s cause you’re a misogynist, see?”
While potentially their most absurd foray into politics, this is neither Cardi B nor Megan’s first entrance into the political realm. During the 2020 Democratic primary, Cardi B was a powerful celebrity endorser of Bernie Sanders. A Twitter interview featuring the two gained 22 million hits online, and helped Sanders gain attention during the Democratic Primary due to Cardi B’s significant public reputation. Perhaps the online conservative community, with its well-known disdain for Sanders’s democratic-socialist political alignment, was predisposed to dislike Cardi B because of this support. Megan Thee Stallion, a Houston-based rapper who has recently gained significant presence due to her bombastic personality and impressive rap prowess, is an outspoken advocate for women’s health. Megan is studying for a degree in health administration at Texas Southern University while simultaneously continuing to grow her significant star power, which she mentions in her first verse on WAP, with the line “Pay my tuition just to kiss me on this wet-a** pu**y.”
Unsurprisingly, Megan’s academic pursuits were not central to the conservative backlash to the song. Rather, Ben Shapiro chose to focus on his concern for women’s health, which he expressed on Twitter by saying “My only real concern is that the women involved…get the medical care they require. My doctor wife’s differential diagnosis: bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection, or trichomonis” (trichomonas is misspelled in the original tweet). Shapiro’s wife, Dr. Mor Shapiro, is a general family doctor whose claims have been discredited by gynecologists online. The internet was quick to entertain jokes surrounding Shapiro’s own sexual activity, given his own wife’s consideration of vaginal wetness as the symptom of an illness. Shapiro’s response to the song was quickly met with fervorous dissent online — specifically on Twitter — from Cardi B fans, liberals, and Cardi B herself.
With so much discussion surrounding the song’s release, one is led to ask the real question of the controversy: why are conservative commentators so quick to condemn a song centered on women’s sexuality? Shapiro’s negative views toward the song are centered on its sexually explicit lyrics, despite graphic lyrics and blatant sexuality being a standard in rap led by male artists. Eazy-E’s 1987 classic “Boyz in the Hood” features lyrics that explicitly condone violence against women, including “I grabbed the stupid b***h by her nappy-a** weave.” More recent releases by men are similarly sexual, but receive limited or no backlash from conservatives. I would recommend Shapiro listen to the sexually explicit “Still Be Friends” by G-Eazy, Tory Lanez, and Tyga which has earned 100 million Spotify streams or “Magnolia” by Playboi Carti, with 400 million streams. Clearly, conservative commentators do not expect men in rap to be “role models” for their communities as they do women. By simply praising their own sexual prowess, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion were met with an outcry of criticism that is unmatched in recent memory. When discussing sex in their music, male rap artists are often not met with the same criticism.
Looking outside of rap to other genres, popular music has pushed the envelope of sexual empowerment for many years. Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” skyrocketed her to legend status after her performance of the song at the 1984 MTV VMAs. Ariana Grande has made sex a fixture of her lyrics, notable in 2016 single “Side to Side.” While “WAP” may have lyrics that are more explicit than songs of similar popularity, the response from conservative commentators has been amplified because the artists behind the song are Black women. While I am far from a colonial scholar, it doesn’t take a PhD to recognize the essentialist, colonial roots of the sexualization that still affects the way Black women and women of color are perceived in culture today. By ignoring WAP’s artistry and the performers’ talent, conservative commentators have continued this colonial narrative of over-sexualization.
WAP’s rise to prominence in political circles brings up larger questions of what standards cultural critics maintain for “role models.” Senator Kamala Harris’s recent nomination to be the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee has reminded the American public of the unfair treatment of women in the public eye. Harris, a Black and South Asian woman, has been criticized in liberal and conservative circles for being “too ambitious” to be Vice President. Additionally, within twenty-four hours of her nomination, the President had already begun to spin lies regarding the citizenship of Senator Harris, beginning a racist birtherism conspiracy similar to the one the President gained notoriety for promulgating regarding then-Senator Barack Obama in 2008. The conservative discrediting of Senator Harris is no surprise given her identity, and the double standard of women in politics is well documented.
WAP and its performers have shown a division in the treatment of women between conservative and liberal circles, drawing attention to the model that Cardi and Megan are setting in the song. While there are two distinct perspectives on the song’s value, or lack thereof, both liberals and conservatives commented on the nature of the song as an influence to young women. Whether “empowering” or “dangerous,” the women behind the song are expected by commentators to set an example for their peers. The conversation around WAP, so often political, ignores the talent and expression of Cardi and Megan as artists. Whether Kamala Harris or Cardi B, women, and especially women of color, who choose to enter the public sphere are universally read as role models and their actions are considered in the context of their “community” rather than on an individual basis. WAP’s backlash is simply another example of this dangerous double standard, even if it is a comical one.
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