Why the chart-topper shouldn’t just be dismissed as vulgar nonsense and why it may point to a true feminist hit.
The release of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s new single WAP was accompanied by the internet’s equivalent of a pitchfork-bearing crowd. Conservative activists were quick to call the song out for its overtly sexual tone, accompanied by scandalous lyrical content. One politician claimed he needed to wash his ears out with holy water after insisting he “accidentally” heard the song (sure, pal). However, there has also been major support of the song due to its celebration of female sexuality and bodily autonomy. It is not the first time a song about the female sexual experience has made it to the charts, looking to women like Rihanna and Madonna. Acknowledging this, it may be time to think about the agency women hold in music and whether it has become a more accommodating environment for rappers like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion.
Will this song act as a shift in culture, where women can openly sing about their sexuality and have the same freedom as their male counterparts? I believe a comparison that might facilitate an answer involves Miley Cyrus’ infamous VMA performance; may I refresh your memory with the somewhat disorientating 2013 visual of a foam finger and strained tongue? At the time, it was something so outrageous to both the media and the public, conservative and otherwise. Yet, I would put it to you that this event, had it taken place in 2020, would not have been so controversial. There have certainly been other influences of this change, the VMA’s being only one of them. Women have managed to openly express themselves in recent years, despite backlash, and each time it goes further to empower women in the future; the way mainstream culture has evolved gives a better platform for women’s agency despite whatever criticism it may be met with. The mere existence and additional success of WAP in the charts (both Cardi and Megan’s first UK No. 1) exhibits that the response has been largely positive. Does this indicate women in the future may be able to truly express themselves to a willing audience?
Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s vocalisation of their enjoyment of sex and the empowerment which comes from the experience has been celebrated by some and vilified by others. Despite the fact that if this song did not exist, women would still be having and enjoying sex; the outrage only comes from pointing it out. It is a powerful example of female bodily autonomy in music simply because it was written by and performed by women. There is no sure way to police what is worthy of being deemed female empowerment, but WAP fits the criteria because it is female-made. The female experience has been confined in music to small circles and has very rarely made it to the mainstream in the way that WAP has achieved. This is yet another reason for outrage, as conservative activists feel they have been blind-sighted by something simply because it isn’t already in their line of vision.
It wouldn’t be possible to write this article without mentioning the somewhat interesting cover by Scotland’s former favourite rock trio, Biffy Clyro (I say former because they will never recover from the decision to replace “pussy” with “Biffy”.) A noteworthy point on the reception of this cover is the overwhelming defence that it should be taken as a joke. This is majorly irksome for two reasons, the first being that an all-male band took a song which sexually empowers women and made it something to laugh about. Secondly, their ability to strip the song of everything that makes it about women and belittle its power by changing lyrics to reference their own band shows unapologetic ignorance. Not to mention it was just spectacularly bad. Looking at the conservative response to the song, it is clear to see that it has been assigned to a brand of coarseness and vulgarity which doesn’t seem to plague male rappers. Singing about female parts and women’s role in sex has seemingly been reserved for male musicians who regularly get off scot-free. An additional outrage often seeming to plague female musicians and, arguably more so, female rappers, is the outrage that they are not being good role models. Something that they are automatically assigned, without question. Morality only seems to be of concern when its women, otherwise male musicians like Chris Brown and Tekashi 6ix9ine would no longer be embraced in the music industry. The double standard for women in music has never been more apparent: women are only to be the subject of desire, never the commentator. This is why WAP is so important for women as a representation of female agency - one that is driven by women who are unapologetic for their lives and the way they live them.