Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion's WAP should be celebrated, not scolded | Dream McClinton

The hit collaboration between the two rappers has become a belated song of the summer, empowering women and enraging prudes along the way

The release was highly anticipated.

Two rap powerhouses, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, had united to create a mysterious single, and the internet waited with bated breath. There was just a title, WAP, a pink background, and the two stars with their tongues out (a shared signature of sorts) appearing in shared high-teased updos and gold hoop earrings. Even with communal dance spaces essentially banned due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the collaboration between the two rappers was almost guaranteed to be a hit. Shortly before its release, Cardi admitted YouTube would not accept the more explicit cut of the song and even the “clean version” was almost too sexually explicit for radio, adding to building speculation of what the song might sound like.

With the famed Baltimore house producer and former Atlanta radio DJ Frank Ski’s voice booming in the background, the song reveals its content: it’s about sex. The video doesn’t conceal this, beginning with Cardi and Megan as fountain statues posed in a manner reminiscent of Lil Kim.

While the video’s audio tones down the sexual content – the pair rap “wet and gushy” rather than “wet ass pussy” – it doesn’t dismiss it either. The imagery is inherently carnal. With gold statues of a bust fountain and a butt mounted on the wall in a hallway, Cardi and Megan appear in matching coiffed updos and respective pink and yellow bodysuits with floor-length trains dragging behind them, as Cardi raps the opening lyrics of WAP: “Certified freak / Seven days a week / Wet and gushy / Made his pullout game weak.”

WAP, which has since dominated social media discourse and YouTube (76m views and counting), isn’t the first time Megan or Cardi have rapped about sex, even so explicitly. Fans have pointed out the song isn’t quite as risque as lyrics of late 90s and early 2000s rappers like Trina, Lil Kim, and Adina Howard – a sentiment partially shared by Cardi herself. Visually, the message is about sex, women enjoying sex, and women celebrating being sexy. Those who make an appearance are draped in latex. With cameos from singers Normani and Rosalia, rappers Mulatto, Rubi Rose and Sukihana who mimes the act of oral sex, the video is unapologetic in celebrating the sensuality and sexuality of women. It isn’t shy or coy, it’s about the loud articulation of female desire for sex, as they want it, and it centers them as active participants with agency.

Female response has largely been overwhelmingly positive since its premiere on 7 August. Christina Aguilera posted a photo of herself, saying the song “made her feel some type of way”. Halle Berry tweeted she went out to her car to enjoy the song, away from her children. Viola Davis retweeted a video of her How to Get Away with Murder character Annalise Keating dancing to the song and even reposted a photoshopped version of herself into the cameo of Kylie Jenner. Others like Remy Ma, Azealia Banks, Halsey and JoJo have all publicly voiced their support.

Still, the backlash was almost immediate. Scores of people took to the internet to defame the women for celebrating their genitalia and coital desires, in a manner not reserved for male rappers or singers. Republican pundits and politicians called it “disgusting and vile” and claimed it was “what happens when children are raised without God”. In a complaint about music that was “unfortunate and disappointing on a personal and moral level”, CeeLo Green (who once claimed sexual assault isn’t possible if a victim is unconscious) referred to the song as a plea for “attention”. T rightwing commentator Ben Shapiro went viral after reciting the lyrics, calling it “vulgar”. He would later tweet that his wife, a doctor, had diagnosed the rappers with a slew of vaginal issues, including yeast infections or trichomoniasis, as though arousal was foreign enough for her to treat it as a sexually transmitted infection.

Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion in the WAP video

Reminiscent of the slut-shaming of Janet Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl incident, the censure was laden with misogyny. Some of the criticism read as people thinking the lyrical content was absurd, as though a woman’s pleasure from sex was unheard of before WAP. This recoil didn’t happen in a vacuum: misogyny is laden in American society and shows no sign of abating. It is the same hypocrisy which excusesDonald Trump’s “Grab ’em by the pussy” comment, which implies non-consensual acts of sexual violence, while simultaneously condemning Cardi and Megan for publicly discussing their prowess and preferences. Megan used Twitter to address the double standard, chiding men who acted superciliously in response to WAP but previously hadn’t had a problem with songs by male musicians with sexual content, like Three 6 Mafia’s Slob on My Knob, a song about oral sex, tweeting: “Lol dudes will scream ‘slob on my knob’ word for word and crying abt WAP bye lil boy.” Cardi also addressed the reaction, calling the conservative backlash “KINDA ICONIC” and even mocked Shapiro’s a cappella lyric reading.

Similarly, the pair’s refusal to be shamed for liking and craving sex is, as Cardi puts it, “iconic”. Their refusal to discuss engaging in sexual intercourse with the sole intent to please men unseats the dehumanizing narrative which robs women of sexual agency. In WAP, they assert their inclination in a manner which prioritizes their enjoyment, not that of a man’s. In a world where sex work is increasingly becoming more equitably commodified by women, but where rape culture and patriarchy are still frighteningly dominant, there is something rebellious and subversive in women, especially oft-oversexualized black women, openly discussing enthusiasm and predilections for intercourse.

With all things considered, in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, an unmitigated economic disaster looming, and an upcoming presidential election with climate change hanging constantly in the background, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion enjoying sexual intercourse should be the least of concerns in the world. Let women enjoy arousal, consensual sex and the song WAP.


Dream McClinton

The GuardianTramp

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