Megan Thee Stallion review – a landmark performance

One month after being shot, the hottest new voice in hip-hop delivers a funny and filthy livestream marred only by the absence of a crowd

One month on from suffering gunshot wounds to her feet, rapper du jour Megan Thee Stallion strides on to a stage in heels. Lit by searchlights, strafed by guitar riffs, she stands in front of a giant rendition of her own name, licked by CGI fire.

“Hot girl summer is not cancelled!” she declares a little later, referring to her hit 2019 single and TikTok meme. Throughout the next hour, the statuesque rapper’s dancers handle most of the movement; Thee Stallion strides around meaningfully. It’s not clear where this pay-per-view live stream is coming from – Tampa, Florida, reckons her UK PR – but it is a landmark performance personally and culturally.

Few musicians can claim to have had a good 2020 but Megan Thee Stallion’s has been spectacular – and spectacularly awful. Not merely the hottest new female rapper, but arguably the most high-profile new voice in hip-hop in recent times, she now has two US No 1 songs to her name – last year’s impossible-to-avoid Savage (specifically, the remix, which co-starred fellow Texan Beyoncé) and the more recent outing, WAP, a Cardi B collaboration that was released a month ago.

Probably the most talked-about tune of 2020, WAP – it stands for “wet ass pussy” – piles graphic detail on to scenes of an adult nature. The smut, though, comes liberally sprinkled with absurdist gags. “Bring a bucket and a mop for this wet-ass pussy”, it goes, “macaroni in a pot, that’s some wet-ass pussy”.

Throughout, Megan and Cardi foreground their own pleasure and agency. “I tell him where to put it, never tell him where I’m ’bout to be, huh!” is a typical Thee Stallion line.

WAP – premiered live tonight – also enabled Megan Thee Stallion to reclaim her own narrative. In July, she had surgery to remove bullets from her feet, wounds she claimed were allegedly inflicted by Canadian rapper Tory Lanez.

Social media was not universally supportive of a young woman hospitalised by her date. The problem of “misogynoir” – an intersectional nadir where women of colour are denied sympathy by the wider hip-hop community – reared its head, as it did when Chris Brown violently assaulted Rihanna in 2009.

This gig, weird as it is, is Megan Thee Stallion’s “first day back” after all that – a Live Nation-produced, Tidal-delivered, $15 outing, creative-directed by Beyoncé’s choreographer JaQuel Knight (Single Ladies, Formation). Since the pandemic took hold, huge artists such as BTS and smaller artists such as Waxahatchee have livestreamed profitably; few rappers have followed suit, so this feels like an industry-wide experiment. Rolling Stone reports that Waxahatchee “made enough money in a few livestreamed shows to make up for losses from [her] axed tours”.

Watch the video for WAP.

Whatever the maths, Megan Thee Stallion delivers a cross-section of her lubricious bops and a smattering of guest verses with vehemence, a few nerves and a sense of momentum resumed.

The online placelessness of this set is just one surreal detail. The silence that meets every song is another. Simon Says, a track from her 2019 mixtape Fever, in which the erstwhile healthcare administration student barks sex talk like an army drill sergeant (“left, right, left-right-left!”), doesn’t end with screaming, but dead air.

Freak Nasty, a bouncy cut from her 2018 Tina Snow EP, in which Thee Stallion criticises a man’s sloppy cunnilingual technique, doesn’t end lit by phones, but with darkness. There are teething troubles – you hear a stage manager muttering “watch your back!” – but these only accentuate the strange one-remove of a glamorous party where everyone seems to be in hiding.

A third of the way through the set, there is an abrupt shift to remember those black lives lost to police brutality and white supremacists. “This is exhausting”, reads the backdrop. “Why is it so hard being black in America?”

If the viewer suffers a sense of dislocation here – how a Megan Thee Stallion gig can go from funny, filthy raps about penises (Captain Hook), to racist killings, and then back to more raps about penises (Hot Girl Summer) – it’s a useful reminder, perhaps, how the reality of racism intrudes into the everyday with tyre-screeching suddenness.

And although Megan Thee Stallion’s raps glory in pleasure, her public profile has been of a survivor of pain even before the incident in July. In 2019, the woman born Megan Pete lost both the mother who raised her and her great-grandmother; she also overcame legal problems with her former label. That fuelled the everywoman appeal of Savage, her monster hit, a song that let women be “savage” and “classy”, “bougie” (bourgeois) and “ratchet” (ghetto).

It remains an anthem here, even without anyone else to sing it. Towards the end, tiny cheers erupt from the one or two people in the room. It amplifies the pathos of a visceral artist throwing her squishy, lurid wordplay and sweltering cultural relevance into what feels like a void – but isn’t.

And what of WAP? It ends not with a bang, exactly, but more of a muffled thud, as Megan Thee Stallion’s greased flow comes to a halt to gunshot effects and the sound of glass shattering. There is a beat of silence. Then the rapper adds her trademark, tongue-out, hot-girl “blah!” almost as an afterthought.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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