Conservative white men certainly needed a bucket and a mop to wipe up their sweat marks as Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” discomforted and infuriated them last summer. Here came everything they feared: sexually liberated Black women shamelessly voicing their desires, making plentiful use of expletives and reclaimed racial language.
Against all odds, though, it shot straight to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, breaking all kinds of records along the way. To the right-wing naysayers, polite society had fallen.
What they couldn’t recognise, but fed right into, was the duality of comedy and politics that “WAP” continuously juggles. Let’s be honest – it’s hysterical. We don’t laugh at the expense of the artists themselves, whose retweets applauded their fans’ creativity; ‘I ain’t saw that coming,’ said Cardi of Niamh Adkin’s TikTok in which the Taylor Swift country hit You Belong With Me takes an unexpectedly lewd turn. Rather, we revere them as champions.
Bizarre as it is to entice a man with one’s metaphorical ‘macaroni in a pot’, it kicks patriarchal standards of objectification and feminine delicacy right where it hurts. Sex is freed from the chokehold of male power fantasy and reclaimed as something for both parties to enjoy, and why shouldn’t it be? Encouraging women to communicate what they like in the bedroom – if anything at all – is a healthy practice. Reframing intercourse as a playful, no-pressure pastime can’t hurt, either.
Still, the same age-old gripes about decency and appropriateness that plague this industry have reared their ugly heads. Republican James P. Bradley wailed that he ‘feel[s] sorry for future girls if this is their role model’; talk show host Tucker Carlson insisted that ‘the people pushing [WAP] clearly are trying to hurt your children’. Why, I wonder, does it always come back to the kids? Nicki Minaj faced similar reactions for her smash hit “Anaconda” back in 2014. Even that was ‘worse for young girls’ morals than Madonna ever was’, according to National Review.
Never mind that Cardi B herself has been filmed silencing “WAP” the moment her two-year-old daughter is in earshot: she becomes, to the prudish, a ‘bad influence’. The ‘think of the children!’ complaint is a relentless excuse to shame female artists, especially Black female artists, into conforming to antiquated ideals of modesty and motherhood, and I’m left wondering why nobody ever apologised for raising my generation on overtly objectifying songs performed by men. From Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” to Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” I grew up inundated with shameless, largely uncensored lechery – where was the outrage then?
Oddly, even Snoop Dogg weighed in on the matter by demanding that the women ‘have some imagination’, as if he hasn’t resorted to Just Eat advertisements to stay relevant. Yet the part that makes my skin crawl is his statement that intimacy ‘should be a woman’s prized possession’, their ‘jewel of the Nile’. Masculine conquests for the ‘prize’ of sexual pleasure creates the illusion that women are to be plundered, solely for male satisfaction. Such thinking endangers us everywhere, every day, and its repeated weaponization against Cardi and Megan speaks volumes. Female bodies are allowed to be sexualised (and thank you, Snoop, for your permission), but only at our expense.
Thankfully, these voices have been drowned out by public favour. Sampling right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro’s scathing repeat of “WAP’s” lyrics, social media musician Grandayy has garnered over three million views on YouTube, as of today, with “Ben Shapiro Sings WAP”. ‘You effin’ with some wet-ass p-word,’ comes his nasal delivery over that iconic bass beat. In mocking how pathetic he sounds, the meme swiftly deflated his oppressive intent, and it was far from the only one to do so. Though it’s not the most righteous display of feminist glory, it’s in the spirit of this hilariously empowering hit. Perhaps in times like these, where the misery of a bleak, locked-down world becomes overwhelming, comedy is the strongest weapon we have.