MM – “WAP” & sexually explicit music

Reading advisory – sexually explicit content

It has now been ten days since the new Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion collaboration hit streaming platforms, and people sure aren’t done talking about it. On today’s installment of Miscellaneous Monday, I’ll be attempting to express my own perspective and observations regards the “WAP” (“Wet-Ass Pussy”) discourse, along with what I think the song could mean within the realm of future sexually explicit music.

If you’ve yet to hear this song, please take a listen. You really need to hear it in order to understand what I’m talking about in the rest of this post:

So, first of all, pretty explicit. Cardi has never shied away from that, but I do think “WAP” is her most sexually explicit song to date. Granted, I don’t know her discography that well, but unlike many of her other songs, people are really torn on this one.

Many claim the song is raunchy, inappropriate, and should even be censored. Others hold it up as an example of female sexual pleasure finally getting the spotlight.

On the claims of the former group, I agree on the first point alone – it’s raunchy alright. Personally, the lyrical content is not my cup of tea, but I’m certainly not going to shame anyone who enjoys that subject matter in their music.

Especially not when equally raunchy examples haven’t gotten a peep out of the type of people who have criticized this song (among those who publicly condemned “WAP” are two American congressional candidates and popular political commentator Ben Shapiro) when they’ve come from the mouths of men.

Yeah, I’m calling it out – part of the hate for “WAP” is attributable to sexism.

Before anybody gets all up in arms at me about “getting political”, please consider:
1) Art is always going to polarize and be political. If you can’t take that, you might as well stop reading now. It’s not my purpose on this blog to focus solely on the politics surrounding music, but I am also not going to go out of my way to ignore them.
2) I’m not a Cardi B fan at all. In her personal life, she’s been accused of doing some questionable things, and I personally find her really obnoxious. Musically, in my opinion, her voice is abrasive and her songwriting is mediocre at best. I find myself remembering the samples she’s used more than any of her actual lyrics.

As for Megan Thee Stallion, I don’t know enough of her music to form a well-rounded opinion, but from what I’ve heard, I have no interest in hearing any more. It’s in the same vein as Cardi, and that’s basically enough to turn me away.

Bottom line, I’m pretty much the last person who’d want to jump to Cardi B’s and to this song’s defense, unless I thought hate towards her and it were truly undeserved.

And I do, at least in part. Like I said, “WAP” is raunchy, and while it’s definitely inappropriate for children (who, by that standard, probably shouldn’t be listening to a lot of Cardi B’s songs anyway), there’s clearly been a subversion of the reasoning behind the reaction to this song, which has led to the calls for its censorship.

Charged subject matter like this has been widely accepted and embraced with the rise in mainstream popularity of hip-hop, which has a tradition of being explicit.

To be clear, I don’t mean that all hip-hop is explicit, sexual, or inappropriate for kids. However, it would be misleading to fail to acknowledge that hip-hop has been less shy than other genres of music when it comes to expressing touchy lyrical content.

In my opinion, that’s awesome. Hip-hop artists are focused on the message they’re trying to send and they often put out brave, highly controversial art.

The subversion I’m talking about is anchored in sexism. While every day male sexual prowess and enjoyment are celebrated in mainstream music, these same things are deemed worthy of shame, or at least repression when they are told from the female perspective. Female sexual dominance and pleasure are topics that through years of patriarchal rule, have been shoved below the surface.

As we are still undoing that tradition of censoring female sexuality, it follows that we’re less fazed by a song that talks about a guy getting his dick sucked than we are about a woman getting her pussy eaten. That’s not any one person’s fault, either – this shit is anchored deep within our society. We’re less used to hearing about female sexuality, so it’s more jarring to hear about, especially in the highly explicit style of “WAP”.

It might make us uncomfortable to hear about it, but here’s the thing – the discomfort with certain subject matter in music (or in anything) should not automatically lead to condemnation or calls for censorship. It is important to ask ourselves exactly what we mean by “inappropriate” – because clearly modern music has decided that fairly graphic lyrics about sex don’t fall under this label.

If you want to have the conversation that sexually explicit music should indeed be censored in certain settings, I’m all ears. It’s a valid concern not to want your child to run into something like “WAP” while they’re browsing YouTube (if kids even do that anymore – wow, that makes me feel old) or have them asking you “‘wet’ what, mom, what’s she saying?” when they’re listening to the “clean” version.

However, I think there is a good dose of sexism masquerading under this pretext. The idea of women not only proclaiming, but profiting from discussing their sexuality is what makes people uncomfortable – not sex in general. Or, more precisely, sex when told through a male perspective in music. We know this, because songs just as explicit as “WAP” regularly gain great notoriety without all the controversy.

And that, my friends, is what we call a double standard. We’ve deemed something acceptable, but only when it comes from the voices of certain types of people.

Before I move on to talk about “WAP” itself and what I think it could mean for sexually explicit music in the future, I want to acknowledge something else. Not only is it relevant that some hate for the song is attributable to sexism, but it’s also important to note that some of it is due to racism as well (both Cardi and Megan are black).

I don’t feel qualified to talk about this topic, but I highly recommend this article by Candace McDuffie, a journalist who writes about the intersection of race and gender in entertainment from her perspective as a black woman. There is lots of other fascinating discourse about this everywhere – please look into it.

Now, onto the track itself. Like I said, I’m no Cardi B fan, but her flow is strong on this song, especially in the verses. My favourite part is probably Megan’s first verse – she sounds awesome throughout, but especially then. The bass and beat are simple but effective, and the sample fits the song really nicely. The lyrics aren’t my thing, but they’re certainly not the worst that Cardi’s ever written.

As many haters as “WAP” has gathered in its short time in existence, it’s also garnered a huge number of fans. I’ve noticed lots of love for it on Twitter and YouTube especially. Better yet, like I’ve said, it’s sparked plenty of great social discourse. People are realizing that a lot of the hate from this song comes not from a place of genuine artistic preference, but rather from its nature as an explicit song about female sexuality in an industry dominated by music about the far more familiar topic of male sexuality.

I’m not saying you can’t dislike the song, or that you’re inherently sexist for not liking it. You’re allowed to not want to hear about Cardi B’s wet-ass pussy, I promise.

All I’m saying is that it’s important to consider where the instinct to censor and demonize hails from, because as I’d like to think I’ve explained well enough in this post, it often comes from a place of discomfort with the breaching of well-established norms.

Which, in my books, is never a good reason to censor art.

So, what could “WAP” mean for the future of explicit music? Personally, while it’s still maybe too early to tell, I think the song’s immediate impact and success could mean even more hip-hop anthems about female sexuality that don’t try to make themselves palatable are on the way. Many people have proven that while they can listen to something like DaBaby’s “NASTY” all day long, they can’t take it when women are doing the sexual storytelling. However, many others have embraced this relatively fresh, female-dominated take on sexually explicit music and are ready for more.

I don’t say this to imply that Cardi B is the first artist to do something like this; examples of people like cupcakKe, Lil Kim, and Khia come to mind. Without them to come before, “WAP” probably wouldn’t have made it outside the writer’s room.

Part of me also wonders if this will give an extra dose of fire to the debate regarding the huge prevalence of sexually explicit music in general. Maybe it’ll make people reconsider how palatable all of this music is to them, regardless of the sex of its author. I think that given the reaction to “WAP” that we’ve seen so far, however, that’s a bit optimistic for those who might hope to see a change in just how prominent these themes are in accessible, mainstream hip-hop songs.

Personally, I don’t really care because this isn’t my lyrical content or music genre of choice. I do, however, love seeing art that causes great discussion and I am very much against calls to censor it, particularly when the discussion surrounding it is in my opinion valuable and transferable to other aspects of life and society.

The double standard I called out in this post regarding the “WAP” discourse within the realm of sexually explicit music is a point that I think can definitely be informative to the ways outside of music and art in which certain (sexist) thinking continues to prevail today. If anything, “WAP” has reminded us of the work we still have left to accomplish in order to eliminate double standards in the music industry.

— H

Published by mcharlow

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