On March 14, rapper Cardi B performed her hit collaboration with Megan Thee Stallion, “WAP,” to a national audience at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards. Their controversial performance consisted of Cardi B twerking, pole dancing and engaging with Megan Thee Stallion on an oversized bed in an intimate dance that closely resembled sexual intercourse.
The song has been promoted as a feminist anthem, flaunting the sexual confidence, independence and dominance of two of music’s most influential women today.
In reality, hypersexualization and self-objectification are being sold to women with the veneer of feminism.
Many have seen the pair’s award show performance, and the media has hailed it as an exhilarating exercise of female sexuality and empowerment. Recent evidence of the enduring relevance of “WAP” in the public eye was when a U.S. representative took to the House floor to air complaints he had received since the performance aired.
With renewed media attention, “WAP” and Cardi B continue to be heralded as a triumph against the patriarchal misogynists.
However, the lyrics of “WAP” celebrate the degradation of women in transactional relationships. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion brag about their vaginal lubrication as an indicator of their sexual prowess, which they use to acquire jewelry, cars and tuition from rich men.
They seemingly dictate the power dynamic by defining the relationship as materialistic and superficial. Nonetheless, this comes with tacit understanding that this is in exchange for the men’s sexual gratification.
A woman is not protesting and resisting male objectification by giving them the pleasure they want.
In the past, women were forced into the male gaze, but now women are praised for turning themselves into sexual objects as a sign of female autonomy and expression. And men will happily consume and glorify this behavior while they’ll view women as nothing more than what they can offer sexually.
“WAP” tries to combat this by undermining the gender stereotype of the submissive, powerless housewife and seeks to return agency to women by showing how they can control their bodies, the bedroom and men. But this degrades women in another way — by assigning sexual performance and service to men as their only virtue.
Its attempt at subversion through vulgar, pornographic lyrics only achieves shock value and the voyeuristic excitement of men. And the Grammy’s performance is merely exhibitionist behavior that displays naked female bodies for public consumption.
The only boundaries being pushed are the ones of controversy, for the sake of generating more attention for the song.
The song lyrics also package acts of sexual degradation into its message as well. Spitting, handcuffs, leashes and wearing wigs to appear as someone else to invoke the fantasy of cheating are par for the course in Megan and Cardi’s definition of sexual freedom.
While consenting adults are certainly free to do what they please behind closed doors, articles such as those in The New York Times treat the song in its entierty as a feminist zeitgeist and representative of real sexual confidence. People may get the idea they have to emulate the braggadocious and audaciously sexual personas the rappers take on in the most literal sense to feel truly empowered. But sex is not a one-size-fits-all.
Everyone is entitled to sexual autonomy and self-expression, but the people behind “WAP” are marketing the song as something it’s not.
Nevertheless, critics claim backlash for the song and its Grammy performance only exists because it’s Black women doing it. They invoke the double standard of men being able to sing about sex while women are demonized for it.
Sexual exploitation of women in hip-hop, an overwhelmingly male industry, is prevalent, and it’s been normalized because the media doesn’t make this an issue.
“WAP” can be interpreted as a challenge to and subversion of genre convention, thus reclaiming the narrative of femininity. Though by sexualizing themselves, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion only continue to perpetuate female sexualization in music.
By making eroticism the only dimension of female identity, “WAP” illustrates that contemporary reclamation of female sexuality is really just changing who does the degrading.
Still, examples of mainstream pop artists being denounced for objectifying women can be found. In 2013, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” music video was widely attacked for portraying women as passive sex objects.
Cardi B acknowledges “WAP” is too much for her two-year-old daughter when she abruptly stopped dancing to her song on Instagram Live to turn it off so her daughter wouldn’t hear it.
This begs the question of at what age will her daughter be ready to listen to her mother’s song? Once Kulture turns 18, will Cardi B pull out a dusty old vinyl of “WAP” and use it as an audio guide for her daughter’s emerging sexuality?
In a response on Twitter, Cardi B defended herself by saying that she “[makes] music for adults,” not children, and parents are responsible for their own children. This contrasts what she said in an Instagram video in 2017 in which she expressed her awareness that young girls looked up to her, which made her aspire to be a better role model.
Cardi B is right that parents are ultimately responsible for what their young children see and hear, but she also understands and is proud that she’s in a position to empower young women. However, when she’s called out for failing to live up to this, she deflects criticism, loading responsibility back to parents and society.
And the mainstream media participates in this as they continue to shill on her behalf, defending her as a boss girl dishing savage clapbacks at all her pearl-clutching haters.
Yet as of now, Cardi B demeans what it means to be a woman, and we should not elevate her as a cultural heroine. Cardi B should do more than just inspire girls to take off their clothes. Women are more than that.