History has been made. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s latest release, “WAP,” has crushed the previous record for the most streams by a song in its first week after launch. For the week ending August 13, WAP garnered 93 million streams in the USA alone. In addition to claiming the #1 spot on Billboard’s Top 100—where it remains at this writing—WAP has also reached the number 1 spot in 15 foreign markets, including the UK, Finland, and Kenya. According to the Wall Street Journal, the new record is “a historic sign that women artists are making their mark.”
Record-breaking #1 hit songs can be a clue to the direction of contemporary culture. What is WAP telling us?
The song is a hip-hop hymn to sex, and its lyrics overflow with profanity. Its worship is dedicated not to love but to physical mechanism: vaginal lubrication (the reference of the song’s title), Kegel exercises, and orgasm. In the unlikely event that you don’t understand what the lyrics are about, the video is explicit, with sculptures of bare buttocks, and breasts spurting liquid, while half-nude women gyrate suggestively.
The reaction from female critics has been generally positive, often swooning. According to Rhea Cartwright of PopSugar.com, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion are “spearheading a new wave of female empowerment.” Brittney McNamara of Teen Vogue wrote that “women everywhere rejoiced in the glory — and overt sexuality — of the song.” Sharine Taylor, a writer for Bitch Media and editor of BASHY Magazine, praised the song on the grounds that it “it promotes women articulating sexual agency, prowess, desires, demands and autonomy.” Taylor’s comment has earned more than 112,000 ?’s on Twitter. The New York Times called the song “a paean to female sexual desire.” A reviewer for the Times wrote that she was “thrilled” by the song’s “homage to female sexuality and vaginal, shall we say, lubrication.”
From one perspective, there is nothing particularly new in WAP’s lyrics or music video. Seven years ago, Lady Gaga crooned “You can’t have my heart . . .but do what you want with my body.” Gaga’s accompanying album art showed a woman, prone, her face not seen, her buttocks bare. Two years ago, Bruno Mars earned the Grammy for Song of the Year for “That’s What I Like,” in which he offers a woman money for sex, telling her that she can “take my wallet” if she will just “turn around and drop it” because “that’s what I like.” Yes, the same Grammy that was awarded in years past to Simon and Garfunkel for “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Eric Clapton for “Tears in Heaven,” and Adele for “Rolling in the Deep” was awarded to Bruno Mars & Co for a song celebrating sexual harassment. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion are just taking the next step on the coarse road laid out for them by Bruno Mars, Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, Akon, 50 Cent, Eminem, and countless others.
Well, what’s wrong with that? Every older generation complains about the music of the younger generation. When I was a child back in the 1960s and 1970s, I remember the grown-ups grumbling about the “noise” of rock and roll, about the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Parents back then asked, Why can’t kids today listen to Frank Sinatra and Doris Day, like we did when we were their age?
Going a few generations further back, when Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps was first performed, at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in May 1913—when Stravinsky himself was just thirty years old—there was a riot in the theater. The mostly older, mostly affluent Parisians who were in attendance were offended by the dissonant music and by Nijinsky’s choreography, which was denounced as obscene and barbaric.
I judge Cardi B’s WAP lyrics and video to be obscene and barbaric. Am I just an old man who can’t understand the art of a younger generation?