When WAP, the sexually explicit and lewd musical collaboration between American rappers Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, was released in August last year, social media erupted into a war of criticism versus adulation.
Many branded both the song and the accompanying quasi-pornographic video as a step too far by the twentysomething duo who have, individually, made multi-million-dollar fortunes from marketing a very particular kind of provocative, hyper-sexualised rap music.
Others rallied to their defence, painting them as beacons of female liberation who were challenging the stigma attached to women talking about their sexual pleasure.
WAP went to No. 1 and was acclaimed as the best song of 2020 by Rolling Stone magazine, with 732.7 million on-demand streams.
When WAP, the sexually explicit and lewd musical collaboration between American rappers Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, was released in August last year, social media erupted into a war of criticism versus adulation
Then, earlier this year, a live video on Instagram emerged of Cardi B dancing along to a recording of the song — that is, until she realised her little girl had toddled into view. At that point the singer scrambled frantically to turn off the music.
Cardi B, it seems, is decidedly uncomfortable with her daughter being exposed to the graphic song lyrics, even though, at just two years of age, the child would have had no understanding of them.
Again social media erupted, with many pointing out the contradictory behaviour of the star. Hypocrisy was one of the milder accusations levelled against her.
Not that Cardi B saw it that way. Responding to the resounding criticism in a series of tweets, she retorted angrily that what she had done was little more than ‘common sense’.
After all, strippers and others who ‘twerk all night’ for entertainment don’t perform around their children, and neither did she.
Besides, she emphasised, she made music for adults, not kids.
Of course, women should be confident in their sexuality, but when sex is commercialised in such a brazen way it can have detrimental effects on the health of society. Pictured: Miley Cyrus
It’s an argument of sorts — except I don’t fully accept it. As Cardi B knows only too well, hundreds of thousands of ‘kids’ and impressionable young people listen to her music worldwide. She and a legion of other stars, male and female, have made their names, and a lot of money, propagating sexually aggressive content that often not only normalises the objectification of women but attempts to repackage it in the name of ’empowerment’.
That is seen as a positive attribute, but such a distorted presentation of ‘female empowerment’ in young minds can encourage quite the opposite view of what it means to be a woman.
Intentionally or not, it promotes a culture that views women as nothing more than objects.
And if any of us were in any doubt about the extent to which this messaging has infiltrated youth culture, then some of the consequences are undoubtedly being seen now, in the shocking testimonies emerging from girls at some of the country’s best-known private schools.
The repercussions are not confined to these elite institutions either.
As a 22-year-old, I am a few years down the line from my own school days, but I have a 14-year-old brother and therefore have some insight into the extent to which this provocative sexualised culture has permeated the lives and minds of teenagers.
And it is one that, I believe, is doing grave damage to both sexes and why we must challenge the output of their cultural icons. Of course, sex has always sold . . .be it in music, fashion, film.
So, yes, ‘raunch culture’ as it’s been dubbed, isn’t entirely new — but what is new is the rise in the blatant misogyny that underpins so much of modern music and especially rap, with its reference to women as ‘bitches’ and ‘hos’. Pictured: Ariana Grande
The advent of music video channels such as MTV in the 1980s led to a slow and steady diet of increasingly sexual dance and pop videos, particularly in rap music, a genre that has soared in popularity in recent years.
And some 20 years ago the singer Christina Aguilera outraged parents when she performed her hit song, Dirrty, on the Saturday Morning chart show CD-UK wearing thigh-high leather boots and hot pants cut away to reveal the lower half of her bottom.
Of course, women should be confident in their sexuality, but when sex is commercialised in such a brazen way it can have detrimental effects on the health of society.
So, yes, ‘raunch culture’ as it’s been dubbed, isn’t entirely new — but what is new is the rise in the blatant misogyny that underpins so much of modern music and especially rap, with its reference to women as ‘bitches’ and ‘hos’.
American rapper Rick Ross even thought it was acceptable to rap about date rape, talking about slipping ‘molly’ (a nickname for MDMA, a common date-rape drug) into his girlfriend’s champagne.
‘I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it,’ he wrote (before later apologising for his lyrics).
If that isn’t an example of rape culture being normalised, then I don’t know what is.
But not to be outdone, some of today’s female stars now offer up highly sexualised mainstream music videos in which their borderline pornographic performances and degrading lyrics are presented as a new form of feminism.
That’s certainly how Cardi B sees it. ‘When you make a woman feel like the baddest b*tch in the room, to me that’s female empowerment,’ she said recently, responding to critics.
I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it. The last time I checked, being female was about far more than being a ‘bad b*tch’. To even make that link is to pollute the minds of youngsters.
Of course, in an industry long dominated by men, the argument that sex can be an equal opportunities commodity is a persuasive one — on paper at least.
Yet it’s hard to summon the word ’empowerment’ to mind when you see the legion of social media selfies posted by teenage girls showing themselves caked in make-up and with barely-there clothing in sexually provocative poses. I can certainly think of better words — ‘naive’ and ‘vulnerable’, for instance.
Certainly, these girls do not enjoy the same protection as wealthy, older celebrities who promulgate this material and those attitudes. They are able to ringfence themselves (and their children) from the complex realities of day-to-day school-yard politics. Our youngsters cannot. Little wonder young people of both sexes are confused.
In the past four years, the rise of the #MeToo movement has drawn attention to the issue of sexual abuse and harassment, particularly of young and vulnerable women, and promoted laudable and necessary discussions about consent and boundaries.
Yet simultaneously the music that many of our young people are listening to is saturated with highly sexualised imagery that not only commodifies sex, but sometimes veers into violence, too: in WAP, Megan Thee Stallion boasts that while she ‘never lost a fight, I’m looking for a beating’.
Teamed with the widespread availability of internet porn — often violent, degrading and a world away from the top-shelf magazines consumed by the teenage boys of yesteryear — how can these mixed messages not influence the perceptions of vulnerable minds?
There is a huge gulf between teaching women and men about sexual autonomy and empowerment, and the peddling of an endless diet of explicit content which warps their view of something that is supposed to be private, human and natural.
It’s one reason I have stopped listening to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion — and I’ve told my young brother to do the same.
Luckily, he’s mature enough to recognise the damage they and others like them — including male stars — are doing. Sadly, all too many are not.
Dominique Samuels is a political commentator and journalist.