The Grammys don’t usually nominate rap in top categories, let alone raunchy rap. But might they make an exception this year for “WAP,” the explicit single by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion that has spent four nonconsecutive weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100 as of this writing? I think they should. Its cultural impact is evident not just in its unapologetic lyrics, but in the way people have responded to it.
How many artists can say they were extensively quoted by right-wing reactionary Ben Shapiro? His disapproving reading of the song’s juiciest tidbits (so to speak) was so comical it inspired its own viral remix. The euphemism-laden song, quite simply, is about women desiring sex and describing the ideal man to provide it; among other things, he should possess, um, a sizable motor vehicle.
Now, male artists have been singing about desire for a long time and winning awards for it without much controversy. For instance, John Mayer‘s Grammy-winning “Your Body is a Wonderland” has a self-explanatory title. Ed Sheeran also won a Grammy for “Shape of You,” in which he sings, “Last night you were in my room, and now my bed sheets smell like you.”
Bruno Mars was nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year for “Locked Out of Heaven,” in which he sang, quite directly, “Your sex takes me to paradise.” Robin Thicke was nominated for Record of the Year for “Blurred Lines,” though that song’s ambiguity around consent did inspire some push-back. 50 Cent earned a rap songwriting nomination for “Candy Shop,” in which he invited the listener to lick his lollipop. And in the same summer as “WAP,” Harry Styles topped the charts with a euphemistic ode to the same bodily functions, “Watermelon Sugar.”
Admittedly, “WAP” is a lot more direct than some of those aforementioned songs, but that directness is part of what makes it so refreshing. And though the song isn’t overtly political, foregrounding a woman’s pleasure when singing about sex is itself still kind of a revolutionary act, as evidenced by some of the pearl-clutching it has inspired. So bring a bucket and a mop so she can WAP: win all prizes.
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