Sassy, unapologetic and magnificently lewd, ‘WAP’ (Wet Ass Pussy) tackles themes of gender roles, female empowerment and sadomasochism through vivid erotic descriptions and aphoristic wit. Three months on from its release, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s hit single remains a TikTok and YouTube sensation. WAP is here to stay.
The salaciousness of the track has sparked controversy. Some are concerned that Cardi and Megan hypersexualise women and do not act as suitable role models for younger girls. Right wing commentator Ben Shapiro has called them out for being anti-feminist, boasting that the only time his wife might need a “bucket and a mop” is when she has a medical infection.
Yet, such critiques of WAP miss the point. (Hardly surprising when they come from a man whose wife’s physical manifestation of sexual arousal is so alien that it gets confused with an STI.)
First of all, hypersexualisation is determined above all by the voyeur. If Cardi and Megan are viewed as overly sexual in WAP, it is ultimately the result of the objectifying male gaze. This gaze has been conditioned over centuries of misogyny in which women have been at once drooled over and demonised for overt displays of sexuality. Black women in particular have historically been positioned as hypersexualised, whilst simultaneously having the power of this sexuality stripped away.
Women should not have to withhold expressions of their sexuality in order to avoid arousing men. Still, this continues to be an issue embedded in our social structures. (Take sexist school dress codes, for instance, in which short skirts and strappy tops are banned to limit teenage boy distraction.)
WAP tackles this hypocrisy by simultaneously capitalising on and subverting the male sexual gaze. On the one hand, Cardi and Megan profit from the male desire elicited by their erogenous rap and suggestive music video. On the other hand, WAP is very much a musical construction of female sexual pleasure from the female sexual gaze. In openly exchanging erotic fantasies over a pitched sample of DJ Frank Ski’s ‘Whores in This House’, Cardi and Megan contend that being a “whore” is not something of which to be ashamed. Or, rather, they normalise female arousal and demonstrate that having predilections when it comes to sex does not make you a whore.
As for the question of role models, certainly, the track’s explicit language renders it less suitable for a younger audience. Since when was being child-friendly the marker of a rap hit, though? And for those old enough to appreciate the breath-taking onslaught of carnal expletives, WAP promotes an empowered model of femininity. Cardi’s declamation “I don’t cook, I don’t clean” deconstructs archetypal female roles from the very first verse. Two musically gifted, socially aware and sexually liberated women denouncing gendered stereotypes and celebrating female sexual pleasure are, surely, ideal feminist role models.
It is unlikely that WAP would have received such backlash had it been a male musician rapping about male sexual pleasure. Megan took to Twitter to highlight the hypocrisy of those who simultaneously chide WAP but do not have a problem with libidinous songs by men: “Lol dudes will scream ‘slob on my knob’ [by Three 6 Mafia] word for word and crying abt WAP bye lil boy.”
Meanwhile, WAP reveals another double standard and raises the importance of intersectionality in feminism. Would the same criticism be levelled at a white female artist enthusiastically discussing sex? Maybe not. Iggy Azaela and Lady Gaga, for example, often deal explicitly with sex in their lyrics, yet have never received such a widespread hostile response as that directed at Cardi and Megan.
WAP is an example of women lifting up other women. In a genre that is dominated by men and in which it is common for female rappers to tear each other down for petty drama, WAP demonstrates what happens when two talented, confident and successful women work together. Namely, they become the first female rap collaboration to coast to UK No. 1.
It is already clear, after just three months, that WAP’s legacy is a challenge to the still-dominant misogyny of the popular music industry and our social structures more widely. If ever there was a musical symbol of female empowerment, this is it.