I’m not a dissecter of pop music; movies and TV are more of my beat. As far as I’m concerned, as long as it has a hook I can hum, a chorus I can whisper to myself or an innocuous melody that aids my concentration, then it’s good music.
I say this only to give context to what I’m about to say: If a song can penetrate the usual haze of stuff-to-watch/articles-to-write/perpetual-state-of-panic that constitutes my consciousness, then it must be really special. And I am telling you, the Cardi B-Megan Thee Stallion ode to female arousal, “WAP”, is something special.
“WAP” stands for “Wet-Ass P**sy”, and the idea of censoring that last word strikes me about as funny as the idea that a song that fascinates me has none of my prerequisites for “good music”. There’s no catchy melody to hum, and the only lyric I can repeat unaided is the nay-saying male voice that chants over and over “There’s whores in this house…there’s whores in this house…” at the beginning of the song.
The chant serves as an ironic undergirding to the song, a scratching post against which the two female rappers can rake their press-on nails. But taken out of the song’s context, breathing this line over and over to yourself might cast you as a misogynist to the casual female observer.
Of course pop music has no shortage of female provocateurs. When Madonna writhed in a wedding gown onstage at the first MTV Video Music Awards in 1984, her cone bras and sadomasochistic stylings opened the door to Katy Perry squirting whipped cream out of her boobs and Lady Gaga poisoning everyone at a roadside diner in the long-form video for “Telephone”. And Madonna herself has extolled the pleasures of female arousal at least twice in her far-ranging discography: Just stream the “Where Life Begins” track from her Erotica album and “Holy Water” from her Rebel Heart era on Spotify.
The difference here is that no mainstream female artist—or artists, in this case—has ever addressed the topic so directly and so humorously. Taking a look at “WAP”’s lyrics is like reading Ogden Nash if the humorist poet were writing scripts for Pornhub: “I want you to park that big Mack truck in my little garage”… “I don’t wanna spit, I wanna gulp/I wanna gag, I wanna choke/I want you to touch that little dangly thing/That swang in the back o’ my throat.” There’s wit. There’s evocative imagery. There’s iambic pentameter on Spanish fly.
The song is peppered with throwaway bawdiness like the two examples above. And the great thing about those examples is, it doesn’t denigrate masculinity to celebrate femininity. Even when Cardi B evokes her old stripper background in a line like “Now make it rain if you wanna see some wet-ass p**sy” or when Megan Thee Stallion vows “If he f**k me and asks whose is it/When I ride the dick Imma spell my name”, all they’re really saying is: I’ll give you what you want, as long as I get mine.
“WAP” certainly does not aid concentration. In fact, once the video made its splashy—no pun intended—debut on YouTube two weeks ago and all but assured the song’s meteoric rise to the top of the charts, it’s fair to say that everyone got hot and bothered. It’s almost comedic to think that Cardi B must have changed “wet-ass p**sy” to “wet and gushy” for the video to somehow cushion the song’s incendiary impact.
The video itself is pretty simple, with Cardi and Megan exploring a funhouse mansion with big butts sticking out of the walls and naked stone women squatting over fountains. But suddenly everyone was chiming in with their reactions.
Brit comedian Russell Brand, the guy who wears his shirts unbuttoned down to his navel and dines out on his “Do I make you hawny?” persona, criticized the song, saying that its sexual peacockery has been done by men, and women should find their own expression of empowerment. (Because, at least according to Brand, a song like “WAP” should depict its stars calculating a satellite’s trajectory to Mars or something empowering like that.) Women rightfully told him that if they wanted his opinion, they would ask for it.
Supporters of the song, meanwhile, launched a Change.org petition to edit out Kylie Jenner’s random cameo in the video. The backlash stems from the fact that Cardi B had to do the split and ex-Fifth Harmony member Normani had to twerk within an inch of her life, while all the younger Kardashian sister had to do was strut down a hallway, dragging her animal-print train behind her. One Twitter user groused, “If that’s not a perfect visual indication of Black women having to do the most and white women do the bare minimum to get somewhere, I don’t know what is.”
The video stirred not just questions of sexual politics and race, it even managed to stir the passions of animal rights advocates. Putative Tiger King villain and newly recast suspect in her millionaire husband’s disappearance Carole Baskin bemoaned the presence of big felines in the video, speculating on the trauma that the prop leopard must have endured shooting in front of a green screen.
And all the while fans have been proudly brandishing their bruises on Instagram and landing in emergency rooms trying to emulate choreographer Brian Esperon’s “WAP Dance”. It’s a routine that requires you to throw yourself down on the floor and twerk horizontally on one arm. While the nascent YouTube star hasn’t acknowledged his Filipino roots—he will only go so far as acknowledging his upbringing in Guam—there’s a lot of the Filipino’s fatalistic appreciation for chaos in his moves.
But the most hilarious cultural exchange has to involve conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. After the daily podcast host took offense at the song and stiltedly recited its lyrics, Shapiro’s detractors gleefully set about making memes and splicing his voice onto the track. But the biggest punchline was yet to come: After getting wind of his online ribbing, Shapiro huffily tweeted that “As I also discussed on the show, my only real concern is that the women involved—who apparently require a ‘bucket and a mop’—get the medical care they require. My doctor wife’s differential diagnosis: bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection, or trichimonis.”
The heckling was fierce. Never mind that Shapiro trotted out his gynecologist wife the way homophobes argue that they have gay friends, the jokes went straight to where it hurts. The wits at Twitter immediately went to work: “Please Dr. Shapiro…my wife…she’s very slick!” “Everyone: Black Lives Matter! Save the United States Postal Service! Ben Shapiro: My wife has never been wet.”
Shapiro has been known to scream statistics at college students and once ended an interview with the BBC by telling the reporter that “nobody knows you”, so this self-humiliation was particularly awesome. The self-own was so glorious, culture website Vulture went as far as interviewing gynecologist Lauren Streicher about the accuracy of the song.
While systematically responding item by line item to the points raised in the song from a medical perspective and ultimately applauding “WAP” for its cleverness, irreverence and healthy portrayal of female lubrication, Streicher did take issue with the use of “macaroni in a pot” as a descriptor for a wet vagina: “I’d go with ‘juicy peach’… It’s more the idea of something juicy, as opposed to slippery macaroni.”
Ultimately, “WAP” and the reaction to it is proof that sad, horny conservatives will once again lose their shit when confronted with women proudly proclaiming their sexuality. Because celebrating your sexuality is a symptom of taking control of your body, something conservatives have been loath to grant women. “WAP” tells us we have a long way to go…but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a fun, filthy time getting there.