When it comes to the representation of women in mainstream media- especially their sexuality and message, there has always been some kind of backlash or controversy attached to it. This was on full display during the release of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s latest hit single, ‘WAP’. Because of its provocative nature and sexually explicit lyrics, the song and its music video were received with widespread criticism and praise during its peak. Regardless, it was wildly successful, opening at no.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and dominating the charts for weeks. In its wake, the reactions and commentary garnered by ‘WAP’ brings forward the long held discourse on how women are portrayed in popular media-and where the song fits in all of that.
Many critics of the song condemned its vulgarity, perceiving its lyrics as degrading towards women and generally inappropriate. Others defended it, preaching its sex-positive message and no-holds-barred approach to female sexuality. The weeks following its release saw people clashing over ‘WAP’ on numerous social media platforms. This is nothing new. Discourse over the representation of female sexuality in pop culture has always been a touchy subject. Not too long ago, the ideals of women and their femininity were largely perceived through a traditional male gaze that slowly receded as women began asserting themselves over their own representation. When women express their own sexuality and autonomy in mainstream media, there usually comes a difficult road to navigate with it.
Over time, the image of women in pop culture changed, reflecting the voices and ideals of the women that expressed them. In the 90s, female rap artists like Lil Kim and Missy Elliot came onto the scene with racy themes and lyrics that pushed the boundaries of what artists could show on mainstream platforms. Before them were acts like Madonna, Arethra Franklin, Pat Benatar and many others that transformed the female image beyond the male gaze that perceived it. It is undeniable that the works of these and many other artists from the past were instrumental to building up and diversifying female representation in mainstream media. Their contributions helped build the platform that let artists like Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B rap about topics that otherwise wouldn’t have been popular and well-received in the past as it is in the present. In a sense, the song is a feat of female representation. What Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion present in ‘WAP’ is a sexually empowered part of themselves that gets broadcasted on a platform that reaches farther than most explicit songs from the past ever could, and has skyrocketed to global acclaim since its release. As a result of this commercial success and popularity, the song’s sexually explicit nature opens discourse over its impact and value as a piece of female media.
The purpose of female representation is to properly show the realities and ideals of women in the media. Women have different experiences in life, and said experiences are represented in the media they create and share—that’s the fundamental goal of female representation. But due to its heavily sexual themes and immense outreach, ‘WAP’ faces backlash and criticism for lowering the bar for women, or setting back the progression made for female representation in the media. But is that the wrong way to look at it?
Many would debate as to whether or not ‘WAP’ is degrading or regressive towards the female image in pop culture. But it’s worth considering how the song is able to thrive on a mainstream platform in the first place, and what that says about the current state of female representation in the media. As it stands, ‘WAP’ is a chart-topping sex song created by women, and a bold stroke in female representation. What it shows to the audience is but a facet of those many experiences that were often pushed back to smaller platforms in the past, which is cause to its controversy and discourse. The song thrives on a mainstream platform that would not have supported it if not for the efforts of previous female artists, and continues to contribute to said efforts. By being so popular and explicit in its subject, ‘WAP’ continues to push the boundaries and range of the female image in pop culture. In that case, it doesn’t become a discourse as to whether or not ‘WAP’ lowers the bar for female representation in the media— but how it expands the bar instead.
Listen to WAP
Coda Camaya is a 16 y.o Filipino-American student and artist at High Tech. She writes and creates art independently and at Zenerations.