If you don’t already know it, you’ll just have to go look up what the acronym “WAP” stands for, in the new hit song that carries that title. You see, I can’t tell you. Two of the three words might not be print-appropriate, and the other one is highly suggestive. The song itself isn’t suggestive, though. It says what it means, wants and needs upfront. Written and performed by rappers Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, the track is unabashedly about female sexual desire, and how exactly to elevate that desire into pleasure.
It’s the music video that really ups the ante (and upsets some anti-feminists, but we’ll get to that later). Women writhing and twerking, explicit lyrics, outfits that parade and demand praise for the body (I’ve always wondered why revealing apparel is said to “leave little to the imagination”, when the effect it can have is to pretty much conflagrate the imagination) – nothing new. We’ve seen them in a thousand music videos before, and sometimes we’ve found them hot and sometimes we’ve found them distasteful, but quite rarely do we encounter the sheer exuberance that “WAP”’s visual depiction achieves. Somehow, it doesn’t seem like it’s objectifying anyone, or pandering to anyone else.
I can only chalk this up to the amount of creative control that Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion must have had over its production (safely shot during a pandemic, to boot). The video shows women in control, who look like they’re having fun, and even ends on a note that made me laugh out loud – because sexy play is about all kinds of things, humour included. I hear there are censored and uncensored versions, and I’m not sure which one I watched, but – and this seems to be the point of the entire audiovisual endeavour – I really enjoyed it.
Some of the people who seem most offended by the song must have rather enjoyed it too. One can always tell, especially when the gentlemen doth protest too much. Conservative American political commentator Ben Shapiro remarked that he thought a perfectly natural bodily function signifying arousal was probably a medical condition, substantiating this claim as his doctor spouse’s professional opinion. Entertainer Russell Brand, who has opened up about receiving treatment for sex addiction in the past, released a judgemental video (four times as long as the song) about how he thought it wasn’t doing much at all for women’s empowerment.
Again, nothing new – people of all ideological stripes everywhere have real problems with women enjoying themselves. Remember the uproar over Swara Bhaskar’s masturbation scene in the movie Veere Di Wedding? Trolls who hate the actor for her vocal views on democratic rights still don’t fail to bring it up while condemning her. Desire is a complicated thing, full of frustrations that sometimes transmute into flimsy rhetoric, shaming others, moral policing, or in this particular case, misogynoir (when the prejudice is about both race and gender; the principal artists in this song are both African-African women).
Which is why, all the more, the sheer fulfilment expressed by the dancing, desirous, sated ladies in the “WAP” video is such a thing of joy.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on August 24th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.