Cardi B’s latest hit, “WAP,” has topped the charts and stirred up enormous commentary and controversy over the last several weeks.
Plugged In hasn’t reviewed the song due to its exceptionally explicit content. In brief, it focuses in graphically vivid terms on a woman’s anatomy—and little else. But while we’re not reviewing her song, Cardi B’s attitude toward female sexuality is still something we need to talk about.
And, indeed, lots of folks across the cultural continuum are talking about it.
If you Google “WAP, empowerment,” you’ll find many voices hailing this song as example of positive female sexual empowerment. You’ll also find voices expressing concern about the Cardi B’s self-objectification, as well as concern about lyrics that hover somewhere between vulgar, explicit and pornographic, depending on your point of view.
That idea—the importance of someone’s point of view—is what I really want to focus on today.
Plugged In often talks about the idea of worldview in entertainment. Or, narrative, if you’re looking for a more contemporary word expressing the same idea. Worldview gets at—as the word suggests—how we see the world around us. And the word narrative gets at the idea of the stories we tell about what we see.
Every entertainer has a worldview, a perspective on what matters. Worldview answers the questions like these: What’s real? What’s true? What’s worthy of praise? Worldviews also answer the opposite questions: What’s to be rejected? What is not worthy of praise? As for narratives, they articulate these worldviews in a story.
Without diving too deeply into the lyrics of “WAP,” I think it’s safe to say that this song—as with many of Cardi B’s songs—places enormous emphasis on a woman’s sexual prowess as one of the primary aspects of her identity. From that place, Cardi B says, a woman derives power, pleasure and prestige.
For those praising “WAP,” Cardi B’s message is a positive one, and its explicit lyrics are praiseworthy precisely because they confront traditional and conservative understandings of sexuality. A headline for the Pop Sugar article by Rhea Cartwright, for instance, reads: “Cardi B’s ‘WAP’ Highlights the Hypocrisy That Sex Is Taboo When Women Steer the Conversation.” Newsweek, meanwhile, collected tweets from cultural conservatives who’ve critiqued Cardi B, including Tucker Carlson, Ben Shapiro and DeAnna Lorraine. And that news outlet wasn’t gathering those tweets because the editors agreed with those conservative voices.
Another critic whom Newsweek pointed out, video music director Robby Starbuck, wouldn’t classify himself as a cultural conservative. But he is nonetheless concerned about this song, tweeting, “I’ve directed rap videos for Eve, Snoop Dogg, Gucci Mane, Ty Dolla Sign, Lil Yachty, Machine Gun Kelly, Akon and more. I’m not a prude. Art can be crazy. WAP by Cardi B is not art. It’s just disgusting. It’s not empowering, it’s degrading. It’s trash. Vile trash poisoning youth.”
Cardi B’s response to her critics? She told the UK’s Daily Mail (as quoted by Fox News), “The people that the song bothers are usually conservatives or really religious, fake religious people.” In another interview with I-D (as quoted by Newsweek), she said,
I always encourage people to be confident, especially when it comes to your sexuality. Some of these men are uncomfortable, they’re not even comfortable being sensual. … Maybe you’re conservative, but everybody got a little freak inside them, you know? Every single person. Everybody gets horny, everybody gets a little tingle down there, you know what I’m saying. Just embrace it. Don’t be scared about it.
Over and above all of those quotes and comments, though, the one that really got my attention is this response from the 27-year-old rapper: “I grew up listening to this type of music, so to other people it might be strange and vulgar, but to me it’s almost really normal.”
Normal. It’s such an innocuous word. But here, it speaks volumes. For Cardi B, graphic and public sexual expression isn’t vulgar or problematic. It’s just … normal. Her point of view—her worldview and her narrative—has been shaped by the context she grew up in. And she seems pretty convinced that what’s normal for her should be normal for everyone who listens to her song.
It’s easy to get sidetracked by how outrageous some of Cardi B’s lyrics are, especially when paired with the similarly explicit video for this song. (Indeed, YouTube reportedly leaned on her to tone it down a bit, which she did, and the video has as of this writing been viewed 140 million times in its first two weeks online.) But her lyrics continue to shape the worldview of those who listen and watch. Just as Cardi thinks her worldview is normal (and thus, good, it should be added), so she’s shaping the minds, hearts and perspectives of those who engage with those images and ideas. This song is helping to mold the worldviews of others—especially children.
It’s likewise easy to respond with a kneejerk reaction and label her point of view as “degrading” and “vile trash.” But it’s much more difficult—and more important—to talk to our children regularly about the purpose and place of sexual expression as God has designed and intended it to be enjoyed: in the context of a covenantal marriage relationship between a man and woman.
Cardi B isn’t afraid to have conversation about sex with the millions of people watching and listening to her—including, perhaps, our children. We need to take a page from Cardi’s playbook and be similarly bold in helping our children understand that sex between a married couple is indeed a good, beautiful and pleasurable bond—as well as articulating the deep and lasting damage that can come from embracing a worldview that confuses self-exploitation with empowerment.
For more on this important subject, check out Focus on the Family’s article “Healthy Sexuality: Sending the Right Message to Your Kids.” And Focus Vice President if Parenting Danny Huerta’s new book 7 Traits of Effective Parenting will help you create an environment in which your children can thrive.