The most-discussed song on your Twitter timeline in the past 10 days is now also the No. 1 song in the country. Cardi B‘s Megan Thee Stallion-assisted “WAP,” which has electrified fans and horrified conservatives with its sexually explicit lyrics and perspective, debuts atop the Hot 100, while setting a new record for first-week streams with 93 million.
The song adds to the Hot 100 No. 1 tallies for each rapper, marking Cardi’s fourth (after “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves),” “I Like It” with J Balvin and Bad Bunny and her guest turn on Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You”) and Megan’s second (after “Savage,” with Beyoncé). In addition, it marks the fourth all-female collab to hit the Hot 100’s apex in 2020, after just six such tracks total reigned over the course of the Hot 100’s first six decades.
What’s to be made of the controversy surrounding “WAP”? And what does the song’s success mean for Cardi’s career? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.
1. “WAP” debuts at No. 1 this week with an unprecedented number of first-week streams, and as much discussion as any new single this year. How worthy do you feel the song itself is of the massive amount of buzz and debate around it?
Tatiana Cirisano: Restricting my thoughts to the song itself, I think it’s a smart and catchy flip of the script on a male gaze-focused sample that deserves all the buzz it’s getting. Both rappers’ confidence is palpable, and the lyrics, while — yes — raunchy, are also clever as hell. But I’d argue that you can’t really separate the song from its context, anyway: It’s an unabashedly sex-positive banger coming from two of rap’s most exciting female stars, with a gloriously over-the-top, cameo-filled music video to boot.
The song also comes at a critical time for both artists: It’s Cardi’s first single since “Press” in 2019, and Megan, who is already contending for song of the summer with “Savage,” is looking to move on from the bizarre incident of being shot in the feet (and cruel lack of sympathy she received from many corners online). If all this generated any less buzz, I’d be surprised.
Carl Lamarre: I think having two rap powerhouses on the same track (and a star-studded cast for the video) helped yield super-positive results for Cardi and Megan. Cardi was undeniably the MVP of 2018 with her Grammy-winning album Invasion of Privacy, and it was only a matter of time before she connected with 2020’s front-runner Megan Thee Stallion. I think the massive rollout, visuals, and execution behind the actual song deserves an A+ across the board.
For the record itself, I appreciate the candor and fluidity behind her women owning their sexuality in 2020. With Cardi and Megan being the torchbearers right now in female rap, they shouldn’t be reticent in touching the same grounds as male MCs simply because they’re women. We shouldn’t muzzle female MCs for touching on their sexual conquests in the bedroom, because we’re so quick to laud men for theirs. This record is vital in allowing women to project how they feel without any regret or hesitation.
Jason Lipshutz: The immediate impulse is to assume that Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion just scored an enormous No. 1 debut because of their combined raunch factor, as if any song (as accompanying music video) as NC-17-rated as “WAP” would be ensured a chart-topping start. But that assumption overlooks the star power on display: Cardi and Megan are both electrifying on the mic, their rhyme-trading over a simple beat and Frank Ski sample marked by undeniable personality and unforgettable wordplay. They are two of the most authoritative rappers in the world right now, and although “WAP” is their sexually charged opus, this song likely would have been a stunner had it been a phone book recitation.
Gail Mitchell: “WAP” was worthy of the buzz and debate even before one note was heard. The initial announcement that two of hip-hop’s most high-profile female rappers were uniting in song sparked intrigue and no doubt fans’ wildest imaginations as to its subject matter. And the accompanying video — with its explicit sexual references, colorful motif and surprise cameos — definitely didn’t disappoint on that score. But all that would have meant nothing if the song’s resonating beat and raw lyrics weren’t spot on and the ladies didn’t click together sonically as naturally as they do.
Andrew Unterberger: It’s a triumph for sure, though I wish I found the song itself a little more exciting. The two stars are as engaging, provocative and clever as usual on the record, but the Frank Ski sample falls a little flat for me as a hook, the beat feels a little inert, and I’ve enjoyed other similarly raunchy singles from both Cardi and Megan more in the past. Clearly I’m in the minority on this one, though — “WAP” is already a cultural moment, the likes of which we maybe haven’t seen since “Old Town Road” — and given both the overall likability of the song’s creators and all the positive things the song represents, I’m fine with that.
2. Obviously, “WAP” has served as a flashpoint for much media discussion about the role of explicit sexuality — particularly from female artists — in pop and hip-hop. Do you think the song actually breaks any new ground in that respect, or is the controversy just playing catchup to old debates in 2020?
Tatiana Cirisano: The controversy itself is outdated and ridiculous. I feel it instinctually as I write this next sentence, knowing that I’m only stating the glaringly obvious: Men have rapped about sex for years and years — how they like it, how big their penis is, what, precisely, a woman should be doing — without strong backlash, but a woman rapping about the same things, especially when she is the one calling the shots (men are a footnote in “WAP”’s lyrics, and notably absent from the video) is seen as vulgar, wrong and perhaps worst of all, “setting the female gender back.”
The stigma is worse for Black women and women of color. The persistence of that stigma makes “WAP” rebellious by definition — the song is liberating and powerful; putting up an acrylic-tipped middle finger to the patriarchy — but as the question hints at, it shouldn’t have to be. One thing I will say deserves praise is the way the video uplifts other women, with cameos from the likes of Rosalía and Normani, making it clear that this is a song (and video) about sex that is made by women, for women, and that is groundbreaking.
Carl Lamarre: It’s groundbreaking in that we never had two perennial superstars be as vulgar and brash about sex on a mainstream record. It’s not just elementary Health Ed raps that these women are dishing out — they went the jugular with no disregard and entirely owned it. Also, Cardi and Meg’s fearlessness didn’t barricade their way to a No. 1, either. So this might allow other women MCs to feel as equally bold and liberated when crafting their potential singles.
Jason Lipshutz: The song itself does not, but its overwhelming success certainly does. When “WAP” was released and quickly hailed as one of the most explicit female rap singles of all time, Twitter was ablaze with worthy “Well, actually” mentions of Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Nicki Minaj and other MCs that had reveled in raunch years, and decades, before. Yet the massive No. 1 debut of “WAP” does break new ground as a more widespread embrace of this type of proud sexuality — Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion delivered an anthem ripe for a more open-minded and streaming-dominated culture, but they couldn’t have done so without the many important women in rap who came before them.
Gail Mitchell: Rather than break new ground, “WAP” simply ups the ante in 2020. The debate over sexually explicit songs goes way back. Etta James’ first R&B No. 1 hit was 1955’s “The Wallflower (Dance With Me, Henry)” — renamed owing to the sexual innuendo conjured by the song’s original title, “Roll With Me, Henry.” Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On, featuring such songs as “You Sure Love to Ball,” raised acclaim and controversy, among other things, in 1973. Lil Kim, Trina and Missy Elliott (her “One Minute Man” immediately comes to mind) were never shy about the topic of sex. Neither was Khia in 2002 with “My Neck, My Back (Lick It)” or Rhianna in 2010 with the erotic “S&M.” Now 10 years later, “WAP” reflects the liberation and empowerment that women are seeking in all aspects of their lives. And what’s so wrong with women talking about sex? Men have been doing it for ages.
Andrew Unterberger: Yeah, I’ll agree with my colleagues here that even for female rappers, the content of “WAP” isn’t in any way new — nor is the backlash to it, which is mostly led by a handful of loud-mouthed bad actors — but the scale of it probably is. For two female rap superstars to collaborate on what by any definition is an event record, and for it to be so explicit and so obviously celebratory, and then for it to debut at No. 1 with historic first-week metrics… I mean, even the “Not Tonight” remix only ever got to No. 6. The record could have come out at any point in the last two decades, but the context of it and the response to it may only have been possible in 2020.
3. Despite it being just two years and change since the release of her debut album Invasion of Privacy, Cardi B has had to contend with much speculation about her supposed commercial fall-off, particularly following a less-visible 2019 on the charts. Does the resounding success of “WAP” answer all potential concerns about her continued commercial viability, or does she still have anything to prove there?
Tatiana Cirisano: Are we not counting Cardi’s smash “Coronavirus” remix? Just kidding. But seriously, I think we know by now that Cardi is a star. Yes, she spent much of 2019 under the radar — raising her and Offset’s daughter, Kulture — but in her three years under the music industry spotlight, Cardi has earned four No. 1 hits and landed four more in the top 10, not to mention become a cultural icon as beloved for her hilarious, down-to-earth personality as she is for her songs. What more does she need to prove?
Carl Lamarre: She still has more to prove in my book. I think Cardi is a superstar talent and notched a fantastic debut with Invasion of Privacy. My previous concern was her sustainability. Imagine having to outdo a No. 1 album, two No. 1 singles, and a Grammy Award after your first project? The criticism was harsh, but warranted because of the gaudy stats she dropped during her rookie campaign. “WAP” was a brilliant cheat code to silence the detractors, but consistency will be key en route to her sophomore album.
Jason Lipshutz: The proclamations of Cardi B’s fall-off were always illogical: her 2018 was one of the record books, and even a quieter 2019 included top 20 hits in “Money,” “Press” and the Bruno Mars collaboration “Please Me.” She’s taken her time to craft a sophomore album, and with “WAP,” that new era has started off with an unequivocal success. And even if CB2 is still a long way away, then consider “WAP” one of the biggest stopgap singles ever.
Gail Mitchell: In an industry that judges people on what they’ve done lately, Cardi’s relative chart absence since her splashy 2018 debut Invasion of Privacy no doubt prompted some to question her commercial viability. But two years later, the album remains on the Billboard 200. And between giving birth to daughter Kulture in 2018, touring and performing on festival dates throughout most of 2019, maintaining a steady presence via social media and her activist pursuits, Cardi hasn’t really been all that absent from the scene. “WAP” reminds that she hasn’t lost her touch — which bodes well for what fans can expect from her sophomore album.
Andrew Unterberger: I think the assertions about Cardi’s fall-off can largely be attributed to two things. One is that two years is a much longer time than it used to be in pop star terms — and even though Cardi’s had plenty of hits of various sizes since Invasion of Privacy, without an undeniable smash to reassert her supremacy, her “absence” feels more conspicuous than it should. The second is the emergence of her collaborator Megan as a superstar while Cardi was in between albums — and the sexist assumption that Megan had essentially taken her spot, as many said Cardi did to Nicki Minaj upon the former’s own 2017 breakout. One of the best things about “WAP” is that it proves that Cardi B is still an absolute A-lister, while also demonstrating that she and Megan can not only coexist together in a similar cultural space, but thrive alongside one another as co-stars.
4. With “WAP” going to No. 1, it marks the fourth Hot 100-topping single this year — and the third with hip-hop connections — to feature multiple female artists. Is there still merit in drawing specific attention to the success that women artists are enjoying in collaboration with one another this year, or is it starting to be insulting to still constantly be putting these achievements in such gendered terms?
Tatiana Cirisano: Sure, I wish we didn’t feel the need to put these achievements in such gendered terms, but the fact is that sexism is still an ugly and persistent stain on culture around the world and, as a result, achievements like this one are notable. (In the words of Michelle Obama mockingly quoting Donald Trump, it is what it is.) I don’t think we’re doing anyone any favors by ignoring that — in fact, pointing out the success that female artists are enjoying in collaboration with one another (and especially in hip-hop, a genre that has notoriously not been welcoming to women) has the one-two-punch of praising these women for their work while simultaneously highlighting the sexism that makes it noteworthy in the first place.
I think Cardi and Megan understand that — it’s maybe why they chose to use their music video to spotlight a whole host of other female artists, flipping the concept of a “whorehouse” into a mansion full of powerful and yes, sexy, women. So yeah, it’s exhausting to continue pointing all this out, but I think the alternative is worse.
Carl Lamarre: Beyoncé wasn’t lying when she said girls run the world. At this point, it’s disrespectful to act as if Cardi, Megan, Nicki, and Doja aren’t in the same playing field as male MCs. If we’re talking stats, these women have that and then some. If we’re talking sheer ability, I’d gladly take this quartet over many men in the industry today. People forget that last year City Girls and Saweetie also enjoyed mainstream success on the charts — and budding stars like Chika and Flo-Milli are bound to encounter similar breakthroughs in 2020 and beyond.
Jason Lipshutz: Let’s split the difference, recognize this record-breaking year as a significant moment for the commercial viability of all-female collaborations, then put this to bed after 2020 ends. These type of singles shouldn’t be an aberration when they reach the top of the Hot 100, and hopefully they won’t be in the future.
Gail Mitchell: I can see both sides here. On the one hand, it’s been a minute since there’s been such a growing contingent of women rappers. So there’s still merit in celebrating the success these women artists are enjoying in collaboration with one another this year. It’s been a long time coming. The same holds true on the R&B front. Hopefully, however, this success will be sustained and serve as a catalyst in fortifying the ranks of female creatives (singers, rappers, songwriters, producers, engineers) and executives throughout the music industry. Once diversity and inclusion become the new normal, then maybe talking about such accomplishments in gendered terms will finally end — though that’s going to take a while yet.
Andrew Unterberger: It does start to feel a little eye-rolling to still be celebrating all-female collabs atop the Hot 100 as historic anomalies when it’s now happened four times in three months. But when you consider how before that, we’d only seen six such chart-toppers in the Hot 100’s entire history, it also feels like a point that still demands to be recognized — if for no other reason than to convince anyone only paying casual attention that such collabs are not novelties or once-a-year events, but simply a vital and crucial part of the current pop landscape.
5. Give a shoutout to one absolutely lyrically filthy song — from anyone, at any time — that you would have loved to see go to No. 1 on the Hot 100.
Tatiana Cirisano: That Missy Elliott’s “Work It” reached No. 2, but never the summit, is a travesty! The song basically invented the word “badonkadonk,” and even parts in gibberish somehow feel explicit. Sample lyric: “Call before you come, I need to shave my chocha / You do or you don’t or you will or won’t ya? / Go downtown and eat it like a vulture.”
Carl Lamarre: Lil Kim’s “Magic Stick.” I was a scared middle schooler bumping that one.
Jason Lipshutz: Shout out to The-Dream’s “F–k My Brains Out,” an incredible Prince homage and ode to breakup sex that was paired with the equally charged (though not quite as explicit) “Body Work” as a single. That was back in 2011… but both songs just came to streaming this year! Enjoy them immediately.
Gail Mitchell: My choice is “Meltdown” by Missy Elliott, featured on her 2005 album The Cookbook, and co-written by the rapper along with its producer Scott Storch. It’s classic Missy as she wittily and frankly laments the fact that her ex-boyfriend was sorely lacking between the sheets: “Moanin’ and groanin’, tried to make him feel manly/ I’d rather use my toys, plus my hands come in handy.” But her new man is all that because he’s “got that magic stick that make my little p—y quiver/ Juices runnin’ like a river slowly down my kitty litter … I bet it taste like candy/ Meant to melt in my mouth.” What a video that would make…
Andrew Unterberger: I’ll give it up here for “Pull Over,” from the Baddest Bitch for 20 years running, Trina. Long before Cardi and Meg were repurposing Frank Ski, the Miami legend was flipping male-gazed hits from Sisqo and Juvenile on her first Hot 100 hit as a lead artist — and with one of the all-time great one-line chorus hooks to keep up the energy in between her verses. A travesty that it only ever got to No. 93.