Modern female music icons empower women in unique way


Midway Staff

Music by popular female artists has been hailed by many as empowering, despite controversy and criticism.

In mid-March, millions of people watched Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B dominate a stage struck by flashing lights and lined with background dancers as they performed their song “WAP” at the 2021 Grammy Awards, leaving some fans cheering and singing along from their homes, others staring in awe at the intense choreography, and some, no-doubt, shaking their heads in disapproval.
Mixed feelings have long accompanied the work of female rap artists like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, known for openly and explicitly speaking about their sexuality. The effects of these artists’ music have been felt not only within the bounds of the music industry, but also in crowds of younger generations across the country, leading many females, even in our own school, to reflect on the ever-evolving expectations of women in modern society.
Recent criticism of Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s work — particularly for their song “WAP” — is indicative of something deeper than the explicit content of the song itself, according to junior Kennedi Bickham. As Kennedi puts it, explicit lyrics have long been a part of what defines rap, and given that idolized artists in these genres are overwhelmingly male, criticism of these female artists cannot reasonably be separated from gender.
“Our generation has been growing up hearing a lot of explicit songs from men talking about women’s bodies, so I think that it’s not a concept that is foreign to us,” Kennedi said. “It’s just that people don’t expect women to actually speak up and to say those same things that male artists have been saying about them.”
Senior Alexandra Nehme has also noticed a double standard when it comes to female rap artists, one that stems from the long-lived normalization of explicit language with male artists. “There seems to be a lot more general controversy surrounding some of these songs than I’ve ever seen when male rappers talk about females and their bodies in a similar way,” Alexandra said, “Almost seems to be more of a casual norm.”
According to sophomore Lauren Tapper, it’s important that mainstream media have space for these public figures to exist, for reasons that go beyond just the music itself.
“I definitely respect and look up to artists who are paving the way for women in the music industry and reclaiming women’s bodies and sexuality,” Lauren said. “Especially after so many years of men sexualizing us for their own profit.”
While Alexandra hasn’t seen a direct impact of their music on herself and peers, she feels that having figures like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion in the public eye could lead to long-term shifts in thinking.
“I’m not sure what the widespread impact in our generation would be yet,” Alexandra said, “but I think that even just the controversy surrounding the songs might cause more people to question this double standard.”
While Kennedi believes promotion of this music could lead younger women to feel more empowered, it isn’t always this simple.
“I feel like they’re the female rappers of our generation, but at the same time — it’s not ours exactly,” Kennedi said.
According to Kennedi, this music is being consumed primarily by young people that are still in their formative years, and is often interpreted in ways that defeat the original purpose of the music, perpetuating pre-existing shame surrounding female sexuality instead of lifting women up.
“Depending on how they grew up and their values, they might feel like, ‘Oh, you know, I’m not supposed to talk about that’ or they might just be, like, shamed in general because there’s still a lot of misogyny going on in our world,” Kennedi said.
Kennedi has noticed that deeper, less identifiable biases reveal themselves through the younger generation’s reaction to songs like “WAP,” as many find its explicit lyrics embarrassing, or end up delegitimizing the artists themselves.
“With Megan, they mostly are not fans of her music, exactly, but are fans of her body and her look,” Kennedi said. “I just think that they think it’s a joke. Honestly, I think that they’re like, ‘Oh, this is like female power, right?’ I just don’t think it’s taken seriously at all.”
While controversy surrounding these female artists will likely not go away any time soon, Lauren says their music is still having a positive impact on many women, and this fact alone indicates potential for long-term change surrounding perception of female sexuality.
“I truly think it’s inspiring a lot of young women,” Lauren said, “to love and embrace their bodies and sexuality.”