Saturday, August 8, 2020

WAP | Lefsetz Letter



Maybe you should read the lyrics first.

“Wet Ass Pussy.” There, I said it, do you need to stop reading now? Does it offend your sense of propriety? Should little girls be seen but not heard? Has culture gone to hell in a handbasket? Can you handle the shenanigans of our president but not the words of some female rappers?’

Welcome to America, which has never forgotten its Puritan roots. Where sex is taboo. Even though the last time I checked that’s how you got here.

Do you think that Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion didn’t know they were pushing buttons, that they didn’t know they were going to get a rise (pun intended) out of staid society? Can you say Alice Cooper? Can you say Frank Zappa? Can you say PMRC?

Yes, every generation has its offenders and those up in arms. No one is complaining about the sex in Prince’s lyrics now that he’s dead. And what Lenny Bruce said seems tame today. Then again, how many people are truly offended by “WAP”? How many are offended who are not old boomers or religious zealots? Is it anti-feminism to embrace your sexuality?

So on one hand, same as it ever was. On the other, a great leap forward.

The goal wasn’t to have to continue to complain about differences between the sexes, but to be able to behave the same as men without consequences.

In other words, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion are not doing anything the men haven’t done before. Rock was built on sex (and sexism). We even had a band called “Whitesnake,” which released an album whose title track was “Slide It In” (which was quite good, in fact).

And then there are those who are complaining about the inclusion of Kylie Jenner, that she is appropriating black culture. But how can this be when the producers decided to include her, and not vice versa. Furthermore, Jenner had a baby at the ripe young age of 20, with Travis Scott, do those qualify as bona fides? But, African-Americans should not be complaining about Jenner’s inclusion, it demonstrates that they’ve won, that despite politics, culture is run by black people, certainly music. Actually, scrap that. The music business is not run by black people, but it’s African-Americans who dominate the end product, the music, who influence not only Americans but people around the world. That’s right, they don’t only rap in English these days.

We live in a bizarre world where all the kids want to be rappers. Just look at how the whites in backward burgs adopt the clothing and swagger of rappers. African-Americans should be laughing, that the oldsters may be up in arms, but they own the youngsters. And the last time I checked, people age and are ultimately thrown off the conveyor belt. And, as a result, we have gay marriage and legal marijuana and…how come the president can get away with his heinous activities and comments, certainly re women, but black entertainers cannot?

Oh, I’m not saying that African-Americans still don’t have a way to go in America. Economically, no doubt. And too many citizens of the United States are racists, and act accordingly. But the only way Trump can win the presidency is by rigging the game. But you can’t rig art. Rap has won. It has certainly replaced rock.

Why did rock die?

Let me count the ways. A refusal to embrace the internet, rockers still believe streaming is the devil, while rappers saw the future and posted on Soundcloud and gave away mixtapes and ultimately dominated streaming services. You embrace the future, you don’t complain about it. And rock became a caricature of itself. It’s no longer even “rock.” There’s Active Rock, where a harder edge is employed to demonstrate that it’s just not the same old thing, even though many old rock listeners don’t cotton to this aggressive, often atonal sound, never mind youngsters not even bothering to listen. Rock has become a backwater. You’ve got the Americanas and the Triple-A’s, but they don’t understand that the world is built on stars, and shoegazing is not that attractive. You need something undeniable. And one way to achieve that is through a train-wreck. And that’s what “WAP” is, you cannot help but pay attention.

And then it garners discussion. It’s a big story online. Isn’t this the same playbook Trump employs every damn day? To say the unsayable? Meanwhile, it worked for him, he got elected and the afraid Democrats, who cringed in horror, lost. Or, as Leonard Cohen sang, “Everybody Knows.” And everybody swears and those who do not have sex desire it and sexuality is built into the workplace. Sure, sexual bullying, sexual aggression, sexual power should have no place in the office. As for relationships? THAT’S WHERE YOU MEET PEOPLE! If you haven’t had a relationship with someone at work, you haven’t had a job. You will soon. Unless you’re already married.

So, “WAP” is better conceptually than it is as music. A swamp Zappa got stuck in once he decided he had to be the lead singer. It’s made to offend, it’s made for controversy more than it is for listening. But that’s okay. And, if you want to come back from a layoff you’ve got to make a splash, you’ve got to make news, in a world filled with a zillion messages that rarely last. Come on, “WAP” has been up front and center, part of the discussion for two days now. And do you expect people will be streaming and talking about it a month from now? Probably not. Which is why you need a steady stream of these events, i.e. singles, to keep the public’s attention.

So, the girls have stolen the mantle from the boys. They took their game, twisted it, improved it, and owned it. Despite all their swagger, men never owned sex, women did. They had to say yes. As for saying no…we call that rape, and anybody who boasts about that is a pariah.

And for years we’ve had feminists pooh-poohing the embrace of sexuality by younger women. How they dress, how they talk, how they dance, how they handle themselves. But by owning your sexual power…don’t you gain power? And how come we constantly deny the world runs on sex, especially when the richest man in the world throws over the mother of his children to run off with his best friend’s spouse? Yes, Jeff Bezos is beholden to the little head. Like all men. Money without sex means you won the game but got no trophy, none of the spoils.

There’s a lot to debate in all I’ve written above. Not all of it is black and white (pardon the pun). What is appropriate clothing, what is the right place to act sexually, do too many women adopt the cloak of sexuality and leave all their other power behind… But that is not what “WAP” is about. In a world where most feel powerless, both men and women, in the face of the government, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion have embraced their inner strength, which is what art is all about, and spoken truth to power. Yes, Trump may put on a tie, but he’s a certified horndog (as is Clinton), the women can’t be the same way either, they can’t embrace the power of the pussy, they can’t be active, not passive, they cannot rally their troops and make those on the fence question their beliefs?

This is Dada. “WAP” is in a long tradition of art. From the Impressionists on, it was about pushing the envelope. Yes, the Impressionists offended by painting everyday life, a taboo! Picasso and Braque threw representation right off the canvas, the result was abstract, something Jackson Pollock took to the limits. Duchamp declared a urinal an art piece, and Warhol did the same with soup cans. Not that fine art is driving the culture today, it’s akin to rock music, a self-referential backwater. But hip-hop dominates the culture, trends. For now, anyway. And rather than ask for permission, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion barged right in. That’s how you take power. If you ask, they never say yes.

But the audience, the culture, America, the world, has said yes to “WAP.” Google shows 79,400,000 results on the rapper and the song. And the official video already has 38 million views as I write this. But somehow, you believe with a fraction of this impact you should be paid the same. You call yourself an artist when nothing could be further from the truth. Artists take life, twist it and make us look at ourselves, make us think. Art raises questions. Art challenges taboos. Art hits you in both the head and the heart.

“WAP” is art.


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