On Sunday evening, as rapper Megan Thee Stallion racked up trophies and performed her new hit single “Body” on stage at the American Music Awards, rapper Tory Lanez had this to say on Twitter: “The double standard is wild.”
It’s unclear which double standard Lanez, who is charged with shooting Megan Thee Stallion in July, was referring to. He recently pleaded not guilty to the charges related to the incident, which sparked conversations about the ways Black women are undervalued and underprotected.
When Lanez released an entire album earlier this year denying that he had shot Megan, people actively questioned whether she had even been shot (because she initially refused to name him), forcing her to share photos of her gunshot wounds to quiet skeptics.
The jokes, memes and incredulity surrounding Megan’s “side of the story” swirled in conjunction with outrage and disgust over the release of Cardi B’s raunchy hit song “WAP.” The overlap between people who doubted Megan or questioned her actions and people who found her lyrics too sexually explicit suggested that, at the end of the day, what it really came down to was straight-up misogynoir.
This was a double standard Meg called out in a Marie Claire interview, where she said: “A man can be as mediocre as he wants to be but still be praised. A man can talk about how he’s about to do all of these drugs and then come and shoot your house up. But as soon as I say something about my vagina, it’s the end of the world? What are you really mad about? You cannot be mad about me rapping about sex. That’s not what you’re mad about.”
Indeed, whatever Lanez is mad about, it probably has less to do with some perceived double standard and more to do with the fact that Megan, in spite of everything, continues to thrive. His tweet, just like the 17-track album he released earlier this year casting doubt on her allegations, is a way to reinsert himself into her narrative and disrupt a moment of arrival for her into the mainstream that is well-earned and a long time coming.
His tactics aren’t working, though.
On Friday, Megan released her debut studio album, “Good News,” a 17-track declaration of independence from the chaos of 2020. The album is imperfect — songs including “Don’t Rock Me To Sleep” and “Movie” throw off its equilibrium — but it does establish Megan as a rapper to take seriously and a woman not to be messed with. She wastes no time addressing the situation with Lanez — who claimed on his album that he and Megan were in a relationship and that he didn’t shoot her — on her album’s first track, “Shots Fired.”
Over a sample of Biggie’s 1995 track “Who Shot Ya,” Megan says: “Imagine niggas lyin’ ‘bout shootin’ a real bitch/Just to save face for rapper niggas you chill with.”
“You shot a 5’10’’ with a .22,” she adds later, “Talking ’bout bones and tendons like them bullets wasn’t pellets.”
And then, she moves on. There are, of course, a few potential swipes taken at Lanez, including: “Don’t you hate when you hold a nigga down and he’s a clown?” on the song “Circles.” But for the most part, Megan is far more interested in asserting herself as an entity outside of her beefs and the drama of this year. Throughout the album, she celebrates her body, her sexuality, her Blackness and her lyrical prowess in a way that isn’t coy or performative, but straight to the point.
“Don’t fuck me like this, fuck me like that,” she instructs on the track “Don’t Stop.”
“I ain’t for the streets, ’cause bitch, I am the street/And I ain’t on these niggas, all these niggas be on me,” she brags on “Outside.”
The overall effect is a perfect time capsule of her brilliant rise in popularity in the midst of trauma. It also represents a cultural moment for Black women in rap and Black women in general that probably won’t reveal itself fully until several years from now.
But if one had to venture to describe what the rise of Megan Thee Stallion represents, it might be the pop-cultural touchstone of a year in which Black women have been especially fed up. The reactions to Megan’s shooting, in addition to the misogynist criticisms of her collaboration with Cardi B on “WAP,” only seemed to highlight the constant disrespect Black women experience.
“If one had to venture to describe what the rise of Megan Thee Stallion represents, it might be the pop-cultural touchstone of a year in which Black women have been especially fed up.”
It’s easy to look cynically at Megan’s infusion of politics into her performances and her rhymes; she calls out the lack of justice for Breonna Taylor in her album’s opening track. Some have accused her of using her so-called beef with Lanez and the conversation about violence as a gimmick to feed her own celebrity. But that is a flawed suggestion. It exposes how little people recognize how Black women actually open themselves up to more criticism, harassment and potential lost opportunities for politicizing an art form that marginalizes people who sit at the intersection of race and gender.
This isn’t to deify Megan or to suggest she’s trying to be anything other than what she is, which is a really great rapper. But credit is still due to her. Amid the disrespect, the physical and emotional violence, and the underappreciated organizing and activism Black women have led this year, Megan provided little pockets of respite.
With a viral TikTok dance and then the “Savage” remix with Beyoncé, she provided a deeply needed outlet, a bit of levity in a year of relentlessly bad news. And then came “WAP,” quite simply the song of the summer. In spite of the blowback it received from misogynists who couldn’t abide the idea of women talking openly and enthusiastically about sex, the song was one of the most unifying and joy-making pop cultural moments of 2020, and certainly the most memorable.
One of the most refreshing things about Megan is that she’s been able to make an impact so early in her career just by virtue of unapologetically being herself. All celebrity operates and thrives on a good story, and with her studio album debut, Megan has taken the reins of her narrative instead of letting others (Lanez, haters, shady label people, ex-besties) control the narrative for her. In that sense, “Good News” is, for Black women, a battle cry and a balm.