So the female rapper Cardi B has us all thinking. She’s got us all talking. And as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most-Influential-People of 2018 (labeled by Time in that list as a “pioneer”), her latest single release has landed in big, big ways in a youth culture that’s primed and ready to be influenced and led. More on that in a bit. But first, this. . .
As a long-time pop culture watcher, junkie, and even pop culture lover, there’s very little I encounter that’s surprising. If you are a careful observer of cultural undercurrents, you can develop strong hunches regarding how emerging beliefs will soon spread and ultimately manifest themselves in outward behaviors. Yesterday, I was reminded of that fact when I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 1977 Francis Schaeffer film series, How Should We Then Live, is now streaming for free on Amazon Prime. Schaeffer has long been one of my culture-watching heroes and mentors. And when I quickly opened up and watched the first couple minutes of the last episode in the series, I was reminded again of Schaeffer’s brilliant Scripture-guided skill for discernment. . . to see things as they really are. . . and it was astounding to me how well in 1977 he was describing what is happening in our world today. But even after listening to and being trained by so many sharp culture-watchers, Cardi B’s newest single, “WAP”, has my head-spinning with surprise and sadness as I think about where we are as a culture and how we’ve gotten here.
So before jumping into some initial thoughts sparked by Cardi B’s latest release, let me give you a little who and what background if you’re finding yourself a bit behind in this conversation.
First, the who. As far as the music scene goes, the 28-year-old is a relative newcomer. In just a little over three years, the self-described Catholic who speaks of her strong relationship with God has gone from relative obscurity to being seen as Hip-Hop’s Reigning Queen. Truth be told, at this moment she might just be the most influential female on the music scene. She is a multiple-award-winner (way too many to list here) who is a life-style influencer and icon in everything from fashion, to gender definition, to identity, and to sexuality. If she’s new to you, you can eliminate your ignorance with a quick search on the Internet. In fact, check out her page on Wikipedia for an updated overview.
Second, the what. . . and this is where is gets a bit difficult for me to communicate details. . . as communicating the details about her hit song and video, “WAP” , is risky business. It starts with the song’s title, which is an acronym for a vile term for female genitalia. In this case, the song’s title does relate clearly to the lyrical and visual themes of the song and its’ video as it celebrates and promotes a version of female sexuality that is raw, expressive, table-turning dominant, and as one affirming critic has said, “Class-A filth, a torrent of horny one-liners. . .” I do believe that in order to fully understand what’s being talked about here and to prepare an informed response, you would have to watch and listen for yourself. However, that’s your call. You need to know that the music critics are loving it. And, it seems that the music-consuming population loves it as well. It has topped the global Spotify chart, debuted at #1 on The Apple Music songs chart (highest debut ever by a female artist), debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and the video garnered well over 26 million views during its’ first 24-hours. New York Times’ music critic Ben Sisario says it’s perhaps the raunchiest No. 1 single in history.
Simply said, Cardi B and her song “WAP” . . . and everything it tells us about culture. . . demands our attention.
As I’ve been processing Cardi B’s latest song over the last few days, a few initial thoughts have come to mind. At this point, they’re early in development and I’m sure they will take shape in new ways over time. But since the song is so new and having such an impact, I thought I would share just ten of my thoughts here.
First, as we always say here at CPYU, culture is a mirror. Cultural artifacts serve to reflect the spirit of the times and what the Bible calls “the course of this world.” Whether in print, on the screen, through the earbuds, etc. . . music and media are powerful forms that must “be read” if we are to understand the days in which we live. Culture shapes art, and art reveals to us the beliefs which are at the root of our behaviors. One of the great benefits of evaluating art and music is that as followers of Christ, we can eliminate the lag that so often exists between the time that ideas take root and grow, and the time it takes for us to respond by either affirming or challenging what it is we see and hear. In this case, “WAP” might not be telling us where our kids are today, but it does offer a peek into where they are most likely headed tomorrow.
Second, as we always say here at CPYU, culture is a map. What we see and hear defines the world for us. It tells us how things are and how things should be. It guides us into embracing beliefs and behaviors, normalizing them for better or for worse. Have you listened to the lyrics in “WAP”? Have you watched the video? Have you laid out Cardi B’s map that is serving to direct an entire generation of kids into how to think about and live out matters of identity, personhood, value, and sexuality? If we want to effectively lead our kids into a lifetime of embracing that which is good, true, right, and honorable according to God’s Word, then we must be able to answer the pervasive, attractive, compelling, and powerfully convincing messages coming at them 24/7 through pop culture. . . including this message from Cardi B that’s coming through loud-and-clear.
Third, wake up people. We’re not in Kansas anymore. I’ve never believed that “the good old days” were actually good old days. Human beings weren’t necessarily any less sinful and depraved in the 50’s and 60’s. Everyone had to live (here’s my Calvinism coming through!) with their own total depravity in a world broken by sin. What was different were the categories of vice and virtue. By and large, people knew and shared the lines between right and wrong. Sure, while there was a more widely-held agreement, people still chose to cross lines from virtue into vice. But it was usually done on the sly. And when it was exposed, there were typically some kind of consequences. What’s different now is that those lines have disappeared, and what Cardi B and the rest of our culture have been encouraged to embrace and are encouraging others to embrace are old vices as current virtues. What used to be condemned is now celebrated. Truth be told, Cardi B is only being true to the worldview she’s grown up with. It’s a world where we are encouraged to “follow your heart” and “do the right thing”. . . the right thing being whatever your heart tells you to do. In a world like this, why wouldn’t individuals take God’s good and glorious gift of sexuality and indulge it without borders and boundaries? One more thing. . . for the Christian, we don’t own the conversation anymore. . . and I’m not sure we ever really did. We are pilgrims, strangers, and guests in this brave new world.
Fourth, whoever speak on matters of sexuality first will set the bar and own the conversation. Parents and youth workers MUST believe this to be true. . . and act accordingly. With pop culture filling the minds and hearts of even our preschool screen-centered and obsessed kids, the lyrical, visual, and lifestyle message peddled by Cardi B and so many others is being consistently seen and heard by the most impressionable and moldable human beings among us: our kids. What this means is that we need to have what might be difficult and hard-to-frame conversations at younger and younger ages about God’s grand and glorious design for His good gift of gender, sex, love, and marriage. Home and church need to be diligent at working together to make this happen. Think of it as a process of fertilizing the soil of young hearts and minds so that the seed of God’s grand and glorious design will take root and grow, resulting in the sexual flourishing of our kids as they grow up. If we aren’t cultivating and fertilizing this soil with the Gospel, the fertilizer of “the course of this world” will do its’ job. (Check out CPYU’s free-resource-packed Sexual Integrity Initiative for help in this task).
Fifth, we need to know and teach God’s design for love, sex, and marriage. Both the culture and the culture-in-the-church are getting this wrong. The place to begin on these matters is in the Genesis creation account. What exists in the Garden at creation is God’s shalom. Things are the way they are supposed to be and the creation is set up to flourish. What exists is pronounced “Good!” by the Creator of all things, including sexuality and gender. Sex is to be embraced, indulged and experienced within the context of a covenantal monogamous life-long union between one man and one woman. (Here’s a link to a free “Parents’ Guide to Teaching Kids God’s Design For Sexuality”)
Sixth, we need to realize that the culture is promoting a “sex-positive” movement. Sadly, the cultural sense regarding biblical sexuality is that God and the Bible are “sex-negative”. In response to what is seen as out-of-date and repressive rules an regulations, the sex-positive movement is all about changing old values while promoting all consensual sexual activity as normal, healthy, and pleasurable. There are no borders and boundaries beyond mutual consent. It’s all a matter of personal preference. Cardi B is a contemporary mouthpiece for this movement. And chances are that your kids. . . even your Christian kids. . . have been so influenced and nurtured into this way of thinking over time that your conversations with them about biblical sexuality might meet with resistance. Again, they are only being true to a worldview they’ve consistently heard and they might know nothing else. Of course, parents and youth workers can and must change that for the good of our kids and the glory of God.
Seventh, there is a power play taking place in our culture. As we battle over worldviews and ways of looking at and living life, we are now beyond the point of civil discourse and discussion. Sure, that is happening in some places. But by and large our culture that celebrates and grabs for empowerment takes the power and runs with it. . . no discussion to be had. In the case of Cardi B and “WAP”, this is an expression of the move toward female empowerment in all areas of life, including sexuality. No question, there has to be pushback on the horrible and destructive ways in which men have misused, demeaned, disrespected, and abused women in our culture and our cultural history. . . sexually and otherwise. It has to stop. But there is always the danger that as the pendulum swings-away from one systemic sin, it might swing too far and land in practicing another. Be sensitive to this as you engage in conversations where those conversation happen.
Eighth, prepare yourself for conflict. . . even with your kids. I fear that to engage in civil discussion when there is disagreement is quickly becoming a thing of the past. We now live in a “cancel culture.” the dictionary defines cancel culture in this way: “Cancel culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.” In recent months, I experienced this in a personal way, all without any kind of effort made on the part of the canceler to ask for an explanation or clarification. It is a practice void of opportunity for conversation or expression of grace. A quick scan of the internet offers ample evidence of cancel culture in full bloom as pundits offer critique (many times grace-filled and reasonable) of Cardi B and her song. Labels are slapped on people (conservative vs. liberal), conclusions are drawn, commentary and analysis are taken out of context, and chasms grow. In the case of the kids you know and love, prepare for pushback as you seek to address the advance of the course of this world. And always remember that an investment in the people you know and love will require the kind of patience and grace that we ourselves have been shown by Jesus Christ. . . even when we are canceled.
Ninth, pray for those who are mapping and mirroring life. . . including Cardi B. I will stand first-in-line among those who are willing to write-off and condemn those who we believe are leading our kids and culture further and further away from the Creator’s design for our human flourishing. I confess that I desire to see these voices silenced. . . many times with little or no desire to see those voices and their messages change through an encounter with the Living God. I am continually reminding myself that all people. . . ALL people. . . are divine image-bearers. Everyone is given dignity, value, and worth. And just as I desire to see the culture swing more towards creational shalom and flourishing, so must I desire the same for individuals. We must pray for God’s grace to visit all people. . . including those with whom we disagree and even battle. . . with that grace settling on them in big ways through conversion and sanctification. This morning I encountered these helpful words from Fergus Macdonald regarding how to engage in this battle: “We dare not forget that God’s church is engaged in spiritual warfare. All our attackers are in servitude to unseen evil forces. Our priority is to pray for our visible enemies and against the ones who are invisible.”
And tenth, “WAP” serves as a powerful reminder of our responsibility to teach our kids skills in biblical media discernment. The Christian faith must be integrated into all of life, including the media choices we make and how we make those choices. We’ve been trumpeting this message here at CPYU, and over the years tens of thousands of kids have been trained by their youth workers and parents in the 3(D) process of Discover, Discern, Decide that is taught in our How To Use Your Head To Guard Your Heart 3(D) Guide To Making Wise Music Choices. You can learn more about this resource and this process here. It is a skill that when learned will serve our kids well for the rest of their lives. (Here’s a link to a helpful podcast on media discernment: Sex & Christian Parents: Biblical Media Discernment)
So, what now? As you respond to Cardi B and “WAP” in the midst of this teachable moment that’s dropped into our youth ministry and parenting laps, don’t forget to exercise diligence by doing the following:
- Know God’s design for all of life by immersing yourself in His Word.
- Live His design with reckless abandon in your life.
- Teach His design to the kids you know and love.
- Ask lots of clarifying questions. Listen before you speak.
- Be patient. Cultural and individual change do not happen overnight.
- Show the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ as you tell your kids the truth.
And now. . . I’m going to watch Francis Schaeffer. . .