Don’t run, walk, or crawl towards the Apocalypse. Dance. This most curious form of human movement, unlimited in its variety and meanings, and instantly recognizable even by other species (our dog would go berserk when her masters began shimmying across the living room of an evening) seems as pleasant a way as any to tip into the abyss—twerking or twisting, sashaying or salsaing. The reason to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic is so that you can have one last dance before the icy waters close around you.
Yet even as Trump cranks up the speakers of Armageddon, he won’t move to the music. The bitterest of presidential pills is not the president himself. Still harder to swallow is the fact that he can’t dance. Moving images of him in the clinch at the 2017 inaugural ball gripping and grinning with Melania to “My Way” have caused lasting side effects in millions: vomiting, hives, intermittent blindness, irritable bowel, and, in a few undocumented cases, erections lasting more than six hours. Warning: click the link below only after consulting a physician; persons under 90 years of age require parental consent to view.
The more fitting—and clinically approved—Sinatra song for Trump is Kern and Hammerstein’s ”I Won’t Dance.”
Among the maddest ironies of the Trump presidency is that the Non-Dancer-in-Chief wants to cancel TikTok. Like Trump, I have no idea what TikTok is—or didn’t until the chest-thumping wallflower in the Oval Office began threatening to pull the plug. There has been tough talk of national security, privacy issues, and the escalating trade wars with China. It’s all pure bluster. The real reason is that Don can’t dance, and if he can’t, no one else should either.
But there’s nothing like a threatened ban to get one’s ears to perk up and eyes to peel.
The way into this wormhole was shown me by a woman of color: The Gray Lady. Late last month, New York Times pop music critic and critical shopper Jon Caramanica added his lump of sugar to this tempest in more than two hundred million (and counting) tea cups — WAP. At the risk of sounding like a Rip Van Winkle prodded awake by a selfie-stick, allow me to inform you that those letters aren’t just PAW backwards (as in what presidential gropers do to the non-consenting), but stand for Wet-Ass P-Word.
A dutiful reader of the offerings from Times music desk, I carefully considered Caramanica’s reasoned arguments in support of this unabashed extolling of the glories of female sexual pleasure. After all, the proud purveyors of WAP—two virtuosic, if triumphantly unvirtuous entertainers who do their thing under the names of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion—were just having “good,” if not clean, fun. Caramanica reminded us that literary and cinematic giants from Philip Roth to Bernardo Bertolucci, not to mention Madonna, have already described the maneuvers and mechanics of sex, long before these two women turned their talents to the topic. Male Rappers have been talking dirty for years, so it was high time that women got into the act.
A couple of weeks before Carmanica’s piece on WAP ran, I soon learned as I dosey-doed from link to link, the Guardian jumped to the song’s defense against conservative culture warriors by deploying that most unsexiest of words: Empowerment.
The forces arrayed against WAP’s literal outpouring of female sexuality—naked statues spurt water from various organs, the steps leading up to the garish mansion in which pleasure is sought run with fluids—were led by the monotone and miserable Ben Shapiro. His outraged recitation of the lyrics on his Daily Wire podcast has assured him a place of dishonor in the hall of puritanical infamy. Ben was having none of the claims that WAP marked an advance in autonomy and fulfillment for women.
From what might be called the left, a glowering Russell Brand agreed that replicating the structures of capitalist male hegemony should hardly be lauded. WAP simply fed the insatiable Beast with more product, even if differently packaged: it was sex for sale, however gratifying it may be to some that two women were setting the terms of the exchange and reaping the proceeds.
There is much to feast on visually and poetically in WAP’s orgy of metaphors: mops get plunged into buckets; big Mack trucks get parked in little garages; golden-assed knockers on Prussian blue doors beg to be knocked; gilded serpents strike at the camera; boa constrictors slither around the swim-suited singers; CGI tigers engage in a striped threesome; a king cobra with a hook is yearned for; Cardi’s tongue licks the air between fingers spread in a V—for Victory and Vagina. When tired of the titillations of metaphor, these last-wave feminists happily turn to the explicit: “this pussy is wet, come take a dive … When I ride that dick …” etc. CGI leopards flirt with a human dominatrix in leopard rig. Women in fetish gear hump floors and do the same in the ankle-high water of an atrium pool, then turn over and raise their pelvises to the glass ceiling. Male voices chant menacingly that there are “hoes in the house,” but no man is in sight.
The beknockered doors of this pleasure palace lead to the limitless delights of TikTok. Even conservative peer Andrew Lloyd Webber boogies to the WAP beat then adds his own Phantom of the Opera organ chords to the legion of mash-ups. Top Influencer Addison Rae (nineteen years old; graduate of Calvary Baptist Academy and now student at Louisiana State) does her interpretation of the hip-grinding, floor-fucking dance for her 60 million TikTok followers (the second highest figure on the platform) along with and new admirers like the Musical Patriot. Rae’s mom posted her own version, then her dad, too. Here’s one compilation, a seven-minute epic.
Caramanica took an avuncular attitude to all the riffs and reactions to WAP. The platform provided a fun intergenerational forum to TikTok about sex, he argued, much looser and more constructive then talking about—or fulminating against it.
Yet with its blinding colors and numbing consumerism, the viral WAP video is strangely devoid of the sexual energy it purports to celebrate. One of the most revealing of the song’s metaphors casts the vagina as a credit card machine to be swiped by the nose. The fungible penis becomes a hassle-free form of payment. With WAP, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion have literally created their own brand of hedonism, its wet wish-list reading more like a monthly statement than a hymn to eros.
That it’s all about the money is proven by the sheepish attempts of corporate hunks Microsoft and Oracle to get TikTok to be their partner, even while Trump flashes his switchblade from the wings. With the clock ticktocking down and the president’s killjoy curfew just days away, it looks like the Chinese visitor will be sent home, her love affair with Land of the Free and the Foolish cut—in a bit of poetic (in)justice—short.
But even if it runs into a fatal typhoon on the way home, the good ship TikTok’s celebration of the choreographed quickie will allow for lots of last dances on the way down.
(David Yearsley is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His latest book is Sex, Death, and Minuets: Anna Magdalena Bach and Her Musical Notebooks. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)