Looking back at the Corona disruption in years to come, many of us will associate it with scandals involving some of the most prominent women in music. As a connoisseur of provocation, these are what I would consider the top five!
The unavoidable soundtrack to the crisis has to be mega hit song WAP by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion – which, in the footsteps of French feminist Luce Irigaray, combats phallocentrism by asserting the specific qualities of women’s genitalia.
The fact it’s the biggest hit of the COVID era is not without irony: as lockdown ushered in a new age of sexual deprivation for singles, the chorus “There’s some hoes in this house” seems for most to be more wishful thinking than an assertion of a real sex-positive or gold-digging lifestyle.
WAP is no more raunchy or funny than Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda from back in 2015 – with the possible exception of Cardi B’s grotesquely unsexy phrase “bring a bucket and a mop.”
Yet, perhaps due to the enforced proximity of families in 2020, the song and video attracted almost unprecedented attention and crossed over to a vast audience, causing countless hilarious reactions from parents and grandparents posted to YouTube, as well as comments by such divergent figures as leftist British comic Russell Brand and Republican conspiracy theorist DeAnna Lorraine, both triggering Twitstorms.
The funniest response was from American conservative Ben Shapiro who thought that having a wet vagina was a medical condition requiring treatment – the equivalent of posting a zero star rating for his own sexual technique.
Meanwhile, another artist who produces controversy as skilfully as she does music, Miley Cyrus, has disconcerted many traditional rock fans by achieving six weeks topping the US rock charts with her album, Plastic Hearts, without pausing from an unending regimen of online performances and boob-flashing photo shoots.
Behind-the-scenes, most of the album was co-written by Ali Tamposi, who has had a rather productive lockdown, also co-writing most of the new albums for Ozzy Osbourne and Seven Seconds of Summer (having in the past written their pre-COVID hit Youngblood as well as BTS’s Idol and Camilla Caballo’s Havana and Senorita).
Lana del Rey kicked off her Instagram career during lockdown, arguing that her portrayal of vulnerable, fragile aspects of women was not “glamourising abuse” as some critics had claimed, but was just as valid a part of the female experience to express as the fierce and hyper-sexualised empowerment that is so present in the charts.
Predictably, whilst it was vastly outnumbered by shows of support, her comments attracted plenty of abuse, mostly pointing out that the artists that champion empowerment have an equally tough time, both from the critics and in life.
As this happened in America, some of the social media abuse accused her of racism, despite her frequent collaborations in music and video with non-white artists. Del Rey addresses the accusations with the cover of her new album, Chemtrails over the Country Club, which shows her with her real-life multi-ethnic best girlfriends.
Meanwhile, Australian music artist Sia has already created pre-release controversy with her movie Music, structured around an album of new songs. It stars her longtime dancer collaborator Maddie Ziegler, of “Dance Moms” fame, as an autistic character – in a move that has already pissed off some “swim in your own lane” zealots who demand artists only represent people very similar to themselves.
The critics overlook the fact that Sia is one of the few artists who has a history of caring enough about disabled or differently abled people to include them in her art at all. Her clip and live performance for an early single, Soon We’ll Be Found included her fluently signing the lyrics in American Sign Language.
There are quite a few candidates for the fifth slot of greatest music controversy under Corona by a female artist. Madison Beer’s praise for the literary novel Lolita was used by haters as a basis to claim she endorses child abuse (a familiar brand of vilification made against virtually every public figure these days).
And Nicki Minaj caught flack for collaborating with 6ix9ine on the hit Trollz after he turned State’s evidence on members of the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods gang and pled guilty to involvement in making and posting explicit videos of an underage girl at a party when he was 18.
But my vote goes to Rihanna. During the Corona disturbance she has continued with her Savage x Fenty lingerie line, launched her book at the Guggenheim, and popped up an organic beauty store under the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
But tragically she has released no music – although she has been hinting at a new reggae album code named R9 for years. When her fans and employees started calling over Instagram for a new album to be her New Year’s resolution this year, she responded: "this comment is sooo 2019. grow up. 2021 energy." And, more prosaically, "phuck you."
Indeed Rihanna’s last comment is a great summary of the defiant spirit it takes for a female artist to force her creative vision through an entertainment industry crippled by lockdowns, an actively hostile Twitterverse, and a variously sensationalist and censorious mainstream media.