For the final song in her first-ever virtual concert presented by Live Nation, Megan Thee Stallion and her dancers stood under dimmed lights in front of a black screen that read, “This Shit Is Exhausting.” What she’s referring to follows next: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Aura Rosser, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Elijah McClain, Atiana Jefferson, Ahumaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, James Blake—the names of Black people murdered at the hands of police and white supremacists. “Why is it so hard to be Black in America?” the last screen read.
Last year, Megan’s sheer optimism and brash demeanor launched Hot Girl Summer. But in 2020, when summer’s been set against incessant police violence and a seemingly never-ending pandemic, and protests (outside and online) fighting for equality have been co-opted by performative activism and allyship, Megan’s priorities have shifted. Hot Girl Summer isn’t canceled, but she understands the responsibility that comes with her fame.
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“With all the crazy things that have happened this year, it’s just sparked the fire in me to be as active as I can in both my community and around the world,” she tells ELLE.com. “We’re all in this together and I just wanna make sure I’m using my platform for positivity.” Spreading joy has become synonymous with Megan Thee Stallion’s brand since she emerged on the scene in 2017. This year, her Suga EP arrived when we needed it most, with the inescapable hit “Savage,” providing a much-needed respite from looming COVID anxiety. Once Tik Tok got a hold of the single, it became the song and dance du jour. Then Beyoncé injected her sultry “okay’s” into the remix, extending the song’s spin time and spawning a whole new dance routine on the app.
Career highs kept pouring in: Megan joined the judging panel on HBO’s ballroom voguing reality competition series Legendary and inked a deal with Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty lingerie line as an ambassador. She’s the newest face of Revlon. “Savage Remix” went platinum. But as she notched these wins—all while studying to complete her Health Administration degree at Texas Southern University and dealing with a public dispute with her former label 1501 Entertainment—her own Hot Girl Summer was marred with controversy. She revealed on Instagram that on July 12, she was shot in both her feet during a ride home after partying with friends, including Canadian rapper Tory Lanez. As much as she tried to deal with the incident offline, Megan broke her silence after several outlets reported information she claimed was false.
“You shot me! I didn’t get cut by no glass,” she said in an August 20 Instagram Live in which she named Lanez as her attacker. She explained she didn’t immediately run to the police given the current climate of increased police violence against Black people.
Social media was once a beacon of light for Megan, a place where she frequently engaged with fans. But as people turned her incident into meme fodder, she ultimately took a step back. “One thing I’ve learned in my career is that the internet can be an incredible place. I’ve built such an incredible fanbase from there, made friends, built a huge platform to give people my art,” she says. “But you have to protect your own mental health in this space. I feel like I’m getting better at realizing that and logging off when I need to.”
Not that she’s one to stay down too long. At the beginning of August, Megan joined forces with fellow cheerful rapper Cardi B for “WAP,” a slick, buoyant ode to their lady parts. Over a sample of Frank Ski’s 1993 single “Whores in This House,” Cardi and Meg trade sexual innuendos about how they want to be pleased, a topic central to both rappers’ sexually-charged lyrics. But “WAP” also sparked outrage and criticism from men, who blasted the rappers about their lyrics. Hip-hop has never had an issue with men express their sexual prowess through degrading lyrics about women’s bodies, but when two of rap’s biggest female stars do it, it’s considered “raunchy” or, as CeeLo Green put it, “salacious gesturing to get into position.” Megan responded to the complaints on Twitter, writing, “Lol dudes will scream ‘slob on my knob’ word for word and crying about WAP Face with tears of joy bye lil boy.”
On what the outrage from “WAP” revealed to her, Megan says, “Although we have so many incredible women in hip-hop killing it right now and in the past, there’s still a shift [that needs to happen] around the perception of a woman owning her sexuality. Powerful women who have agency over their bodies aren’t something to look down on.”
And summer isn’t slowing down for the rapper. With virtual performances becoming our new norm, and coming in fresh off her Mad Max-meets-California-Love BET performances, she’s no amateur. Tomorrow, Megan Thee Stallion will perform for the Red Rocks Unpaused Performance. You can watch the show here at 8:30 PST.
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