In Slate’s annual Music Club, Slate music critic Carl Wilson emails with fellow critics—this year, Rolling Stone staff writer Brittany Spanos, New York Times contributor Lindsay Zoladz, and special guests Ann Powers, Jack Hamilton, Chris Molanphy, and Julyssa Lopez—about the year in music.
Hello again Music Clubbers!
As noted in my first post, I have done a lot of dancing in my room, and everyone’s in-depth pieces on disco and reggaeton have captured what has gotten me out of my daily news-induced fugue state. This feels like a rare year where people’s tastes have been largely synced up, with the same albums and sounds staying on repeat for many of us. At least we have that.
Julyssa and Carl both posed questions about protest music. To be completely honest, I found it near difficult to listen to anything during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in June. I have been sad and angry all year because of how little our state and national governments have done to protect and assist us in the middle of the pandemic. The even more avoidable deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others by the hands of police officers abusing their power compounded many of those emotions. The nauseating response to the protests (more police brutality, meaningless black squares, empty promises of equity and inclusion) made my blood boil. The work will not be over anytime soon and my anger is still there, but for the sake of my job as a person who has to listen to music, it is more manageable than before.
Carl brought up something that I find important: protest music exists outside of merely the topical. So as for how I rethought protest music this year, Julyssa, I found protest in all the pussy talk. There was immense power in watching a new class of young Black women not just follow in the footsteps of Nicki Minaj, Trina, Lil Kim, Missy Elliott, and many others by making some of the freakiest, hardest rap songs, albums, and mixtapes out there right now, but they also topped the charts. Above all else, I am a Black woman who loves watching other Black women win.
Of course there’s the briefly mentioned “WAP,” the queen of them all, with Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion spitting some of the most memorable lines of the entire year (hell, maybe even the entire decade—I’ll surely be thinking of “macaroni in a pot” until 2030). City Girls’ City on Lock was in my Lucky Top 13, a deliciously nasty return from the princesses of Miami and a reunion for them after JT was released from jail. Is there anything more heartwarming than two best friends scamming rich men together? First listen made me want to call my friends immediately and have a conversation where every thought began with “Remember that time we …” and ended with something I certainly can never publish. What a powerful feeling to distill. I can’t wait to be in the bathroom of any club as the DJ puts on “Pussy Talk,” rushing to the dance floor as a very nice drunk girl stops to tell me she loves my shoes as I pick up her lip gloss she accidentally dropped. She gives me a hug and thanks me as if I just saved her cat from a fire. We never see each other again.
Saweetie was another favorite this year. I love that her biggest songs are interpolations of old hits, like “Tap In,” which samples “Blow the Whistle.” I loved her features on songs by Mulatto (terrible name) and Tay Money and that she’s naming her debut album Pretty Bitch Music, which is a pretty iconic flex of a name.
In my heart, Flo Milli is best new artist. Her brilliantly named mixtape Ho, Why Is You Here? Is a jolt of energy, overflowing with bratty confidence. In a year of last-minute tinted lip balm for Zoom meetings, these were songs that made me want to put on a full face of makeup just to hear “Weak” as I swiped on my eyeliner. The perfect music for both the party and the party prep.
Leaving behind my party fan fiction, to get back to the topic of protest music, I’d like to also return to Megan Thee Stallion. Outside of merely “WAP” this was her year. Coming off of the “Hot Girl Summer” heat wave of 2019, she had one of the first hits of the pandemic with “Savage,” a boss bitch anthem that quickly launched one of the many viral TikTok dance challenges behind her songs. Beyoncé hopping on the remix was one of the first music releases that actually made me feel joy, at a time when I wasn’t sure how I felt about having new music during such a dour moment in the world. The one-verse remix trend has been one of my least favorite chart number-juicing trends, but of course Beyoncé gave us so much more than that, including her sweetly singing the line “Them jeans” in the background at one point. I hope that’s not the last collaboration between these Houston legends.
Before “WAP” and her debut album Good News came out, Megan experienced a horrific act of violence against her when she was shot in the foot in July. She accused Tory Lanez and was met with an absolutely vile number of comments and posts that questioned her injury, her accusations, her career. She said she even went out of her way to protect him and not get the police involved, out of fear for both of their lives. Lanez released an album about the incident, denying the charge, but Megan only needed to release one song, the conversation-ending “Shots Fired” from her highly anticipated debut album Good News.
You shot a 5’10” bitch with a .22
Talkin’ ’bout bones and tendons like them bullets wasn’t pellets
A pussy n-gga with a pussy gun in his feelings
The rest of Good News is a celebration, of success, of survival, and, mostly, of being a hot girl. At every turn, Megan was met with criticism and conversations she never asked to start, questioning her authenticity, saying her songs are too inappropriate. Her ability to push forward, get stronger, and prove that she may be one of the best rappers, performers, and hitmakers of this era is a protest. I can’t wait to continue to watch her win.
Carl, who were the artists you loved watching thrive in spite of the entire industry being upended? Are there any new artists you wish had more of a chance to gain a bigger audience but couldn’t because some of those usual avenues (big tours, especially) weren’t available to them?