The XX Factor

Is Missy Elliott’s New Track a Miley Cyrus Diss?

Missy Elliott at an October 2014 performance in New York City.

Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for H&M

Missy Elliott, the once and forever queen of vivid sex euphemisms and bedazzled sportswear, is back in the game today with a video for her new track, “WTF (Where They From).” It’s Missy at her Missyest: There’s some choice deployment of “blah blah blah,” crowds of lip-syncing b-girls and -boys, and hoop earrings the size of Indiana. There’s also the skipping rhythms and cheeky puppeteering of Shamir, disco-ball lip jewels, and one colorful get-up that channels Roy Lichtenstein. For the love of thigh-high sweatsocks, watch it:

The release also falls in line with Missy’s long history of championing young girls as featured dancers in her videos. “WTF” opens with a dance solo from a precocious youngster in an oversized jersey, a segment that recalls the impressive kid moves in “I’m Really Hot,” “Gossip Folks,” and “Work It.” One of Missy’s old guard, Alyson Stoner, recreated her little-kid moves in a Missy tribute video earlier this year. Missy has given girls some of the choicest spots in her videos, treating them as her badass equals.

That’s why I interpreted the “WTF” hook as a sardonic response to haters who tell young girls they’re too young and dumb to hang in circles of power, whether it be a dance crew or the upper echelons of hip-hop. “The dance that you’re doing is dumb/ How they do where you from?” Missy raps as the little girl dances. “Stickin’ out your tongue girl/ But you know you’re too young.”

But some of my Slate colleagues and plenty of Internet commenters have read this as a diss aimed at Miley Cyrus, who is both young and a frequent exposer of her tongue. In her Bangerz era, Miley indiscriminately co-opted black culture and hip-hop tropes—twerking, bandannas, pseudo­–gang signs—without hesitation, using their cultural cachet to earn the favor of mainstream white pop fans. Much of her rise took place while Missy was out of the spotlight; Miley’s 2007 breakout single “See You Again” dropped just as Missy was coming off of her last big solo single, “Lose Control.” Now, perhaps, Missy’s ready to show Miley how a veteran hip-hop–pop crossover does the damn thing.

Or maybe, since it’s unlikely that a superstar like Missy would feel threatened by the likes of Miley, it’s a generic smear in a song full of delicious, Missy-worthy braggadocio. Either way, it’ll make you want to play the video on repeat, which is probably the point.