When I don’t think it will totally kill the vibe at whatever bar I’m at, one of my favorite songs to do karaoke to is “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette. It’s a scathing song to her ex who has moved on with someone else, while she is clearly still stewing in a vat of bad blood. Her tone is haunting, and so is the imagery of Morissette lurking in the shadows of her ex’s happy new life, full of spite and resentment. Performing this track is fun because I get to act out the one emotion that women, especially Black women, aren’t allowed to be in real life: angry. There is something particularly satisfying about women creating theme music about their pulsing discontent. That feeling of contentment and validation was upon me once again this weekend as I listened to Invasion of Privacy, the highly anticipated debut album from Cardi B. Despite her status a mom-to-be and new fiancée, Invasion of Privacy includes tracks and lyrics that add it to a long musical tradition of female rage, and I’m here for it.
Cardi looked angelic in a fitted white dress that accentuated her growing baby bump on Saturday Night Live!. She glowed under the spotlight, basking under the halo of a carer high and the promise of new life with her love. But she sang a different tune as she executed her second single, “Be Careful.” The achy track about her cheating boo oozes disgust, not heartbreak, in the face of infidelity. “Imma make a bowl of cereal with a teaspoon of bleach/Serve it to you like, ‘Here you go, n***a, bon appétit!’” is what Cardi raps in “Thru Your Phone.” I would never commit such an extreme, premeditated act of vengeance — and I don’t think Cardi would, either — but I found myself nodding my head harder after the line was delivered. And men aren’t the only targets of Cardi’s ill will on Invasion of Privacy. She opens the album with “Get Up 10,” where she insists, “The thing on my hip whip b*****s into shape/That's what I call a fuckin' waist trainer.” She’s referring to a weapon that will change the way people act towards her when brandished. Aggressive clapbacks like these lend themselves not only to Cardi’s brand as an authentic product of the Bronx, but to her role as a conduit for women to lean into their own combative side.
If recent history is any indication, servicing this need has been a job that iconic female artists have always been willing to take on. In 1999, the Dixie Chicks released the upbeat country-pop record, “Goodbye Earl.” The first country song I was ever willing to listen to in its entirety was a brag on how two women conspired to kill one of their abusers, a man named Earl. R&B singer Kelis is defined by many things, including colorful hair, milkshakes, and screaming “I hate you so much right now!” while confined to a strait jacket in the video for “Caught Out There.” The early 2000’s were full of anthems about women unapologetically raging against those who would dare cross them. Blu Cantrell sold all of her boyfriend’s possessions after he cheated on her in “Hit Em Up Style.” Even soft-voiced Jill Scott got in on the action when she recorded “Gettin In The Way,” in which she threatens to beat up the woman who has eyes for her man. Beyoncé became a woman not willing to watch another woman reap the benefits she helped build with her man in “Ring the Alarm.” The success of each of these songs speaks volumes about how much women relate to destructive feelings in the face of adversity.
Male artists are given free reign to explore their deepest, darkest emotions. Rappers are nothing without their threats of gunplay. There are entire genres of rock music that support dudes literally raging at the world and amongst each other at live events. There are several country songs about murder. Hell, Eminem’s entire early career can be categorized by the festering animosity he held for figures like his mother and ex-wife. Music is a medium for people of all genders to play around with violent themes as an outlet for their emotions. However, the difference is that the realities of sexism off the mic create a special context for women who go off in their songs.
Of utmost importance is that the majority of violence in America is committed by men. From political extremism to domestic violence, men are way more likely to commit acts of violence. On the flip side, women are more likely to be victims of not only violence, but a host of other things like the wage gap, inequalities in marriage, and slut-shaming, just to name a few. Not only is our anger less likely to hurt others, it’s more warranted.
Female rage in some of our favorite songs are simulations of the backlash we’d like to give the world, but never do. When Rihanna demanded that a b***h better have her money, she was talking about her accountant, but for her millions of fans it was a demand to their bosses, school administrations, and clients. Beyoncé adorned in a yellow dress and busting car windows with a baseball bat is the only visual I need of what a future of smashing the patriarchy can look like. And Cardi B, refusing to lay down and accept mistreatment from her lover is the reminder we all need to put ourselves first. That’s worth getting worked up over.