“Bald head scallywag, lick between my bootycrack!” This verse from Sexyy Red’s 2022 feature in Summer Walker’s “Sense Dat God Gave You” solidified her role as a women entertainer. An artist who will not hold back.
“It sounds very ratchet and ghetto,” Abi Wun, a senior at Clarkston High School, told VOX ATL when discussing the artist. “Something I would listen to when I go to the strip club.”
You would think after decades of boundary-pushing art from figures like Lil Kim, Trina, and Madonna, there wouldn’t be much backlash to music about sexual desires or politics. However, people react with skepticism to boundary-pushing media with many claiming these figures are harming the youth or have ulterior motives to their art. When buzz around these artists is fueled by skepticism, you begin to see the change in how they are represented in the media. Their talent and art can be diminished by constant critiquing from the masses.
“I’m extremely disappointed”
Sexyy Red is constantly used as bait for media outlets to gain traction from those who just can’t stand her. There is even a trend of blogs constantly posting a controversial celeb to gain attention and garner interactions. The negative attention these blogs bring tend to focus on saying how Sexyy Red is a harmful representation of a Black woman. “The lack of morality,” Dominique Daniels Clarke, a U.S. History teacher, told VOX ATL in regards to Sexyy Red. Clarke has been an educator for nine years and is involved with pop culture and media. She is surrounded all day by teenagers, the main and impressionable consumers of media. “I’m extremely disappointed, because what are the girls gonna see?” she said while discussing Sexyy Red’s release of her raunchy lipgloss line. Sexyy Red’s lip glosses have names like “coochie juice,” “sex on my period,” “gonorrhea” and other vulgar titles.
“Lil Kim was actually a lady”
These are the same criticisms Lil Kim received in the ’90s, notably on her 1997 appearance on The Rolanda Watts Show — an open discussion about Lil Kim’s graphic album “Hardcore” where opinions were shared from all sides about explicit music that’s accessible to children. There was actually a 12-year-old Lil Kim fan who was a part of the discussion. As Watts questions Kim about the impact of little kids listening to her explicit music, her response showed class and understanding. Lil Kim acknowledged the explicitness of her music and even addressed the young fan, warning her not to have sex too early.
“Lil Kim was actually a lady,” the U.S. history teacher Clarke states. “She talked about the sexual side of relationships, she was one of the first to do it!”
Many now celebrate Lil Kim to a high degree for paving the way for women in rap and for women rapping about sexual topics because her music was met with skepticism and disgust. “She’s like a revolutionary rapper,” Montrell Hussein, a junior at Clarkston High School, told VOX ATL.
Madonna’s 1984 “Like a Virgin”
This media and consumer skepticism is rooted in the entertainment culture, however. If we take a look at Madonna, she is widely recognized for being one of the first mainstream women artists to do boundary-pushing exhibitions. “Madonna is really the one who opened the door for Lil Kim and Foxy Brown. You didn’t hear any women rapping about or talking about sex!” says Clarke.
Starting in 1982 with the release of her debut single “Everybody,” Madonna has survived her share of controversies. During the ’80s there was a wide-scale moral panic associated with dance music, and the New Wave was seen with poor taste and associated with the gay community. The panic stemmed from the rise in AIDS, a virus primarily contracted by gay men, and the ignorance regarding the virus targeted the gay community, the same community who held Madonna down during all her controversies. Like the 1984 release of “Like a Virgin,” a song detailing how she felt like a virgin while having intercourse. The song was graphic, but her MTV Awards performance of the song struck controversy due to her wardrobe malfunction. Despite her butt being out, she kept performing, and it was explicit. While on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show in 2022, Madonna shared that her manager told her that her career was over because of the performance.
For decades now, Madonna has courted controversy with her behavior. In 2012, she was performing at the Bastille Day Concert in Paris. After cutting the concert short, fans booed her. In accordance with her belief to promote tolerance, she showed a clip of Marine Le Pen, a far-right French politician who was running for presidency in 2012, with a swastika on her forehead. Despite the backlash she faced with communities like the Catholic Church or concerned parents, Madonna changed the music industry and consumers’ perspectives forever. As Clarke reflected to VOX ATL: “It took a white woman to start sexualizing women for it to be openly accepted.”
Boundary-Pushing vs Morality
Despite all of the disdain coming from skeptics and media, Madonna still conquered the music industry and became an icon in the process. Lil Kim is acknowledged for the gifts and roads she opened in the female rap game. Sexyy Redd is still one of the most talked-about artists of 2023 and will be remembered for her explicit behavior, for years to come.
The reaction to all boundary-pushing will always be met with people questioning the morality behind it. In the age of mass-produced media and the constant sharing over social media, moral panics breaking out over antics of Sexyy Red are constant. Moral panics caused over a women artist has happened before, and it will certainly happen again — whether or not the artist’s intention was foul or harmless.
Erin-Alexandria Lett, an art educator at Clarkston, shared her opinion: “I don’t know much about Sexy Redd. I think Madonna is a trailblazer and Lil Kim is, too.”