The most interesting moment of the 2019 Billboard Music Awards happened outside of the show’s live broadcast. It came from Cardi B’s Instagram, as she gave an anatomy lesson – showing us her bare ass.
Just two months after temporarily breaking the attendance record at RodeoHouston (and sweetly paying homage to Selena Quintanilla on Instagram), Cardi appeared at the 2019 Billboard Music Awards alongside her husband, Offset. After publicized troubles of their marriage, the couple appeared as a united front (much like they did at the Grammys), with Offset sweeping Cardi off her feet in a steamy pose that went viral during the show. As red carpet images circulated, Cardi’s pose was doctored, grotesquely stretching her genitalia as trolls posted the image to various platforms. Cardi caught wind of this, and took to Instagram in frustration to dole out her own ‘naked’ truth.
Almost entirely nude with her leg on her dressing room coffee table, Cardi B gave viewers an anatomy lesson. “This is where I birthed my daughter from,” she said while straddling the table and pointing to her birth canal. The grabbing of her private area was a gesture of solidarity with mothers whose post-baby bodies have also been ridiculed. Offset himself made a brief appearance, seeing his wife in the act of recording and quickly exiting scene for her to complete her soliloquy. Many viewers mistakenly took the clip as an opportunity for her to sexualize herself. But they missed the message: Cardi was counter attacking those who actively sought to demean her, as she has throughout her entire career.
Ask someone about Belcaliz Almanzar, and chances are they’ll either see her as one of the most impactful voices in recent memory, or denigrate her for being a former stripper. Respectability politics have many believing Cardi B is not the type of woman we should be celebrating – a belief that escalated following a now-infamous Instagram live stream from 2016, in which Cardi detailed how she made ends meet as a stripper. “Nothing was handed to me,” she said, admitting to drugging men and robbing them as a self-proclaimed means of survival.
The video spurred a legion of critics who equated her actions with those of Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. As a series of #SurvivingCardiB hashtags were unleashed – many of which came with cruel jokes – their dismissive stance mocked survivors of sexual assault, disregarding Cardi B’s personal growth, and seeing her as nothing more than a former stripper unfit for the limelight.
Since cracking #1 on the Billboard 200, Cardi B’s meteoric rise to stardom has been perplexing to those who only recognized her as a sharp-tongued social media maven and former cast member of VH1’s Love & Hip Hop. Her commentary on being a “ho” was biting and unexpected for those who had rigid ideas about how a woman should conduct herself. Being extremely vocal and direct, Cardi’s music was a springboard, launching her into high altitude with 2018’s Invasion of Privacy. She became a notable feminist of this generation, using both sexuality and motherhood as a source of empowerment.
But for the first solo woman to win a Grammy for Best Rap Album, the social influence that made Cardi B a household name is still somewhat of a backhanded curse.
“Anything a man can do, I can do. I can finesse, I can hustle.”
Before becoming a world-renowned pop star, Cardi B navigated The Bronx as a stripper for financial support, dodging prostitution. In the formative years of her music career, images from her stripping days went viral and were maliciously used to shame her.
Cardi certainly wasn’t the first woman to go from the strip club to the Hot 100s club; fellow rappers Eve and Azealia Banks both worked as strippers before making it big in the music industry. But Cardi used her past to propel her career, centering female sexuality as the focus of her social commentary. Just five months shy of the birth of her daughter, Kulture Kiari, Cardi adorned the cover of i-D, flanked by young women of color, as she spoke about feminism. “Anything a man can do, I can do. I can finesse, I can hustle,” she said. “We have the same freedom. I was top of the charts. I’m a woman and I did that. I do feel equal to a man.”
Cardi B gained traction because she was unabashedly real, while leading a revolution of outspoken women who have taken the frontlines of music – in stark opposition to many cookie-cutter female artists of the past, whose voices were frequently silenced.
In the midst of her body’s weaponization, Cardi’s brazen social media prowess showed a new generation of female rappers how to remain strong – unwavering almost to a fault. Yet through her unabashed fearlessness, Cardi transformed a possible wardrobe malfunction into a teachable lesson for those who have long harassed her. Like her declaration on “I Like It,” Cardi B can still – and will always – do what they say she can’t.