Earlier this week, Headline Planet commenced a new feature on “Songs That Should Have Been Pop Hits in 2020.”
The list looks at songs that, despite “single” status and undeniable quality or resonance, never received meaningful support at US pop radio.
Our first piece focused on BLACKPINK’s “Lovesick Girls.” Part two is available below.
Selection Two: Cardi B’s “WAP (featuring Megan Thee Stallion)”
For many songs on this list, the analysis will be hypothetical. We can say a song was good enough to become a pop hit, but we cannot necessarily prove it.
Today’s focus is one of the few exceptions. Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” did prove resonant. It did establish itself as one of 2020’s truest pop culture phenomena, attracting the attention of music fans across so many different demographics, with so many distinct stylistic preferences.
With its audio enthusiastically streamed, video excitedly screened, lyrics frequently quoted, content routinely debated, and choreography widely emulated, “WAP” connected the way a major pop hit should. It did not, however, receive meaningful attention at pop radio.
Its absence from said landscape is not entirely surprising. The pop format continues to drag its feet in supporting songs that could be labeled as “hip-hop,” even when those songs have undeniable pop sensibilities and irrefutable mainstream support. Similarly massive juggernauts like “Life Is Good,” “The Box,” “Savage,” “ROCKSTAR,” “No Guidance,” “WHATS POPPIN,” and even Cardi B’s own breakthrough “Bodak Yellow” received delayed starts at pop radio. As a result, they generally ended up peaking lower than they should have.
But at least those songs received an opportunity (however delayed and curbed) to connect and chart at the pop format. “Savage” and “ROCKSTAR” missed number one but still became legitimate “hits” on the pop chart.
Despite being as (if not more) relevant and accessible as any of them, “WAP” did not. The song hovered just below the format’s Top 40, even as it conquered rhythmic radio, ruled the Billboard Hot 100, and utterly dominated pop culture conversation. The discrepancy was exhibit A for anyone arguing that pop radio is out of touch with the contemporary music landscape.
“WAP” is very sexually explicit, but that fact does not justify its omission from pop playlists. It hit #1 at rhythmic radio and did receive attention from a few pop stations, thus eliminating any notion that it could not work on the radio (save for maybe Radio Disney). And though it may technically fit into the hip-hop umbrella, it is far from a hardcore, niche rap song. Like the aforementioned crossover hits, “WAP” is rich with mainstream appeal. With its catchy beat, irresistible hook and lighthearted energy, “WAP” is dripping with the infectious vibe we typically crave in pop songs.
More importantly, “pop” is supposed to be the most fluid of all music genres. Pop radio is supposed to evolve in favor of what is popular among the masses rather than forever fixate on that “Max Martin sound.” Even if “WAP” did not have any conventional pop sensibility (and it does), the scope of its resonance should alone justify its place on pop playlists. It is not like every single person talking about buckets and mops, Google searching for uvula, rethinking their Mac-n-Cheese, or doing the “WAP” dance on TikTok is an exclusive, diehard hip-hop fan.
In reflecting on the year in music, some publications have called “WAP” one of the very best songs of 2020. Not everyone will agree with an assessment so bold.
All, however, can recognize the song’s impact and importance. Beyond the discussion about female empowerment, “WAP” is a showcase for two of the music industry’s most exciting stars. Throughout the song, Cardi and Megan offer a masterclass in charisma. They demonstrate a refreshing hunger and superstar energy that has become tragically rare in today’s era of linear indifference. Coupled with the memorable lyrics and music, their presence helped “WAP” become a bona fide event.
Always the goal for commercial artists, “event status” has become particularly elusive in the digital era. With so many songs, TV shows, and movies at their fingertips, the masses rarely gravitate toward single works. They did with “WAP,” however. And instead of celebrating that reality and allowing “WAP” to further entrench itself in the zeitgeist, pop radio essentially ignored its existence.
Assigning blame is a tricky, chicken-and-the-egg endeavor. Radio programmers do not often jump to play this type of song, but label promo teams do not often make these songs the centerpieces of their effort.
Recognizing the colossal mistake, however, is a pretty straightforward endeavor. A song this big, this accessible, this catchy, and this important deserved to be a pop radio hit in 2020.