Social media has given everyone a platform. Unfortunately, not everyone uses their platform responsibly. That goes double for those with massive followings. Over the past several years we’ve watched one celebrity after another put their proverbial feet in their mouths by either misunderstanding or misusing the newfound power of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other virtual soapboxes. However, if there’s one person who does understand her power, it’s Cardi B. The outspoken Bronx rapper has become the voice of reason for a generation of music fans, using her social channels to address current events in a way that is insightful, informative, and most importantly, relatable for the average person.
How did the rambunctious, wine-throwing loudmouth from Love & Hip-Hop: New York become the mouthpiece of the zeitgeist — especially as imperfect as her own approach to social media has been? Perhaps it’s because Cardi is willing to be so authentic to herself, owning her own humanity. While many stars fight back against backlashes to their faux pas, or issue boilerplate Notes App apologies before falling silent on important issues, Cardi accepts the criticism, correcting it where it’s wrong, acknowledging where it’s right, and growing up right before our eyes. Controversies regarding her use of racially insensitive insults, her admittedly criminal past, or feuds with other entertainers have all given Cardi the chance to learn on the job and she’s risen to the occasion every time.
While her controversies have drawn more and more eyes to her platform, her willingness to learn and grow while continuing to keep it real has lent her a hard-won aura of empathy. So when she goes on a “rant” decrying Donald Trump’s government shutdown, it not only goes viral, but it also reflects the way the average person might feel about them as well. While Cardi is a self-described history and politics buff — a characterization backed up by her school teachers and high-profile political associations — she is plain-spoken, foregoing the confusing mouthfuls of sociological jargon favored by many social critics on blogs, Tumblr, and Twitter. Her Bronx accent and liberal use of vernacular are more readily accessible than the complex terminology that sometimes gets employed to address complicated topics like systemic racism. It helps that Cardi maintains her blunt sense of humor, which works as the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.
That’s why Cardi could float a wild conspiracy theory about the spread of coronavirus, then use the resulting attention to call scrutiny to inconsistent testing practices. “If a celebrity is saying, ‘Hey listen, I don’t have no symptoms, I’m feeling good, I feel healthy, I don’t feel like nothing, but I went and got tested and I’m positive for the coronavirus,’ that causes confusion,” she said in one of her recent videos, pointing out how the gap between the test and the results could cause much more harm for the average person. “So it’s like if you’re sending me home and I have the corona-f*cking-virus, I’m most likely going to give it to my spouse, my kid, anybody that’s around me.”
When her original post on the virus became a hit song thanks to an enterprising producer, Cardi ensured that her share of the proceeds went to charity, showing her awareness of the moment and her place in it. Rather than pouting about being the butt of a joke, she turned the joke into an opportunity to help. She used the curiosity resulting from her original rant — which became Instagram’s most-watched video for that month — to call out anti-Asian bigotry stemming from the virus’ origin and the insensitive remarks from the White House.
The White House, of course, provides Cardi with much of her ammunition. As protests against police brutality continued across the nation, Cardi again used her platform to give voice to the emotions being felt by the general populace. However, she also offered a set of possible solutions for the current situation. Rather than paternalistic admonitions to “stop burning down your own neighborhood,” she acknowledged that peaceful protests had been ignored. She then urged her followers to vote for change, clarifying that it comes from the local level, “We can vote for mayors, we can vote for judges, and we can also vote for D.A.s (district attorneys)… They have the power to prosecute these cops.”
While no celebrity should be the sole source of hope, inspiration, or information for anyone, seeing a star — one who has made history, one whose career is far from solidified, with only one hit album to her name — risking their status to speak their mind is inspiring, or at least, it should be. It says that someone is finally putting people above profit. It sets that example, that maybe there are more important things to talk about than when your next album is coming out. It shows us that we don’t all need to have PhDs in sociology to join these complex discussions about equality and justice — and that we don’t always need to “sound smart,” so long as we demonstrate empathy for people and understanding of the topics. Cardi B isn’t perfect — nobody is — but she’s become a great example of how we can have these much-needed discussions and take action to bring about much-needed change.
Cardi B is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.