Just like Gucci Mane and other artists utilized the power of mixtapes to elevate their brand, Cardi B did the same with social media — which is why it was so weird to see her Instagram page deactivated last week. After a contentious spat with the rancorous artist Azealia Banks — wich followed her recent habit of responding at naysayers in social media comments — Cardi apparently decided she needed an Instagram detox. She returned to Instagram last night to tease a video for “Be Careful,” but her brief break was probably a good decision, especially for the welfare of the baby she has on the way.
Though it could be argued that Cardi’s situation paralleled Iggy Azalea’s self-imposed exile from social media after chafing at appropriation criticisms — including Q-Tip’s well-meaning hip-hop 101 — it wasn’t Cardi’s first Twitter break. She left the site in March after dropping her Invasion Of Privacy album. When she returned, she noted that the “reason why I took a break from Twitter is cause people are so negative and disgusting here. I had to log off, [too] much negativity is not good for the soul.”
Azealia called out Cardi’s “newfound Blackness” in a long post that was less interested with teaching Cardi than retorting to the “Bodak Yellow” rapper’s insults with more insults. Their exchange was a butting of heads between two women who have been through a lot of trauma. They both have a hardened exterior that makes them prone to clap back and stand their ground without backing down — except Cardi B eventually did this time, bemoaning the negative energy that their back-and-forth was sustaining. She deactivated her Instagram account and made her Twitter private, before re-opening it.
Previously, at Banks’ recent Breakfast Club interview, she surmised that “there was just this really, really, really intelligent conversation [about Black women’] going on nationally and then everything just kind of changed and then it was like Cardi B.” She went further, calling Cardi a “caricature of a Black woman that Black women themselves would never be able to get away with.”
While claiming that Cardi B extinguished a discussion about Black womanhood is tenuous, Azealia is right that Cardi B’s complexion affords her privilege that Banks and other dark-skinned women don’t have. The scourge of colorism under white supremacy can be summed up by Lil Kim’s saddening lament that she felt “being a regular Black girl was not good enough” when “guys always cheated on me with women who were European-looking.” Cardi is of Dominican and Trinidadian heritage, but there is long-documented anti-Blackness in the Latino community.
That’s why many Black women advocate for Cardi B to be as free as she wants but can’t help acknowledging that there’s never been a Black female artist who acts like her, for fear of being called “ghetto.” It’s also fair for them to side-eye past transphobic statements, and her usage of the words “monkey” and “roach” when referring to Black women — even if she says roach is a general insult in her native Bronx. Cardi has referenced her Blackness, noting “I don’t got to tell you that I’m black. I expect you to know it,” but that’s not good enough for some people — as she’s quickly learning on social media.
Indeed, social media can be a miserable domain, with a confluence of people looking to get attention and/or project their self-hate with mean-spirited posts. Even criticisms that have merit are often weaponized as means to condemn instead of teach, which Cardi noted when she tweeted, “ya so quick to bash but not educate.” There’s scientific research showing that hoards of people criticizing one person rarely helps that person realize their fault, it emboldens them to defiantly defend themselves even more — if not “go underground” and start counterproductive coping mechanisms. It’s an unhealthy, unsustainable environment that will never foster the growth that detractors claim to desire. The problem is that there seems to be no way to get millions of people to realize that.
Countless writers and “everyday people” have expressed an occasional need to unplug from social media, and none of them are projected to millions of people with their every move like Cardi. It’s simple to say she should ignore the echo chamber like other top acts, but social media is more inherently tied to her stardom than any other music act ever.
Just two or three years ago, she was a stripper from the Bronx who had mastered sharable content just by being her hilarious self. Her social media presence — and music career — gradually grew to the point where she became a social media celebrity, and then a mainstream celebrity. But after scoring a No. 1 record, having a No. 1 album, and breaking Billboard records, she no longer only holds domain over a small bubble of like-minded, proudly “ratchet” fans, she is now fodder for the zeitgeist.
She’s made millions and ascended to the heights of pop culture being herself, but not everyone is enthralled with who she is — something Cardi is having trouble coming to grips with. She told Zendaya in the CR Fashion Book that, “even though I’m happy, I feel like I was a little bit happier two or three years ago when I had less money… I had less people who had opinions about my life. I felt like my life was mine. Now I feel like I don’t even own my life. I feel like the world owns me.”
At any given moment a flawed statement could get magnified to millions. The comments and tweets which once celebrated her rise and championed her sex-positive personality became speculation about her relationship, callouts of her troubling statements, and mean-spirited advocacy for other acts. Cardi frequently quote-tweets fans and explains herself in Instagram comments but at this point, stopping people from gossiping and getting the social mediasphere entirely in your favor is like trying to plug a levee with duct tape.
Last week, she sarcastically tweeted, “Cardi B is [canceled] party” with dancing emojis. Days later, she tweeted lyrics from her “Best Life” track: “Cardi B is soo problematic is the hashtag I can’t believe they wanna see me lose that bad,” which indicates she still may not get all the reasons that people have stamped her with the “problematic” label, and like other artists has lumped the criticisms into the “hate” category. That would be unfortunate, but it’s not surprising after the swarm of recent criticism came on the heels of Azealia Banks’ scathing post.
Given that just about every artist has a lyric or action that could be side-eyed with some digging, some obviously more damaging than others, it’s worth wondering how far this arbitrary cancel culture can really stretch. Just how much can people still act surprised to see “trash” behavior in the figurative landfill of pop culture? How can we expect people to experience anything but dread and trauma from seeing thousands of people insult them at once for statements and actions that didn’t actually traumatize anyone? This is the ugly side of social media that can make it exhausting — and also sheds light on celebrity culture’s flawed assumption that allegiance must be all-consuming.
Placing the same “canceled” stamp on Cardi for a childish slur as on R. Kelly for organizing and running a sex cult completely trivializes the term. While Cardi is going to have to get used to being held to certain standards in the court of public opinion, none of her actions to this point have been as reprehensible as abusing someone. As she tweeted in response to Rita Ora’s “Girls” backlash, she’s still learning every day.
Perhaps it’s best for Cardi to realize that and simply unplug from social media through her pregnancy. Every tweet she makes refuting fans threatens to fatigue her supporters. Hopefully, she can reach out to her growing celebrity network and get insight into why so many people feel hurt by some of her actions and statements, and the proper way to atone for them. In the meantime, it won’t hurt anyone to take Cardi at her word when she apologizes and says she’s still unlearning certain behaviors — but there’s only so long that “I’m learning” will be acceptable.
Like any other person born in America, Cardi’s flaws are a result of social conditioning that can be unlearned — but it takes the right teaching approach, which the public stoning stage of social media certainly is not.