Guest Column: Don't Diss My W.A.P.—When Art Reveals The Worst In Us
The world has gone to W.A.P., and while it’s not my taste in music, I’m not mad about it. I especially love how it’s further exposed the double standards, hypocrisy, hotepery, fragile masculinity, and misogynoir of the music industry. With its rampant popularity, it should come as no surprise that the dance community has jumped on the Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion train to create visuals to the summer bop. Dancers have always been the drivers of popular music. Let’s make no mistake about that, and it is time they got their proper due, but that’s another subject for another time. There’s something else I want to address right now.
Choreographer Nicole Kirkland and Instagram Influencer Angel Merino assembled a talented team (including industry notables Anthony Garza and Bobby Newberry) to create their own visual W.A.P. experience. The visual was done with style, and it is apparent that there was a certain level of thought that went into this creation. However, I’ve seen quite a bit of heavy “criticism” aimed at the project, and it’s quite apparent that some of us don’t think the rest of us understand the difference between criticism and tearing others down. Note: The person I’m referring to will remain unnamed, and I will do my best not to make any direct references to his identity as I don’t want this piece to incite further discord and more personal attacks. I hope to make this a learning experience for all of us.
Of the project, Merino said, “There’s so many layers to gay men… It’s not a one glove fits all.” This is very true, so imagine my surprise when I saw that one of Anthony and Bobby’s peers, who’s shared professional space with both of them, was one of the most vocal detractors brutally slamming the project. Let’s dissect. This statement alone is all the warning you need for what’s about to ensue.
No, sir. This isn’t about holding the dance community to a higher standard. This is about a misguided sense of entitlement that allows you to attack other artists for no good reason. This is you being mean-spirited. Buckle up, kids.
*Insert eye roll emoji here* Angel clearly stated that gay men aren’t one size fits all. We are not a monolith. This shouldn’t even have to be said at this point. Angel wanted to showcase the segment of the community he wanted to see from his perspective. I’m not understanding what this has to do with you, or why you seem to think you hold the monopoly on what’s acceptable to do as a gay artist? Weren’t you the same choreographer that had an ensemble of men dancing in booty shorts and other apparel that would be considered “feminine” just last year? Clearly, this isn’t femme shaming on your part, but tell me, what is it? In fact, I’ve seen you create some pretty “gay” work, but tell me, what would you do being “gay af” that’s more palatable? Please. Help me understand. Let’s continue, shall we?
I’ve always heard that the devil is in the details, and that is where this choreographer seems to take the most umbrage. Yes, the choices made are very literal, but SO WHAT!? I’m a former dancer and choreographer, and I’ve made similar choices in the past. Every dancer/choreographer I have ever known has done that until we get to a place in our development where we find more abstract and creative ways of conveying ideas. That’s literally how our formal training begins. So how can we shame them for going back to the basics when that’s what we’re taught, especially in ballet? I don’t know where Kirkland, Merino, and their collaborators are in terms of their visual/artistic development, but where is the grace here? Where is the allowance for growth? In dance class, it’s constantly said that “You are here to grow. You grow by experimenting. You grow by making mistakes. You grow by doing.” I paraphrased the words of my former instructors, but the point remains the same. There was an idea, and that idea was executed. That takes guts, and I for one am proud of them for that (I’d also call that a real creative moment.). They haven’t peaked yet, which makes me even more excited about what they have to offer going forward. You, sir, didn’t start at the top of your game, and you very well may not be there now. I don’t know.
An individual’s journey is their own. It doesn’t work on anyone else’s timeline. It rarely works on the individual’s expected timeline. Just because you don’t think they’re as good as you want them to be doesn’t mean the project is trash. I’ll give you this though. You’re right, Dr. Seuss would never. Do you know why he would never? One, he’s dead. Two, because he was a raging bigot and a jerk that drove his terminally ill wife to commit suicide, that’s why! I would think that someone who was crushed by not making it through auditions for their dream dance job not even two years ago only to be later offered an opportunity to choreograph for that artist’s residency would be more cognizant of not damaging people’s self-esteem and crushing their dreams. Moving on.
No, sir, you are not. If you were so concerned, you would have reached out to these artists to offer them your expert advice. You would have offered to coach them, offered to work with them on future projects. You could have offered your services as a consultant, but you didn’t do any of that, did you? Instead, you lashed out recklessly, and for no good reason. Maybe they just wanted to have fun with this project. Maybe they just needed to blow off steam considering the world is in literal chaos, or have you forgotten? This reeks of bitterness, and I should know. I’ve been bitter. I’ve lived in bitterness. It dries you up from the inside out, and trust me, you don’t want to see that reflection in the mirror. The sad part is that there was some really valuable information hidden in your “critique.” Too bad the lessons were lost to such an ugly delivery.
This very behavior is why there are so many broken people in the entertainment industry. Everyone knows you have to have tough skin in this business, but that should never excuse abuse of any kind. You, sir, have made great strides over the years. You’ve added some amazing things to your resume. I was so proud of you. I was so happy for you, having watched your growth from that little known reality dance competition over a decade ago. I felt those things for you, and I don’t even know you personally. Now, you’ve not only lost my respect, but you’ve lost the respect of a number of your peers, peers that are working on your level, and higher. You’ll feel the sting of your words as they’re turned against you, but I hope you take this lesson and learn from it. I really do. Don’t continue to fall prey to the trappings of being a “gatekeeper.” Lastly…
I hope you get to read this piece, and I hope you take it to heart. I hope you do some deep soul searching and get to the root of what caused you to act out in this manner. I’ll give you a hint. It’s not other artists and their content.
I don’t say any of this as some super “woke,” highly evolved individual. I struggle daily, just like everyone else. In fact, I may struggle more than most. I constantly put my foot in my mouth, and I sometimes struggle to communicate what I consider innocent thoughts or opinions in a non-offensive way. I get angry and frustrated sometimes. I criticize others and their art, but I’ve come to a place of criticizing questioningly. What do I mean by that? It no longer appeals to me to bash another’s work with no regard for their stake in creating what they did. Now I want to know why they made the choices they made. I want to know what informed their thought process. I want to know what vision they intended to convey because I know from personal experience that it doesn’t always translate well. Suffice it to say, sometimes the work just isn’t good, but there is a way to convey that without being vitriolic.
I say all of this knowing that I am bound to screw up again, myself. I’m bound to say the wrong thing at some point. I am bound to have a reactionary moment. I know this because I am human, and I am flawed. I know this because I know myself. I only hope that someone is gracious enough to correct me, to criticize me without tearing me down. Teach me. Correct me. Guide me……and leave Whitney out of this.