bop or flop?

Is Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘Bongos’ a Joint Slay or Perfunctory Play?

Are you trying to shake a little something or what? Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s latest joint single, “Bongos,” is like a personality test for twerking. The music video catches all sorts of ass being thrown, served, and displayed over a dembow-type beat, with no breaks for a chorus, let alone a hamstring stretch. It’s a literal change of pace for both rappers, on their first releases since Cardi’s stint as a drill rapper collaborating with Kay Flock, her remix of Latto’s “Put It on da Floor,” and Megan Thee Stallion’s vindicating 2022 album, Traumazine. So, did the girls finally get their something fun, something for the (lingering climate-affected) summertime, to get ready and party to? You know nothing’s gonna stop them. But Vulture’s gonna fight about it anyway. After “WAP,” the two pretty best friends had the chance to incite another cultural revolution, and yet there’s still room to ask “Bop or flop?” Maybe mediocrity is the biggest flop of all …

Zoë Haylock: What if I began this by saying I wasn’t initially obsessed with “WAP”? It was Megan Thee Stallion’s first release following her 2020 shooting at the hands of Tory “10 Years” Lanez, and I remember being more curious by the appearance of Kylie Jenner in the headline-dominating music video than the song itself. So maybe that’s why I have an immediate soft spot for “Bongos,” another playful and celebratory track, arriving after a harrowing couple years for Thee Stallion. Jason, what was your initial reaction to the song?

Jason P. Frank: My initial response was disappointment, partly due to my expectations being high because I love “WAP.” It’s not that I wanted “WAP Pt. II” — in fact, I know that would have been a mistake, and Cardi warned us “Bongos” wouldn’t be “WAP”-ish ahead of time anyway — but I was hoping for something that had the clear vision and sense of humor that “WAP” has. Cardi hasn’t released a solo track since 2021’s “Up,” but it’s not like she’s been quiet. Last year she was propulsive on the drill track “Shake It,” and further showed off her chemistry with women on GloRilla’s “Tomorrow 2.” At the same time, it’s been fun watching Megan realize that no one needs her to try for pop-crossover material like her Dua Lipa collab, “Sweetest Pie.” What even the mainstream wants from her is great rap tracks. These two are among the funniest and sharpest in the business, and it’s a great time for both to reclaim the spotlight. But “Bongos” just isn’t hitting. It feels like there’s very little idea behind this song. Both Cardi and Megan work best when there’s something for them to play off of — an idea to center their punch lines. It’s telling that the best line of the song is Megan’s “My backshots sound like bongos.” It’s a punch line that references the beat. Zoë, beyond just the vibes, what stuck out to you about this track?

ZH: Thank you for the platform, Jason. Let me start with the Caribbean influences. I can concede that lyrically neither of them are at their best in terms of memorable lines or meme fodder, but why have I been walking around my apartment yelling, “This pussy Dominicanaaaaa!” I am Belizean! Compared to the constant stream of trap releases, the dembow is as refreshing as la playa. It’s infectious — more of a rhythm that gets stuck in your bones than in your brain. And even though I wish that backshots line was a refrain throughout the song, I have to admire that they stuck to the genre’s simple flow rather than pop-ifying it to the point of gimmick. Like you said, the title refers primarily to the beat, indirectly giving the Dominican Republic all the credit. Honestly, my biggest disappointment is that the song wasn’t out in time for DJs to utterly wear it out at the West Indian Day Parade on Labor Day. So, we know it’s going platinum in a certain population of Brooklyn. But what about on the internet? Do you think it missed the mark for the stans on Twitter and TikTok?

JPF: I don’t see this song going platinum on Twitter or TikTok, I have to admit. It’s catchy, but other than the bongo line, it doesn’t have any moments that immediately stand out as specifically “sticky” to me. Is that a bad thing? I’d like to be able to say that it’s not. On principle, I’m against artists needing to write for peak social-media appeal — they are artists not content creators. Simultaneously, I know that both Cardi’s and Megan’s careers have been significantly bolstered by the fact that they naturally play well on social media. They go from silly to serious without breaking a sweat; they have inspirational confidence; they simultaneously reference pop culture while actively shaping it without seeming cheesy. “Bongos” has all of that, but it doesn’t achieve its full potential. Instead of linking up and pushing each other toward being the best, most inventive version of themselves, both Cardi’s and Megan’s work here has an air of perfunctoriness. These are exactly the verses I knew they could deliver. The dembow beat is a great idea, but I found myself just wanting to listen to Tokischa, rather than loving their take on the sound, partly because, if the dembow beat is the only selling point, then I might as well just listen to the people who are making great dembow songs regularly. And that wasn’t an issue on, say, “Shake It,” because Cardi fit herself effortlessly into the Bronx drill sound while showcasing her sui generis charisma and adapting her flow and her punch lines to match the style. But we’re leaving out the visuals here — Zoë, what did you think of the music video? Was it as exciting and stimulating as their previous work?

ZH: Once you tear your eyes away from the peacock tattoo lining Cardi’s thigh … yes! The settings were more extravagant than the “WAP” hallway, and clearly the celebrity-cameo budget went straight to body oil and ostrich feathers. The choreography is reminiscent of their Grammys performance without going so far as to offend the FCC. And they used The Godfather house, now undeniably reclaimed as The Godmother house. You know Pacino’s a freak. Regardless of if you’re listening, the tropicana costuming and Miami-afternoon color-grading make any still instantly recognizable, kind of like how Normani’s “Motivation” owned that ’00s-movies aesthetic and subsequently stan Twitter’s media feed.

So, if there is a problem, you may have clocked it. Even in the music video, I want them to linger on their punch lines a little more, take control of the beat with their flows, instead of effortlessly and elegantly riding it. I 1,000 percent could see that being a side effect of the pressure that comes with releasing a new style of music, because someone will always say it doesn’t do it justice. Shout-out to you music scholars, but I’m betting most people listening don’t even know what to Google to find more Dominican musicians. It’s kind of like getting a crossover episode with your favorite two shows … okay, is it the same as separately, no, but is it iconic in its own right? Let the round of applause coming from below the waist speak for itself.

Is ‘Bongos’ a Joint Slay or Perfunctory Play?