On Thursday morning just a few minutes past 9 a.m., Wisconsin Republican Glenn Grothman stood on the House floor to give a one-minute speech to be entered into the record.
“I received complaints in my office, and rightfully so, about Cardi B and the Grammys. They wonder why we should be paying the FCC if they feel this should be in living rooms across the country,” he said. “Wake up FCC and begin to do your job! The moral decline of America is partly due to your utter complacency.”
Grothman was referring to a song by artists Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion called “WAP.” It is a sexually charged song, and their performance at the Grammys was equally so.
Like countless other musical performances in the past, the raunchiness of the lyrics and suggestiveness of the dance moves upset some cultural conservatives, who unironically decried it as a cavity rotting the nation’s sparkling white morality — just like their parents did with Madonna, and their parents did with Elvis Presley, and their parents did with big band jazz.
Beyond the salaciousness of her lyrics and performances, Cardi B has drawn conservative ire for her politics. She’s a strong, politically engaged Black woman who has repeatedly told her massive following to support Democrats in presidential elections. During the 2020 primaries, she interviewed Sen. Bernie Sanders and pledged to vote for him; later, during the general, she did the same with Joe Biden.
Still, Grothman’s speech struck an odd note. For one, the Grammys aired on March 14 this year, 38 days before Grothman spoke. Did some of his constituents just now get around to watching the award show? Second, who writes their congressman to complain about Cardi B’s performance and the FCC’s failure to censor a live performance? I tried to imagine the kind of person who, presumably after writing the FCC, then also pens their congressman to gripe about a dance too sexy for their eyes to handle.
So, I looked up the FCC complaint data for the show. The agency received at least 1,300 complaints, per answered FOIA requests posted on its website. That may seem like a lot, but the 2020 Super Bowl halftime show headlined by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira got more than twice as many complaints.
Searching through those for complaints from residents in Wisconsin, I found 16, but only one of those came from a zip code Grothman represents (Westfield, Wisconsin’s 53964). And that complaint was relatively mild: “Simulated sex acts and the song WAP during family friendly hours for the Grammys. Shouldn’t be allowed at all, but if it must, move it to midnight.”
Before I finished looking up the FCC data, I did two things. One, I asked Grothman’s office to explain what complaints inspired his 60-second snit on Thursday. Second, I quote-tweeted the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter who noticed the speech, in what I thought would be a throw-away attempt to find one of Grothman’s constituents.
And then Cardi B, with her 17.9 million followers, quote-tweeted me.
“Smh! THERES PEOPLE DYING !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” she wrote, using internet shorthand for “shaking my head.” Cardi B followed up with another tweet almost 30 minutes later: “This gets me so mad ya don’t even know! I think we all been on the edge this week since we seen police brutality back to back including watching one of the biggest case in history go down DUE to police brutality but wait ! This is wat state representative decide to talk about,” she wrote, ending with a thinking-face emoji.
Her fans agreed. “Black people are literally being murdered by the police & there was mass shooting almost everyday last week. Yet your concern is Cardi B???” wrote one Twitter user.
Grothman’s speech was a perfect example of the kind of performative fights that eat up a lot of time in Congress (and a lot of oxygen for reporters like me).
We’re drawn to drama — the entertainment value — of politics, not the wonkiness of policy, said Frances Lee, a Princeton University political science professor I happened to be talking with recently for another story. That phenomenon is exacerbated by cable news and social media, and by the trend to increasingly pass big legislation as part of even more massive packages.
“It’s hard for the audiences who follow politics to digest what happens in lawmaking,” Lee said. “Whereas the grandstanding that members do is very accessible.”
Focusing on the serious, complicated issues is more difficult, and gets less attention, than talking about Cardi B, which is what Grothman — and I, too — decided to do Thursday.
Neither Grothman’s office nor Cardi B’s record label immediately responded to a request for comment.