I was originally going to write a review of sorts of the Whole Lotta Red album itself, but writing about music is hard, and there’s folks out there who doubtless have already writ up some amazing reviews. So I ain’t doing that. Nope. But what we will talk about, because we MUST talk about it, is this performance he gave on NYE. If your’e not aware of the performance you may have come across an image of Carti singing and contorting himself in quite an unconventional manner. This imaged prompted a series of reactions that mostly ranged from humorous confusion, to latent homophobia, to outright homophobia.
The performance was astonishing. Carti comes out spirited, running back and forth across this cyberpunk-esque stage as he scream sings the first song. Then he climbs onto one of the boxes that holds musical equipment that has been placed on stage, and he appears to have mic problems. We can’t hear him, but it doesn’t matter. Carti has basically stopped singing for the remainder of the performance. What he has decided to do is basically stand on these boxes, smoke weed, sway his hips, stick his tongue out, and strike various sassy poses. This goes on for nearly 40 minutes straight. I don’t know about y’all, but this was one of the coolest things I’ve ever witnessed in my life. What was supposed to be a musical performance turned into something else, a different performance — licking his lips, sticking his tongue out, raising his arms above his head, swaying his hips, and more, so that we see his body, and see him enjoying his body, Carti asks us to join him in this enjoyment — Carti indulges in exhibitionism.
Carti is the epitome of a metrosexual Rockstar. Queer Theorist Mark Simpson is often credited with popularizing the term Metrosexual. In a talk called Men in Movement- Mark Simpson: From Metrosexual to Spornosexual: A Permanent, he says, “The metrosexual revolution is not purely skin deep, its quite profound because it changes some of the most basic assumptions that we have about masculinity, such as, certainly in the anglo world, that men are active not passive, straight not gay, looking not looked at, desiring not desired … metrosexuality has changed that.” Indeed, Carti’s performance challenges these assumptions about what masculinity is, for Carti is clearly passive in inviting our gaze; clearly he challenges our idea of what a straight man is, could be; clearly Carti enjoys being looked at; enjoys being desired.
This metrosexual exhibitionism is so startling because it shamelessly signals Carti’s desire — his desire to be fucked. If this is startling it is only because of Carti’s flagrant exhibitionism in this performance, which is to say that the metrosexual is always fancying themselves in ways that signal their desire to be looked at. This is really the dramatic shift that starts the metrosexual revolution. Men who groom themselves, who dress up in expensive clothes, moisturize, and so on, are all affectations upon the body that provoke the other’s gaze. Crucially, this shifts the traditional heterosexual dynamic, the man who should always be active upon the passive woman is now rendering themselves in ways that asks others to act upon him. Perhaps more crucially the gaze that this behavior welcomes exceeds any intention to be desired by women specifically, its a desire to be desired by anyone (who wants to fuck?!).
A lot of the reaction to that picture of Carti in circulation can be accounted to an investment in this more traditional dynamic. In disavowing Carti these (mostly) men say I will not look at Carti, this is unacceptable with my understanding of heterosexuality, and so on. And yet, ironically (!) these tweets also function in a similar metrosexual vein. What men are saying when they disavow Carti’s performance is that “I intend women to see me like this” (though the tweets exceed this intention, for they are also latently signaling to other men that they will not display their desire to be fucked as flagrantly as Carti does). In other words, these tweets ironically serve the same function as Carti’s performance, perhaps no less explicitly.
Maybe the most profound configuration of Carti’s performance is voiced through his rendering of the Vampire figure. In Queer scholarship the Vampire has proven to be rich material. If Queerness is, in some small part, about undifferentiated desire then the Vampire is queer insofar as their lust for blood does not discern which bodies can satiate this desire. His leather jacket and its collar at times protrude up and around the back of his neck, which constructs a familiar silhouette with that of the archetypal Count Dracula and his cloak thing around his neck (you can even see this in the vampire emoji in your phone). Indeed, this has proven to be Carti’s aesthetic of choice as of late, and he sticks true to that in this performance through his clothing choices. But if our fear of the Vampire originally is that he may penetrate us with his fangs then why do we fear the Metrosexual Vampire (assuming we do)?
Some people have speculated that Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula is the expression of the author’s suppressed homosexual desires. Indeed, the image of a man leaving their castle under the cloak of night to penetrate another man resembles the behavior of many homosexuals who can not live openly. Some scholars even speculate that Bram Stoker had a secret homosexual affair with another Irish homosexual, Oscar Wilde (as an aside, if many people were not aware that either Bram Stoker or Oscar Wilde were Irish I suspect that it is because the incredibly Catholic Nation of Ireland disowned them precisely because of their sexuality. This is certainly true in the latter, but i suspect it to also be true for the former). Anyway, the metrosexual Vampire is different than this earlier incarnation that provokes fear in us. This fear that in the middle of the night some figure may appear in our beds and penetrate us. If the metrosexual Vampire provokes fear in us it is because we desire to go to them under the cloak of night and seduce them. Or, perhaps, it strikes fear in men in that if what Carti is doing is the new mode of seduction for men, then what am i to do with this dusty mode of masculinity that i have invested so much into? I’m here to tell you Carti is the new model of Rockstar, and there will only be more like him as the metrosexual revolution rages on.
Carti is a metrosexual Vampire Rockstar that enjoys being desired, a passive active Rockstar who desires our desire, who in posturing as passive provokes us to act upon him. If his presence provokes fear in you then I ask you to look again, because like .. he is clearly having so much fun? I ask you to follow his lead. If you don’t want to seduce him I ask you to follow his example and find joy in the pleasure of fancying yourself. If that does not pay dividends through affording you a sexual partner, then at the very least you may find pleasure in yourself. What a performance like this truly signals, for better or worse, is a new age of narcissism (for not just men, but everybody), which asks the other a question, poses a challenge — can you love me as much as I love myself?