For the better part of 2019, it was impossible to scroll through Facebook or Instagram for five minutes without seeing a mention of ‘Hot Girl Summer’, be it sincere or meme’d or both. For that reason, it’s hard to imagine how exactly the person behind that phrase could somehow become even more omnipresent this year and in a world in various states of crisis – but here we are.
Over the last six months or so, Megan Thee Stallion – born Megan Pete – has proved herself a truly exciting artist far beyond even the colossal cultural waves she made with that Nicki Minaj-featuring hit single. Just three years into her career, the 25-year-old Houston, Texas rapper has released four acclaimed projects (the EPs ‘Make It Hot’, ‘Tina Snow’ and ‘Suga’ and 2019 mixtape ‘Fever’), topped the US Billboard charts, won a plethora of awards – BET, VMA, Billboard to name a few – and released an internet-breaking track with Beyoncé, the remix of ‘Savage’.
And yet here on a Zoom call with NME, from the strangely familiar kitchen where she performs the dance routines seen in a lot of her recent social media missives, the rap sensation is so relaxed, friendly – “I like to talk so much,” she warns, “you’ll swear you already knew me” – and at ease with her own virality that it borders on cognitive dissonance.
Of the ‘Savage’ TikTok dance challenge, she says, “I didn’t know TikTok was gonna be this big; I didn’t know everybody was going to be making up these cool dances! I guess it just all wound up right.” Of Beyoncé, she chuckles, “That’s all I could say: ‘Thank you Lord!’”, mimicking a real-life prayer hands emoji.
Pharrell dubbed her ‘Megan Thee Machine’, and it’s no accident you’d be hard-pressed to find an English-speaking rap fan who doesn’t know at least one of her songs. Megan has been steadily providing the online realm with entertaining, empowering and downright explicit thirst trap captions (from latest single ‘Girls In The Hood’: “It never happened if the dick wasn’t snappin’”) for about 18 months, all while studying for a degree in Health Administration at Texas Southern University, experiencing a huge loss in her family and dealing with disputes with her former record label 1501 (“[they] don’t want me to put out no music,” she said on Instagram Live in March).
It’s 11am in Los Angeles and she’s been up for two hours but admits that she’s already thinking, “Damn, when can I take a nap?”
Despite what her consistent online presence and the groundswell of chatter around her might suggest, lockdown has provided Megan with the much-needed space and time outside of a packed travelling schedule to focus on writing. She’s been in her house, barely seeing anyone and working hard on a number of projects: “I was already gonna lock myself up! I knew I had that goal and I was going to finish it.”
The ‘goal’, which she drops in so nonchalantly here, has been on the lips of her interviewers for most of her career: the fated debut album. In the past, Megan has likened the concept to that of a ‘husband’, a term weighted with a slightly overwhelming commitment. She’s more ready now, it turns out, because she’s finally been able to take the time to fully process the whirlwind of the last 18 months.
“I’m one of the artists in this generation that you’re gonna remember”
“I feel like I had been through so much; I was just finally ready to commit to the process,” she says. And the lockdown set-up has been pretty conducive to the undertaking. “When I’m by myself, that’s when my creativity comes to me. The whole album was basically written in the living room, the shower, the backyard – just visualise it with me,” she jokes. Beyond confirmation that it’s on the way and is pretty much finished, however, Megan is keeping details close to her chest for now.
Megan’s previous projects have introduced new personas. Tina Snow represents the more gangster, headstrong side of her repertoire; ‘Fever’’s Hot Girl Meg is carefree and here to enjoy life; ‘Suga’ explores her more subdued and sensitive side. Asked if the new record will feature a new persona, she explains that the real answer would reveal the album title. Take from that what you will…
In the meantime, Megan has generously gifted her fans – a.k.a the ‘hotties’ – with ‘Girls In The Hood’. The track dropped last Friday with audacious pink and fluffy artwork to match its nostalgic Eazy-E sample, accented with an electric guitar motif.
“Basically, it’s the girl version of [Eazy-E’s 1987 single] ‘Boyz-N-The-Hood’,” she says simply. Her love of old-school rap is audible in her urgent flow and from the first line, “Fuck being good / I’m a bad bitch”, which had captioned many an Instagram post in a matter of days. Megan sets the tone for the unapologetic, punchy rap track filled with her usual boldness, plus a distinct pride in her origin story. With her signature Southern buoyancy, crisp lyricism and clear-cut delivery, she boasts of never texting first, working hard since the age of 16 and being a real-life anime heroine.
“I just love inspiring people – I love making people smile”
On the importance of shouting out her ’hood, Megan explains: “I just felt like me being a black woman from the ’hood, my side of town, I want people to know that you can come from not the ‘best’ area but still grow into the person that you wanna be. Tell people where you came from. Because look where I’m at now. I’m a product of my environment, baby!” She talks with such enthusiasm, ease and rhythm that at times it sounds like you might be hearing sneak previews of the next single.
That unabashed hometown pride is not uncommon among the incredible stars that Houston, Texas has birthed: from Beyoncé and Solange to Normani as well as Meg, there is no end of megastars ready to acknowledge how the city has shaped them. My own expectations of the South were completely subverted by a brief trip to Houston; I anticipated racial tensions but was greeted with broad warmth and openness (as well as unparalleled barbecue). Megan beams: “It’s that Southern hospitality! There’s so many nice people in the South. They ask how you’re doing; they wanna hold the door for you…”
Megan has been imbued with that benevolence, along with a desire to repay some of the love and affection that her hometown, community and family immersed her in. “You can be something bigger and still give back and make opportunities for the people from your ’hood to come up and chase their dreams.”
Along with finishing her education while becoming one of the hottest rappers in the world today, Megan is dedicated to helping others, be it hosting last year’s ‘Hottie Beach Clean Ups’ in Santa Monica or launching her progressive beauty pageant in West Hollywood, to which she gifted a grand prize of a $2,500 scholarship fund. She also released ‘Girls In The Hood’ merch lines, designed by young black female creatives, and aims to create a more regular scholarship programme. “I don’t wanna say too much,” she teases, “but we got a lot coming.”
She envisions that Hot Girl Shit – her ingenious and inclusive unofficial branding – will eventually embody a host of different ventures: “A whole big ole brand, whole big ole company – it’s gonna be worldwide, okay? I really want it to be just a plethora of things.” She sounds giddy at the possibilities: “I’m really working on my dynasty right now.”
When we speak, we’re a few days on from the release of ‘Girls In The Hood’ and just ahead of her triumphant evening at the virtual BET Awards, where she delivered a Mad Max-inspired desert performance and left with two awards including the coveted Best Female Hip Hop Artist. With the world’s attention on her, she’s basking in the moment: “I’m just so grateful because I remember being young and watching the BET Awards and just being like, ‘I’mma do that one day – that’s gon’ be me’. And for me? To have spoken that? Onto myself? I was like, ‘Giiiirl – go Meg!’.”
She speaks of positive affirmation with sincerity that could sweep along the greatest sceptic: “And now I’m one of the women – I’m one of the artists in this generation that you are gonna remember, and that you’re going to be talking about to your kids. I’m just excited to be a part of a generation where people are going to be looking up to us one day.”
This role model status may, on the surface, seem slightly at odds with some of the more – ahem – adult-friendly nature of Megan’s catalogue. But you shouldn’t underestimate the significance of Megan Thee Stallion’s presence. In a world that is often especially harsh and dismissive towards black womxn – even within the world of hip-hop – it’s almost historic for the next generation to witness Megan build a world and brand so authentic to her experience, and for her to live it with unadulterated confidence, beauty and success.
Her modern-day mantras are recited globally, out loud at her shows, online and in headphones. In the three years she’s been releasing music, Megan Thee Stallion has already been able to instil her – mostly black, femme-identifying and young – fanbase with a vitality often more readily associated with her more veteran counterparts. And she’s done it through genuine visibility and representation. “I try to put confidence in my fans when I’m rapping, because when you repeat after me, you need to really believe in what you’re saying!” she says.
In creating these musical manifestations of power and strength, Megan arms the ‘hotties’ with her own infectious energy: “Whatever lyric is your favourite – maybe it’s ‘I’m that bitch / Been that bitch / Still that bitch’ – I want everybody to feel the way I feel.” And it’s evident in her obvious success that fans are hooked on the feeling too. And, naturally, her conviction does not come without criticism or speculation.
“I don’t want anybody to perceive me as perfect”
Black womxn’s confidence is often policed and doubted within wider society, labelled ‘aggressive’ or ‘sassy’ or just plain invalidated. Look at the viral clip of Venus Williams aged 14 having her confidence questioned by an older white male journalist, or the way the music industry can seek to pit female rappers against each other and diminish their individual merits; there are countless obstacles for black womxn in the industry to dodge on their ascent to fame.
What equipped her with the unshakeable love of self that bolsters her and makes her so influential to her fans? “When I was younger I watched my mother, my grandmother, my aunt – all the women in big supporting roles in my life – be so confident and I thought they were so beautiful,” Megan replies.
She was incredibly close with her mother, who rapped under the name Holly-Wood and was Megan’s manager until she passed last year. Surrounded by strong influences, Megan was propped up from a young age and just took their word for it when they believed in her: “I had really good examples of women in my life and they always put it in like, ‘Megan, you’re amazing… You’re doing so good’. That came from my father too. I didn’t know anything else from birth. Now I’m grown, it’s like, what can anybody tell me?” She affects faux indignance. “I already feel like I’m the shit so if you say otherwise, you crazy ’cause my momma said I was beautiful! So I must be beautiful!”
Megan Thee Stallion has an innate ability to make anything and everything seem straightforward and completely positive. It’s an undeniable strength, but also something that she was conscious to explore with ‘Suga’. The soft, confessional ‘Crying In The Car’ sees a rare singing Stallion croon over distorted gospel backing vocals about her shakier moments, how she grew from her low points and learned to own her vulnerabilities. Though it may seem like she has everything together, Megan wanted to make it known that that’s not always the case.
“I don’t want anybody to perceive me as perfect,” she explains. “Girl, I be waking up and I do not be feeling it sometimes. Sometimes I might bust out crying – I go through it too!”
Megan feels that it’s important to be honest about her difficulties so that others can be inspired by this side of her too. She – like most womxn – is full of dichotomies, which should be allowed to exist within us simultaneously: she’s the twerking manga and anime fan, bougie and ratchet, sexualised and in control, confident and vulnerable, full of humour and lightness but not to be taken advantage of; she’s securing her own bag but she’s taking yours too.
When so many black womxn are speaking out about their experiences while helping to lead the charge of Black Lives Matter, our conversation naturally moves to the pressure created by the Strong Black Woman stereotype. The expectation that black womxn will support others with fortitude and infallibility – emotionally, financially and even physically in roles as caregivers – can be damaging to a lot of us.
“Let me tell you, black women are strong,” Megan states matter-of-factly. “We can be going through whatever and still put on a good face. I know there were times that my mother might have been going through things but I never knew, because she wanted me to feel safe and okay.”
She goes on to explain that a lot of black womxn make those sacrifices for others as mothers, sisters, partners and that it’s no small feat. “But,” she adds, “half the time it’s because we’re trying to protect everybody else. Sometimes it gets bottled up until we burst.”
She does point out, though, that it’s important for people to acknowledge what we’re doing and care for us when we need it, even if we can’t ask. Megan addressed this burden by helping her grandmother and mother, when she could, with financial support. “It’s just a feeling of relief when you finally get that help,” she says today.
Alongside her music, Megan has also been busy expanding her TV and film repertoire. A lover of anime and horror films, she produced her own 2019 vampire horror YouTube series Hottieween, directed by triple-threat pop star Teyana Taylor, which Megan promises will continue over the next year or so, alongside a potential feature film development.
She’s also starring as a judge on HBO’s Legendary, a competition series showcasing the beauty of ballroom culture and the LGBTQ+ community. A standout moment on the show occurred when a contestant spoke about her experience of being bullied for her body and wanting to represent those who don’t fit the societal – and physical – mould of ‘perfect’. Megan shared her own emotional response on Instagram, accompanying the clip with the caption “Please know that you are perfect in your own way and never let anyone dim your light because you don’t fit an image that pleases them.”
“Let me tell you: black women are strong”
“I think sometimes people can try to make you feel like you’ve done something wrong because of the type of body that you have,” Megan tells NME. She recalls photoshoots at which she was handed sample-size clothes, and laughs incredulously, “I’m not a sample-size girl!” Megan’s rock-solid confidence meant this didn’t greatly affect her, but she has been moved at seeing others experience similar issues: “I see the best in everybody so when [the contestant] was saying she didn’t feel she was ever seen as sexy… I thought she came out there and was looking bomb! I’m like, ‘How could you not see this!’ It just really made me get emotional that she could feel that way.”
Megan seems to be driven by this overarching theme of support and friendship. “I just love inspiring people,” she says. “I love making people smile; I love performing for the hotties.”
Over the last few weeks, she’s transitioned fairly seamlessly into a source of vital information for her social media followers, donating and sharing petitions and resources for Breonna Taylor, a black woman killed in a police raid; George Floyd, killed in a police arrest; and Iyanna Dior, the victim of a transphobic attack. She’s spent time learning and figuring out how she can best help to enact real change in what she rightly calls “part two of the civil rights movement”.
There have been a fair few slip-ups and missteps as the discourse evolves – see: Louis Vuitton artistic director Virgil Abloh apologising for making it seem he’d donated just $50 to Black Lives Matter – and people look to artists to use their platforms for good. Asked how the dynamic shift has felt for her, Megan explains measuredly: “Sometimes being a public figure, you don’t wanna say the wrong thing because you don’t want to be insensitive to people or get too opinionated. But I will always say what I feel. I don’t speak on things that I don’t know about, and I won’t speak on things I don’t believe in.”
It’s clear Megan’s path isn’t heavily strategised or predetermined. “Nothing I do is ever calculated or planned,” she explains. “Even when I write songs I’m like, ‘Oh yeah – this is fire, go hard. My hotties will probably like this’.” Whether she’s making music, talking freely about sex, giving out scholarships or speaking up against injustices, she has been consistently steered by her own intuition and insatiable work ethic – and she hasn’t missed yet. The world receives her keenly just as she is. This approach means her astronomical success can’t be closely replicated: she’s a cultural phenomenon.
A young, black, sex-and-body-positive, confident and inclusive, hard-working musician, filmmaker, advocate and philanthropic internet native working on a degree in Health Administration? Megan Thee Stallion embodies a new template of authenticity – her actions based on instinct – for the next generation. She is the modern Renaissance woman, or, as she put it herself so memorably on ‘Savage’, “the ’hood Mona Lisa”.
Megan Thee Stallion’s new single ‘Girls In The Hood’ is out now.