Megan Thee Stallion is experiencing career momentum that other artists only dream of: After several of her freestyles went viral in 2017, she released Make It Hot, followed by 2018’s Tina Snow, (which featured one of her biggest songs “Big Ol’ Freak”), and, in May 2019, she dropped Fever, the first mixtape from a woman rapper to reach the top 10 of Billboard’s Top 200 chart. And while her musical influences, including Lil’ Kim and Juicy J, resound throughout her mixtapes, her songs are still tailored to suit her specific musical taste. She’s a self-defined “hot girl,” or an unbothered and carefree woman who unapologetically chases and secures bags, and her songs are sex-positive, full of confidence, and include catchy lyrics that are perfect for Instagram captions.
Megan introduced her alter ego “Hot Girl Meg” on Instagram on May 8 as a part of the roll out for Fever’s first single, “Realer.” In “Realer,” Megan defines some of her hot-girl tendencies for listeners, the tenants of which include keeping it real, saying fuck the critics, and getting money. The meaning has evolved to include wearing white toe-nail polish, drinking brown liquor, and indulging in girl’s nights—and its caught on in a major way. When summer 2019 rolled around—earlier and hotter than normal, thanks to global warming—Megan declared it the “hot-girl summer” in a tweet: “Being a Hot Girl is about being unapologetically YOU, having fun, being confident, living YOUR truth, being the life of the party etc.”
Her rapidly growing fanbases on Twitter (where she has more than 980,000 followers) and Instagram (where she also shared the tweet with her 3.7 million followers) immediately joined the movement. Big-time Black Gen-Z voices like Jordyn Woods and Chloe X Halle along with ordinary Black girls around the world used a combination of selfies, captions, and videos to pledge their allegiance to Megan’s season of carefree fun. (The hashtag #HotGirlSummer has been used more than 200,000 times on Instagram alone.) As the phrase gained visibility, though, the twisted hand of capitalism has brought an onslaught of brands attempting to commodify Megan Thee Stallion’s lifestyle.
On July 9, fast-food chain Wendy’s declared its lemonade “the Official Drink of Hot-Girl Summer” on Twitter. Wendy’s adoption of a popular phrase split Megan Thee Stallion’s fanbase: Some fans were over the moon that she was being recognized by a large brand while others urged the restaurant to bring her on as a spokesperson. On the same day, Maybelline New York also joined the party, tweeting, “Summer 19 in three words: hot girl summer. PERIODT! How’s your hot girl summer going?” (Their tweet also referenced “periodt,” the Miami-based rap duo City Girls’s signature conversation closer.) The cosmetic company’s tweet tried to lasso and regurgitate African American Vernacular English for cool points while also garnering acknowledgement from Megan, which is often a straight shot to virality.
Both companies’ attempts to cash in on “hot-girl summer” continued an urgent conversation about brands co-opting Black lingo without treating Black girls and women well. In late 2015, a Wendy’s in Colorado came under fire for including a racist note in a young Black girl’s kid’s meal. The child’s mother, Manige Osowski, returned to the restaurant to speak with a manager, which led to management confiscating the card and ripping it up. She was then escorted out by police officers. The two employees who slipped the playing card into the child’s meal were quickly fired and Wendy’s apologized to Osowki and her daughter, but the blanketed apology wasn’t enough for Osowski; she asked Wendy’s to directly apologize to her daughter. “While I do understand that two individuals were responsible for this, there’s a systemic problem that this isn’t addressed to the people it hurt,” Osowski told Fox News.
Maybelline also hasn’t been historically kind to Black women. In 2016, the cosmetics company released a 12-shade foundation line that didn’t include hues for darker-skinned Black women. (To make matters worse, the first six shades were the only ones released in the United Kingdom.) Like so many other companies, Maybelline’s failure to account for darker skin alienated Black women buyers, who, according to a 2018 Nielson report, spend “nearly nine times [more] than our non-Black counterparts on ethnic hair and beauty products,” but also made the relationship between cosmetics lines and Black buyers even more difficult. “Even though I am annoyed by this[,] I am not surprised, this is an issue that plagues any woman who is not white,” beauty and fashion blogger Nadia Gomos wrote on her blog in February 2016. “Getting anything to suit your skin tone from global beauty brands is almost impossible…They always make the same excuses saying there is no market for the product[,] which is just not true. There is a huge population of Black women in the United Kingdom.”
If you don’t support Black women, give them access, and make them feel seen in the products you’re peddling, then you shouldn’t adopt their intraracial phrases to line your pockets.
These companies insist on co-opting Megan Thee Stallion’s signature phrase because they’ve long been able to get away with it. Kayla Newman, a Black teenager who coined the catchphrase “on fleek” in summer 2014, has watched the term go viral without being compensated. It was printed on Forever 21 shirts and has been referenced in multiple songs. As Jeff Ihaza pointed out in a February 2017 piece for The Outline, young white people, like the boys behind the “Damn, Daniel” meme and Danielle Bregoli (“Cash me outside”), are encouraged to capitalize on their words. Daniel Lara and Joshua Holz of “Damn, Daniel” fame appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and in Weezer’s music video for “California Kids” while Bregoli, who has been emulating Black women from the beginning, is now a rapper signed to Atlantic Records. Digital virality is lucrative, but young Black women are still unable to cash out.
“The year is 2080. @LilNasX asks us to be featured on his 200th remix of Old Town Road. The music video is shot in space as he floats in on a horse dripping in Body Lava. Hot girl summer has prevailed for 60 seasons in a row. Life is good,” Fenty Beauty, a Black-owned beauty and high-fashion business that has been intentionally inclusive, recently tweeted. Noticeably, there hasn’t been any backlash; Fenty Beauty may be one of the only brands that has the range to endorse “hot-girl summer” without it feeling appropriative because it affords its platform to both rising and already iconic Black figures, has made Black current events a part of it’s social content (a Black woman, Aja Jade, is on their social team), and Megan Thee Stallion has been publicly vocal about being an avid user of Fenty Beauty. All of the elements make their reference to Megan Thee Stallion’s now-viral concept a bit more natural, mutually beneficial, and not solely rooted in one-sided financial gain. Both Rihanna and Fenty Beauty have given Black women space to be their authentic selves, which is really what “hot-girl summer” is all about.
If you don’t support Black women, give them access, and make them feel seen in the products you’re peddling, then you shouldn’t adopt their intraracial phrases to line your pockets. While it’s nice to see Megan Thee Stallion being mentioned by big-name companies, knowing that these same companies have had racist incidents in the past and are directly benefiting from Megan’s work without paying her for it dampens the celebration. “Real hot girl shit” is knowing when to let Black women enjoy things without feeling the need to insert yourself into the conversation for a dollar.