Pole Position: The Curiously Anti-Stripper Message Of Lil Wayne’s “How To Love” Video


If Lifetime movies are too light on the melodrama for your taste, Lil Wayne’s new video for “How To Love” will be right up your alley. Unlike most Weezy jams it’s a slow, treacly song, so I haven’t heard it while at work. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that the video is not all that stripper-positive. MTV has a really long recap, but the short of it is this: A girl grows up in hardship with an abusive baby daddy in prison, gets molested, becomes a stripper and prostitute and contracts HIV. Then the video rewinds and shows a magical alternate universe where her mom marries a nice man, she goes to college, and gets happily pregnant. It’s a real tear-jerker, though the tears being jerked might be the result of hot rage.

Yes, “How To Love” is another hip-hop video championing conservative, anti-choice anti-feminism. Its simplistic moralizing is a sad reminder that the Madonna/whore complex, not to mention a strong bias against birth control and abortion, is alive and well in certain corners of hip-hop. And it’s disappointing that Weezy, of all people, is going down this road. I expected better from him and director Chris Robinson, the man behind the video for the unqualified stripper classic “Make It Rain.” That video inaugurated a whole new genre of conspicuous consumption imagery in hip-hop with its all-text, no-sub image of women’s bodies being literally covered with cash money. While women remained objects and accessories, at least they were getting fair market value for it.

But apparently there’s been a shift in Wayne’s thinking, and now instead of celebrating strippers he’s using their career choices to exemplify women hitting rock bottom. The message: If you want to be compensated for sexual labor, you’re going to suffer. The stripper is no longer dancing in a celebratory cascade of bills; instead, she’s kicking platforms off of her tired feet in the dressing room as she counts out crumpled singles. Is Wayne pitying strippers now instead of paying them? Perhaps he sees a changing attitude towards sex workers as a mark of maturity. Maybe he read some of anti-sex worker crusader Melissa Farley’s work while in jail. Whatever the reason, I can only read the new depiction of strippers as evidence of a condescending impulse to categorize women.

The cheap dramatics don’t even send a clear message, a pretty big failing for a “message” video. What is the point supposed to be? Your mom would go home if she wanted to raise you right? Getting molested is bad because it leads to being an HIV+ sex worker? (Is this 1987? Here’s some crazy news: HIV is treatable now.) It’s also disturbing that the happy alternate version hinges on Mom going back home instead of staying with the bad baby daddy, effectively blaming her for her daughter’s tragic outcome. And what the hell does all this have to do with knowing “How To Love”? You know who should have known how to love? The men in the story.

There’s just one thing that would almost redeem this video: If on Sunday night, Weezy did a live, one-man re-enactment of this shitshow at the VMAs a la R. Kelly’s “Trapped In The Closet” performance in 2005. It wouldn’t make the reductiveness and condescension any less galling, but at least it would match the absurdity of this clip’s attitude.