Missy Elliott, the once and forever queen of vivid sex euphemisms and bedazzled sportswear, is back in the game today with a video for her new track, “WTF (Where They From).” It’s Missy at her Missyest: There’s some choice deployment of “blah blah blah,” crowds of lip-syncing b-girls and -boys, and hoop earrings the size of Indiana. There’s also the skipping rhythms and cheeky puppeteering of Shamir, disco-ball lip jewels, and one colorful get-up that channels Roy Lichtenstein. For the love of thigh-high sweatsocks, watch it:
The release also falls in line with Missy’s long history of championing young girls as featured dancers in her videos. “WTF” opens with a dance solo from a precocious youngster in an oversized jersey, a segment that recalls the impressive kid moves in “I’m Really Hot,” “Gossip Folks,” and “Work It.” One of Missy’s old guard, Alyson Stoner, recreated her little-kid moves in a Missy tribute video earlier this year. Missy has given girls some of the choicest spots in her videos, treating them as her badass equals.
That’s why I interpreted the “WTF” hook as a sardonic response to haters who tell young girls they’re too young and dumb to hang in circles of power, whether it be a dance crew or the upper echelons of hip-hop. “The dance that you’re doing is dumb/ How they do where you from?” Missy raps as the little girl dances. “Stickin' out your tongue girl/ But you know you're too young.”
But some of my Slate colleagues and plenty of Internet commenters have read this as a diss aimed at Miley Cyrus, who is both young and a frequent exposer of her tongue. In her Bangerz era, Miley indiscriminately co-opted black culture and hip-hop tropes—twerking, bandannas, pseudo–gang signs—without hesitation, using their cultural cachet to earn the favor of mainstream white pop fans. Much of her rise took place while Missy was out of the spotlight; Miley's 2007 breakout single “See You Again” dropped just as Missy was coming off of her last big solo single, “Lose Control.” Now, perhaps, Missy’s ready to show Miley how a veteran hip-hop–pop crossover does the damn thing.
Or maybe, since it’s unlikely that a superstar like Missy would feel threatened by the likes of Miley, it’s a generic smear in a song full of delicious, Missy-worthy braggadocio. Either way, it’ll make you want to play the video on repeat, which is probably the point.