Written by Sydney Stewart
We live in a society.
What does society, more specifically, our society, value? Money, senseless wealth, overt decadence. Humans stumble along, foolishly pursuing worthless treasure at the expense of their souls, yet, there are some who call out against the unstoppable tide of modern consumption and capitalism. One well-known critique of immoral wealth and rampant sin is Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, in which a man falls within the treacherous pits of opulence. While Wilde may have attacked senseless beauty and luxuriance, what critic critiques our society? Where is our savior from the quagmire of degeneracy? Enter, Cardi B.
“He’s so handsome what’s his name?”
Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray mirrors Cardi B’s “I Like It” in a myriad of ways, and both act as a critique against their respective materialistic societies. To begin, both “I Like It” and The Picture of Dorian Gray similarly exhibit brutal violence as occurring concurrent to, and as a result of wealth. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian Gray generally brings about destruction wherever he goes in his path to pleasure. The violence present in “I Like It” is more understated—a muted, babbling brook, as opposed to raging whitewater rapids. Cardi B references gang violence when she declares she’s “certified, you know I’m gang, gang, gang, gang (woo-),” which subtly hints to her association with the infamous and violent Blood gang. Yet, the artists respective consequences for their violence differs dramatically.
Unlike Dorian Gray, Cardi B evades punishment and continues on her lyrical rampage with decadence and extreme wealth. Moreover, there is the fact of the sheer opulence witnessed in both “I Like It” as well as The Picture of Dorian Gray. Cardi B enumerates the various expressions of her self-made wealth, stating that “I like dollars, I like diamonds / I like stuntin’, I like shinin’” and expounds upon these material manifestations of prosperity through with other declarations such as “I like those Balenciagas” (NB: a Spanish luxury fashion corporation). Much like Cardi B, Oscar Wilde fixates on material opulence in The Picture of Dorian Gray.
“I believe that if one man were to live out his life fully and completely—”
“Flexing on bitches as hard as I can—”
“I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies of medievalism and return to the Hellenic ideal—’
“Eating halal, driving the Lam’”
However, “I Like It” and The Picture of Dorian Gray possess nuanced differences, such as those betwixt a floral Darjeeling tea, versus a fragrant Nilgiri. There is, of course, the disparity in the treatment of beauty. Beauty in “I Like It” remains a tangential theme that is only peripherally referenced by few lyrics. Cardi B remarks on the beauty of the material items she buys (Balenciagas—more specifically, “the ones that look like socks”), and occasionally comments on her “banging body” which is “hotter than a Somali.” In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian Gray—similar to Cardi B—emphasizes his physical beauty, though to a greater extent. Then, there is the issue of how Cardi B and Dorian Gray’s respective wealth is accrued. Cardi B is a self-made millionaire—she, through her own tenacity and industriousness, worked as a stripper before beginning her lucrative musical career. Thus, “I Like It” acts as a shrine to her wealth, and a salute to her Afro-Latina heritage, whereas Dorian Gray likely is thriving off long-held family money, rather than money he has earned himself. Furthermore, the stakes are low for Cardi B—her oil painting, which hangs in the minds of her fans, remains vivid and unmarred by her insinuated wealth. Dorian Gray’s portrait, however, decays. However, Cardi B’s “I Like It” goes beyond simplistic glorification of materialism, and, similar to The Picture of Dorian Gray, brutally critiques our society.
“On one occasion he took up the study of jewels—”
“I like going to the jewelers—”
“He procured from Amsterdam three emeralds of extraordinary size—”
“I put rocks all in my watch (Cha-ching)—”
Since “I Like It” and The Picture of Dorian Gray both address the same themes, with some slight nuances, does this mean Cardi B acts as our critic against our dependence on material goods? The answer is an emphatic yes. Cardi B, while a millionaire who has achieved her level of wealth through playing the capitalistic system, on numerous occasions speaks (or sings) against the tide of capitalism that decimates our society in her song “I Like It.” To begin, Cardi B declares that “I need the dollars,” which, at face value, may insinuate her dependency on wealth. However, this phrase is likely sung as an ironic critique of our society’s dependence on money and material goods. Cardi B’s argument occurs again when she states that she is “’bout my coins like Mario.” Here, Cardi B acknowledges her wealth through likening herself to the popular video game character, Mario, who runs through a side-scrolling video game world, aiming to collect as many coins as possible before saving Princess Peach.
Does this not reflect our own senseless drive to run through life, and accrue meaningless bits of wealth, striving towards a shining, yet imprisoned emblem of freedom?
Furthermore, Mario acts as a representation of our capitalist and market-driven society. He was a created character for a video game industry that has long-dominated the video game field, and out-sold competitors with the image of an iconic mustachioed plumber, and continues to impact our society, and further the insane wealth of the multi-million-dollar company, Nintendo. Cardi B’s statement acknowledges the capitalism in our system, and she ironically sings the lyric as to draw our attention to our own senseless and materialistic endeavors.
To conclude, Cardi B and Oscar Wilde both create similar works that depict and critique wealth and decadence. Both works enumerate signs of extreme opulence and its associated violence, and both critique the direction our materialistic society is traveling towards. However, the pair possess nuanced, particular differences, as in how the wealth was specifically accrued, and how beauty is particularly addressed in both works. Comrade Cardi B, the seemingly superficial millionaire, acts as the harsh critic and enemy to our materialistic capitalist American society.