Arts and Entertainment

Dictatorial Froth in a New Media Universe

Ice Spice is the red-puffer-wrapped gift of a distinct art form for the new millennium.

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In her world-bending 1966 essay “Against Interpretation,” culture critic Susan Sontag wrote: “In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.” It was a prophetic vision of what the 21st-century art scene would be like; the relentless 20th-century style of analysis and interpretation was replaced with an emphasis on art as sensuous, tangible, and accessible. Sontag wrote that “ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience. […] What is important now is to recover our senses.” Over 57 years, this idea trickled down from the intellectual ranks of Columbia University and was (unwittingly) answered with a resounding “GRRAH!” from the queen of New York Drill, the “Baddest in the Room:” Ice Spice, who was born (suitably enough) on the first day of the 21st century. Forget about the digital age; Ice Spice would be the red-puffer-wrapped gift of a distinct art form for the new millennium.

Growing up in the Bronx with five younger siblings, Ice Spice spent her childhood writing rap and poetry, drawing inspiration from her father, an underground rapper in the ‘90s (whose rap name still eludes the internet). “We would be walking to school and he would be trying to get me to rap about my day,” Ice Spice recalled in an interview with The New York Times. In 2021, A TikTok of Spice twerking for the #BussItChallenge went wildly viral. Though she had been making music her whole life, it was this first taste of sensational popularity that inspired her to start recording her work. She used the name “Ice Spice” because it was her “finsta” name in high school. Her first few songs, which she has since taken off of the internet, were self-described as “serious flops.” But in the music video for her first hit, the November 2021 song “No Clarity,” she changed her look; Ice Spice wore a red Moncler puffer and sheer bodysuit and sported what would become her signature hairstyle: an orange afro. She emerged with a distinctive sound to go with her new style, and announced, “I am the one, so how can I lose?” 

Though she was already growing an internet fanbase, it was the 2022 single “Munch (Feelin’ U)'' that catapulted Ice Spice into worldwide stardom. The song opens with a glitchy synth hi-hat as Ice Spice exhales her signature “GRAH!” This word is an inherited ad-lib from the tradition of aggressive UK “rah-rah” drill music, but Ice Spice wielded it to become distinctly her own. Because the timbre of her voice is so soft and the content of her songs are so explicitly sexual, “Munch” sounds nothing like the drill of the last 10 years; drill researcher and archivist Nicole Raine is even calling it by a new name: “sexy drill.” By asking a rhetorical question in the first line of the song—“You thought I was feelin’ you?”—Spice scoffs at the idea of touching anyone else’s body and implicitly takes full control over her sexuality. The album cover of her first EP, Like..? (2023), is a cartoon image of her as a plastic doll, bending over and covering her genitalia with one hand. This is just another example of Ice Spice “doing her dance,” playing with the idea of her sexuality, and staking full claim. The post-structuralist notion that language can create meaning (and not just the other way around) seems to explain why Ice Spice has become so influential. By sliding fresh vocabulary into New York City (and Stuyvesant) vernacular, she has created a space of meaning for herself in our culture. When we talk about being “baddies” with “gyatts” who “are giving…” —even ironically—we are also propagating new ideas about femininity, sexuality, and our generation, all by channeling the dictatorial froth of Ice Spice! When it comes to “Munch”’s popularity, Ice Spice seems aware of the source of her power. She explained to The New York Times that she’s “happy the first song that ever really blew up for [her] like that was an original song, with an original word.” 

The saga begins with Drake finding “Munch” in 2021 and playing it on his Sirius XM radio station. In the wake of this massive boost in listeners, Ice Spice posted the song on TikTok. Since that first post, “#munch” has gotten over two billion views, and “#IceSpice” has over four billion views. Ice Spice seems to be the most successful example of an artist who rode the wave of TikTok virality: it seems that she writes music with a particular cache and audience of social media in mind, pioneering a new art form for a new age of media. 

“ASMR for a club rat” was how The Cut described Like..? Even for the most serious fans and critics, there is something inherently funny about the sound of Ice Spice’s music, something humorous in the intentional discord between the club-remixed backbeat and her whisper voice. But she also uses Instagram-caption-length lines punctuated with the signature “Grrah,” drilling lines like “Damn, she in ha mood” for so long that a listener is forced to get into “ha mood.” For example, in “Princess Diana,” Ice Spice’s ode to fame, she repeats, “In the hood I’m like Princess Diana” until her voice sounds just like caterwaul with a hypnotic effect: listeners have no choice but to do “her dance” and spread her sound all over the internet. 

As a cyber-identity, Ice Spice seems to be more of a meme than a musician. Her distinctive style (orange afro, comfy pink tracksuit, glaring eye contact) became a winning costume this Halloween (I even saw a few Ice Spice Jack-O-Lanterns). Even North West, the oldest daughter of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, recently posted a TikTok of her drawing Ice Spice with a backtrack by PinkPantheress’ “Boy’s a Liar (remix feat. Ice Spice)” on her TikTok. Though critics might dismiss Ice Spice as a meme chamber or a pop reflector instead of a transcendent musician, this style of creating for—not in spite of—social media is inevitably becoming a part of our generation’s entertainment scene.

In regards to her future, Ice Spice mused: “I do want to be a mainstream artist. I want diamond records and plaques and Grammys. […] I think in order to get that, [I] do have to surpass just one subgenre.” But Ice Spice is as ironic as her generation; she says she is “just naturally super chill and nonchalant about a lot of things.” Even though she is not the greatest rapper of our time, her sound remains interesting because it is a product of the digital age. She commits to the sensuality of art online, and she doesn’t “care if those [EXPLETIVE] don’t like [her]—the hustle they gotta respect!”