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"Trap Queen," Fetty Wap's amazing summer love song, explained

This is Fetty Wap. He created the glorious song that is "Trap Queen."
This is Fetty Wap. He created the glorious song that is "Trap Queen."
Rich Polk/Getty Images
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Fetty Wap had us at "Hey, what's up? Hello."

Those are some of the opening words to Fetty's soaring synth bash "Trap Queen" — a glass of sonic champagne that's equal parts love sonnet, ode to the American dream, street opera, personal finance primer, and cocaine fever dream:

Throughout the past year (the song was technically released in March 2014), "Trap Queen" has worked its way up from internet obscurity, eventually becoming a viral phenomenon and the No. 2 song in America. If it continues on its indomitable path, global domination is the only logical endpoint.

"Trap Queen" is the song playing on your iPhone while sweat accumulates behind your knees; it's the song playing on the radio while anxious parents drop their kids off at the mall hoping they won't get murdered or pregnant; it's the song playing at barbecues where dad bods are on full display and Natty Ice flows freely; it's the song playing at a suburban wedding where some bridesmaid is having the worst night of her life because plum isn't her color; it's the song playing at house parties you weren't invited to; it's the song I assume is playing at the club where a man, armed with finger guns, waits for someone to make eye contact with him so he can flirt by mouthing the words of the first verse (I have not been to a club, let alone the club, since I was spry young man).

Even the New England Patriots are "dancing" to it:

What makes "Trap Queen" such a refreshing revelation is that — from its lyrics to its beat — the song is an amalgam of the relatable and the niche. At some points it is love reimagined as a Lamborghini, pole-dancing, and cocaine; at others, it's a majestic Jane Austen–esque tribute to fidelity, mutual success, and financial responsibility. It incorporates slang about narcotics distribution, yet everyone knows all the words. And even though it's extremely specific to a certain kind of love forged from abandoned houses and $1,000 pole dances, it manages to transcend race, sexuality, creed, and class and make that love universal.

"Trap Queen" isn't just the song of summer. It's an American marvel.

What is a "trap queen?"

The easy answer here is a loyal, smart, tough woman. According to an interview Fetty did with Complex, his inspiration for the song was a woman who stayed by his side and was there for him during his hard times dealing drugs:

"I was just dealing with somebody at the time, and she was holding me down. We were building a lot, and I came up with the concept. She was my trap queen," he said.

Fetty's answer brings us to the next level of the song and its use of slang. A "trap" is a house that doubles as a place where you deal, store, and package drugs; the proprietor's "queen" is the girlfriend who helps him accomplish the latter. And in a broader sense, "trap" also refers to the idea of being trapped in the drug-dealing lifestyle and how hard it can be to escape it.

Fetty's music is also part of a bigger genre called trap music, which often employs synths, an 808 baseline, and hi-hats that wrap themselves around the dance beat you hear in "Trap Queen."

"I made it for the people who listen to trap music without them knowing they’re listening to trap music," Fetty told Complex. "That’s basically what I tried to do without confusing everybody."

What Fetty says is interesting, in that it explains why "Trap Queen" has become a pop cultural phenomenon. It has the approachable quality of a lot of pop music, but there's also a subversion and a tweak. Fetty says he's bringing trap — the lyrics about dealing drugs — to people who wouldn't normally listen to the stuff. According to the artist, he's created a trap Trojan Horse of sorts.

For example, in "Trap Queen," Fetty sings about how much money he and the titular woman made:

She my trap queen, let her hit the bando

We be countin' up, watch how far them bands go

We just set a goal, talkin' matchin' Lambos

At 56 a gram, 5 a 100 grams though

She is his trap queen, the "bando" is the abandoned building or house where drug deals are orchestrated, and now, because of their success, they are swimming in money. "Bands" refers to increments of $1,000, and the last line of the verse explains how much money Fetty is making and his going rate:

Fetty and his queen are not finished. They will not be finished until they get matching Lamborghinis — the ultimate sign of true love.

How literally are we supposed to interpret "Trap Queen?"

This is one of the biggest questions surrounding the song. On one level, you have this unique story of small-business owners Fetty and his trap queen overcoming the odds and bragging about what they're going to buy with all their drug money. And on the next level, you have this indomitable pop hit being hummed by people who don't even know the lyrics.

"I think the climate of popular music has always forced the public to stop taking songs at their most literal," Hanif Abdurraqib, a poet and music critic, told me. "The whole history of pop is about singing along first and considering what we’re singing later."

Abdurraqib has written perhaps the best essay on "Trap Queen" on the internet today, titled "In Defense of 'Trap Queen' As Our Generation’s Greatest Love Song." He argues that the song's mass popularity is a testament to its success, and that Fetty is hitting on universal themes of shared success, enduring love, and sacrifice that are relatable even if they come by way of dealing hundreds of grams in narcotics.

"We’re the generation that sang along to "Semi-Charmed Life" and played "Pumped Up Kicks" at dance parties," Abdurraqib added. "And so, there has always been this instant thing where we divorce a song’s truest meaning from our desire to enjoy it."

"Semi-Charmed Life" by Third Eye Blind was released in 1997 and become one of the biggest songs of that year, reaching No. 4 on Billboard's Hot 100 and spending 43 weeks on the chart:

At the time, the song was as catchy and as upbeat a tune as you could find; it would've fit right into any '90s teen movie. But it's also a song about crystal meth addiction. Lead singer Stephan Jenkins sings:

Doing crystal myth

Will lift you up until you break

It won't stop

I won't come down, I keep stock

With a tick-tock rhythm and a bump for the drop

And then I bumped up

I took the hit I was given

Then I bumped again

And then I bumped again

How do I get back there to

The place where I fell asleep inside you?

Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks" experienced a similar trajectory to "Semi-Charmed Life" when it was released in 2011. The smooth, faux-hipster dance song reached No. 3 on Billboard's Hot 100 and spent 34 weeks on the chart.

But layered beneath the melody's infectious whistle are lyrics that contain the inner monologue of a teen contemplating a school shooting:

All the other kids with the pumped up kicks

You better run, better run, outrun my gun

All the other kids with the pumped up kicks

You better run, better run, faster than my bullet

These songs were just as popular as "Trap Queen" is now; they were also, I'd argue, more risqué. There's a sense of satire and self-awareness present in "Trap Queen" that you don't see in "Semi-Charmed Life" or "Pumped Up Kicks," songs that attempt to earnestly translate personal narratives surrounding addiction (while also blurring the line on misogyny) and school shootings.

"I think 'Trap Queen' is simply falling in line with that tradition, though perhaps to a slightly larger extent due to it being a rap song, or a song that the radio might say is about, 'urban culture,'" Abdurraqib said. "So the kids in the 'burbs have to maybe add another level to the disconnect, but when everyone has their hands in the air at a house party, no one’s thinking about it."

Why is "Trap Queen" so relatable, and what makes it such a great love song?

"Trap Queen" is relatable for the same reason Taylor Swift is relatable. The song, just like Swift, is so very good at creating a yearning and a nostalgia for an experience that's completely beyond the average person's understanding.

For example, in "Red," Swift sings about "driving a Maserati down a dead-end street":

There's certainly a chance that Swift, who makes enough money to afford multiple Maseratis, knows what that feels like. But for 99.99 percent of Americans, driving a car like that in a cul-de-sac is something they'll never experience. The same can be said for much of Swift's other lyrical subject matter, like having multiple famous friends or that time she was dating a Kennedy or breaking up with Harry Styles.

Yet Swift's entire career is based on all of us "knowing" the feelings she feels, but that's because she's so good at calculating the way we think about "love." And she's very aware of how this plays out:

"Trap Queen" works in the same way. If you strip down the hyperbole of 'Lambos, 'Raris, and pole-dancing, it's about a man who shares a vulnerable part of himself with a woman who accepts it. Fetty is willing to give up everything for her and give up everything to her. And his love for this woman will continue even after "Trap Queen" ends.

When you think about it, buying matching Lambos isn't as foreign or outlandish as driving that Maserati down the dead-end street, or having a billion dollars in an elevator, or a football star and a debutante eating chili dogs while sitting outside a Tastee Freez.

Fetty knows how any of us might feel about someone who's been with us through the hairy times — it's survival. He also knows there's something desirable about the idea of sharing your success with that same person. As an aspirational scenario, it's absolutely relatable.

"For me, the idea of celebrating love — and celebrating the pursuit of money — in reimagined urban spaces is perhaps as American as anything else that we can think of," Abdurraqib said. "I think the most American parts of ['Trap Queen'] rest in how it depicts survival, which is also a type of love. Maybe the strongest type."

Does the popularity of "Trap Queen" lessen its meaning or significance?

This tension has existed in music since before "Trap Queen." Everyone can name some band or singer or album they listened to and loved "before it got big." For Generation Xers it might be Nirvana, for theater kids it might be the Fun Home album, for gay men it might be Kylie Minogue — someone was always there first, and this music represented something truer to them before it was adopted by the mainstream.

"I came to the realization a while ago that everything I love or hold close is maybe 45 seconds away from becoming loved and held close by thousands, maybe millions of other people," Abdurraqib says.

But there's also a crucial self-awareness that Fetty has woven into "Trap Queen." It's not really meant to be taken as an authentic narrative. The song is dripping in hyperbole, satirizing the amount of wealth that Fetty will accumulate. He sings:

I hit the strip with my trap queen 'cause all we know is bands

I just might snatch up a 'Rari and buy my boo a 'Lamb

I might just snatch her necklace, drop a couple on a ring

She ain't want it for nothin' because I got her everything

Remember, this is a song that starts out with, "Hey, what's up? Hello." That's what 13-year-old boys say to girls at the mall. But one minute later, Fetty transitions from this odd pickup line to introducing the woman he used it on to his drug-dealing business. And another 30 seconds later, they're buying expensive sports cars and jewelry.

"I think the song not pretending to take itself seriously is what makes it stronger, in spite of how ridiculous it is. If black music is going to be absurd, and if it’s going to do it without making a mockery of blackness, there has to be a pretty high level of self-awareness," Abdurraqib explains.

I have succumbed to "Trap Queen" but find myself needing more "Trap Queen" in my life. What can I do?

My friend, behold this remix:.

But it isn't as popular as the original version. On Spotify, it only has 1.6 million plays, while the original version of "Trap Queen" has 111 million plays.

Grantland's Rembert Browne believes this underloved version is a bit better than the original. He argues that Fetty's rap in the original is subpar, and that subbing in Gucci Mane and Quavo elevates the song to the stratosphere, where it belongs.

"[T]he jump in quality from 'Trap Queen' to 'Trap Queen (Remix)' is like going from San Francisco to New York City," Browne wrote. "You thought your life was fun, but then you realized you didn’t even know what fun was, because you had lived in San Francisco."

Last question. Was "Semi-Charmed Life" really about crystal meth?