In 2009, Ja Rule released “Clap Back,” a song that exists to serve as a succinct retort to anything or one that might be causing a bother. An anthem for the haters, “Clap Back” birthed a phrase that has since been seized by wily bloggers and E! News employees, deployed in salacious headlines about tabloid stalwarts like Ariel Winter and Jameela Jamil. Both women are outspoken and fond of issuing tart retorts to invective hurled at them by faceless internet individuals. It is the retort and the way that the retort has been deployed that forms a clapback. Screaming into the void of your walk-in closet is not a clapback, but deploying that same sentiment on Twitter or Instagram is. What makes a clapback a clapback is not the content but the method: If a celebrity stands up for themselves against the thousands of people out there who hate them, then for a brief moment, they have “won.”
Chrissy Teigen loves to clap back.. P!nk occasionally drops down from her perch high in the sky, in the silks, to issue a witty response. Recently, I learned that Kelly Ripa is a “clapback qeen.” Some of these women clap back just once and leave it at that. Others pick the wound until it scars.
One celebrity clapping back at fans is just a famous person showing a crack in the facade, but when another celebrity returns the favor, a beef is born. This beef dominates headlines, but when another celebrity returns the favor, the system inevitably benefits them both. The rise of Jameela Jamil’s various body positivity projects have been especially prominent in 2019. Jamil’s career has seemingly been not acting but trumpeting far and wide about the evil Kardashian empire and their propensity to shill laxative teas on Instagram. When Jamil pokes the bear, the bear bites back, resulting in a never-ending ourobouros of clapbacks, from one woman to another—a cacophony of well-manicured hands clapping with vigor as a means of both self-defense and self-enrichment.
When used by outlets like Us Weekly and the aforementioned E! News, “clapback” loses its meaning when used to describe any slight, disagreement, or sideways glance. The clapback conveys a yaaasss, queen energy that conflates the act of responding to critics publicly with empowerment feminism. Responding to a random asshole on Twitter in self-defense is the kind of impulse that normies engage in regularly. It is a privilege not afforded to celebrities—part of the devil’s contract they sign before becoming a household name via their work, their appearance, or their tendency to tweet rude shit about strangers at odd hours of the night. The impetus behind the clapback is not what warrants cancelation, nor is the act itself. It’s the phrase, which is now powerless, floppy from overuse, and devoid of meaning. Leave it behind.