Desiigner could win his first MTV Video Music Award at the VMAs on Sunday, where he’s nominated for Best New Artist and Best Hip-Hop Video for “Panda,” his breakout single. Whether or not he wins, Desiigner is a certified music star, largely thanks to the explosive success of “Panda.” And that’s not nothing, especially when you consider the fact that nobody seems to know what “Panda” means.
“Panda” hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts in April, and it’s been inescapable ever since. Even I — a girl who doesn’t listen to the radio or check out what’s hot on Spotify — haven’t escaped its wide reach. But what truly separates “Panda” from other huge hits like Justin Bieber’s “Baby” or Drake’s “Hotline Bling” is that nobody — and I do mean nobody — seems to have any idea what Desiigner is rapping about. It could be because of Desiigner’s fast mumbles, exclamations and slightly auto-tuned tone, or it could be because the lyrics themselves make no sense. Luckily for you, I have taken a dive into the nearly incomprehensible lyrics to “Panda” and returned with something of a meaning.
First things first: Desiigner is not, nor has he ever (to my knowledge) been, rapping about actual pandas. Cuddly Asian bears are not on Desiigner’s mind. No, instead he's talking about a special white BMW model X6 car, whose black detailing on the front makes it vaguely resemble a panda. In fact, Desiigner explicitly explains this in the song: “Black X6, Phantom / White X6 look like a panda,” he declares in the hook. In an interactive lyric interview on Genius.com, Desiigner commented on these very lines, writing, “That’s a fact. The White X6 with the black windows.” I’ll let you judge for yourself.
In that same interview, Desiigner explained his real-life experience that inspired the song. According to Desiigner, he was thinking about Grand Theft Auto and The Fast and the Furious when he saw a white X6 that reminded him of the Panda emoji — no, I’m not kidding. “I was thinking of Grand Theft Auto. I had just seen the Panda emoji. My mind was thinking about all these things throughout the week. It happened like that,” Desiigner wrote. So that’s that. “Panda” is really a not-so-subtle ode to a BMW X6.
Of course, Desiigner doesn’t spend three minutes just rapping about a car. Peppered throughout the quick verses are references to celebrities and drugs. “Sellin’ bar, candy / Man I’m the macho like Randy,” for example, references Xanax bars and WWE wrestler Randy "Macho Man" Savage. But more important, “Panda” is a song about wish fulfillment luxury, something made explicitly clear in the official music video, which sees Desiigner stealing a luxury car.
In “Panda,” Desiigner raps about the life he sees for himself. The BMW X6 is a luxury car that pre-hit Desiigner could only dream of getting his hands on. Later, Desiigner declares himself a luxury commodity with lyrics like “Credit cards and the scammers / Wake up Versace shit, life Desiigner / Whole bunch of lavish shit / They be askin’ ‘round town who be clappin’ shit.” In the Genius interview, he explained the line “Go Oscar for Grammy” as aspirational. “I can see now the Grammy. Everything I’m saying in my song is coming to life,” he said.
It’s too bad “Panda” didn’t include a direct reference to a VMA win. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if he takes home a Moon Man at the Video Music Awards on Sunday, Aug. 28.
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