Recently, Nicki Minaj has been in the news. Her so-called feud with Taylor Swift directed a lot of people’s attention to her Anaconda video, about which Nicki was, understandably, upset because it did not get a nomination for Best Choreography and Video of the Year at the VMAs.
And, as we all know, Taylor decided to get involved. I am not going to rehash the ins and outs here. Marina has a really great video discussing the issue; please watch it to find out more.
Now, for my part, I want to talk about the merits of Nicki’s video, which has been heavily criticized and a little bit about the response others had to Taylor’s misapprehension of the issues of race, media, and Nicki’s tweets. Perhaps, I’ll start with the second point first.
Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran decided to derail Nicki’s point even further with their smack-talking, WWF (sic, should be WWE) analogy of the VMAs. First of all, Nicki has every right to be upset that her video was not nominated. Let’s get that straight. Full stop. Second of all, she has a right to tell her fans she is upset. Her fans support her, they like her work, and they want the best for her. She is allowed to share her vulnerability. Full stop. Now, when Taylor got involved, she derailed Nicki’s point. But when Ed and Bruno got involved, they were silencing Nicki even further and completely derailing Nicki’s discussion of race and systems of racial stereotype and oppression via the machismo of wrestling. Additionally, they made a mockery of two women disagreeing about something. Ed and Bruno made it about Nicki and Taylor’s gender–two women not seeing eye-to-eye became about two men showing that women don’t and can’t play nice with each other. First, it harkens back to archaic tropes that women can’t hold the same jobs men do because their emotions overwhelm them. Second, and most importantly, it reinforces race-based tropes of the angry-black woman. The narrative becomes that Nicki is just angry and Taylor is somehow a victim in this. That is not at all what was going on. Nicki was expressing her own disappointment and anger that she was not nominated.
Let’s talk about Nicki’s discussion of race and bodies in relation to Anaconda. Nicki explains that she feels black women and fuller-bodied women are not represented in the media. Yes, yes, yes. It is just true. When Nicki posted a photo to instagram to announce the video, people were outraged by her bum. Good grief. When a woman expresses her sexuality, suddenly is is tacky, pornographic, slutty….<<INSERT ALL THE WORDS>>, but men have been sexualizing and making women into objects FOREVER. Why is it okay for the Wiggle song to exist or Blurred Lines or any of those types of videos where women are not only made into objects in the lyrics but hyper-sexualized in the video? Additionally, because of racism’s dreadfully terrible history (not that it could have any other history but dreadful) of aligning certain races with animals, animality, primal lust &c., black men and women are always sexualized (read: over-sexualized) without their consent. Thus, when a black woman expresses her sexuality, she is immediately policed by the media, social-media websites, friends, family, people she doesn’t know &c.,
The genius of Nicki’s video is that it RECLAIMS one’s ability to be sexual without being sexualized by someone else. The beginning of Sir Mix A Lot’s song has two white women discussing a black woman’s body like it doesn’t belong to a living person. They are distanced from making emotional contact, first by their language, and second by the fact that the black woman is put on a pedestal like a statue–a non-human. Their language cannibalizes the body of the woman. Her body is cut into what is worthwhile (by Mix A Lot) and what is not. Her “butt.” She is no longer seen as a person, but she is something that we ALL consume as we watch the video and get the song stuck in our heads–“I like big butts.” This becomes especially apparent as we see fruits and veg used to stand in for bums. They also say that she looks like a “rap guy’s” girl friend, thus claiming she only exists in the context of the male gaze. Next, they even suggest that she looks like a prostitute, based solely on her body type. WHAT?! The girls are ridiculed for finding her body gross, but not for sexualizing her body. Her body, according to the rest of the song, is meant to be sexualized, sings Sir Mix A Lot.
Now, if we take a moment to look at the way the women are dancing in the video, we will note that Nicki’s own choreography is fairly similar. It is not more riské than Sir Mix A Lot’s video. The only difference is that a woman is saying that her body is sexy and reclaims the power of the gaze.
She castrates the male gaze.
I mean, the video is SO GENIUS! Nicki reframes the ENTIRE idea of how women’s body’s are and have been sexualized by male artists. The song begins with Sir Mix A Lot’s sound bite, and, for a moment, you see the bodies through the male gaze–then Nicki begins talking about a guy–her context. She reverses the power of the male gaze and she openly discusses her own sexuality. She’s basically saying, “yah, look at her butt.” Do it, when she says you can. Is that what makes people so upset? It’s on her terms? The lyrics are often ill at ease with what is happening in the background. When the scenes seem to become more sexualized, the less relevant they are to her lyrics. For example, when she is talking about the male with the “dick bigger than eiffel” the man in question is not even in the scene to restore the power of the male gaze. It is not his pleasure or power that we glean from the scene, it is hers! Furthermore, she is talking about and referencing the male body in abstract terms: the male body is reduced to his penis, just like in Mix A Lot’s women are reduced to their bums. Although, the penis is usually taken as a sign of power and virility, Nicki undoes this. She mimics Mix A Lot’s use of fruit, mostly to imitate the male phallus: bananas. They swim, abstractly, upon a turn-table, or just as Nicki is about to take a bite of one she throws it away in disgust and cuts one with a pair of scissors. She castrates the male gaze. I mean, that scene where she is spinning just shows the ridiculous way women, especially black (/POC) women, are sexualized by the media and not on their terms.
I think my favourite part is when she is dancing for Drake, and she is expressing her own sexuality, but when he tries to touch her, she slaps his hand away. She said LOOK, not touch. Get it? Look at her butt?!
So, whilst Nicki did not get a nomination, I think her video should be celebrated for the clever ways it functions to dismantle how men and women have portrayed women, especially women of colour, in the music industry and the media. If we understand the context of her videos, then we won’t underwrite her when she says that her video represents that from which which the media, purposefully, shies away. Additionally, if someone says, well “Beyoncé was nominated” then we should say, why are we counting how many black women are nominated?
Heaps of Love,