Mere days after releasing the video for "Stupid Hoe," Nicki Minaj has leaked a new track, "Marilyn Monroe." Because we just can't go more than a few months without a new Marilyn Monroe project. The woman has been dead since 1962, but her memory is alive and well and being coopted constantly.
Lindsay Lohan posed nude as Marilyn in 2008 and last year; Michelle Williams just won a Golden Globe for playing Marilyn in a movie; NBC's new show, Smash, which debuted last night, revolves around a Marilyn Monroe-themed musical; and Madonna has been channelling Marilyn for decades. And now Nicki Minaj's song uses "Marilyn Monroe" as code for pretty and damaged. The track is not a relentless, dance-oriented rap/club banger but a moody, slightly sad ballad-ish tune.
I can be selfish
Yeah, so impatient
Sometimes I feel like Marilyn Monroe
I'm insecure, yeah I make mistakes
Sometimes I feel like I'm at the end of a road
Call it a curse
Or just call me blessed
If you can't handle my worst
You ain't getting my best
Is this how Marilyn Monroe felt?
Must be how Marilyn Monroe felt
Its like all the good things
They fall apart like…
like Marilyn Monroe
"Marilyn Monroe" has become shorthand for troubled, for being seemingly perfect on the outside while disintegrating on the inside, and generally living life like a candle in the wind. But with Nicki, there's an added layer of subtext: The black woman comparing herself to the white woman. In a piece for The Grio, Ronda Racha Penrice notes that Nicki calls herself Barbie (not Christie, the black Barbie), and often changes her hair blonde and her eyes to blue. She wonders if "the anointing of Nicki Minaj as an emerging fashion icon encourages young black girls especially to manipulate their looks… The more fake and outrageous one appears, the better. The less that look resembles more common black features the more acceptable one becomes in mainstream arenas. Penrice also writes:
Minaj's emphasis on her manipulated body image and willingness to embrace mainstream standards of beauty that are almost completely white and exclusionary sends an underhanded message harkening back to standards of beauty even in the black community that exclude women with curvier shapes and darker skin hues.
Still, one could argue that there is no better, more famous icon who stands for pretty and damaged better than Marilyn Monroe. Nicki would be hard-pressed to find a black woman as famous, as easily recognizable as Marilyn. When it comes to American, or global icons, Marilyn is the one. Nicki is under no obligation to sing about Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, Josephine Baker or any black icon instead of Marilyn — and if her beauty cues come from Barbie and Marilyn and other white ladies, that's her business as well. But the snake is eating its tail at this point, and it's becoming impossible to figure out whether Marilyn Monroe remains an icon and point of reference for young women because she is truly a transcendant figure — or if everyone keeps referencing her because everyone keeps referencing her. Either way, how about we try something new and let the woman rest in peace?