Nicki Minaj is by no stretch of the imagination a simple being. She is at once taunting the patriarchy and adhering to its rules; spouting boss lyrics and apologizing for follower moves; boasting sexual independence and releasing a track where her two "friends" talk about how much they'd like to sleep with her as if she weren't on the track and it wasn't her song.
Here's the truth: Nicki isn't some goddess who gets it all right, nor is any other celebrity. Onika Maraj is a human like the rest of us— including Beyoncé. (Never forget her elevator fight, the baby bangs debut or that epic tumble down all those stage stairs.)
We have to relinquish the idea that just because someone is famous, they are better than the rest of us, or have some cosmic understanding of how to navigate the world more efficiently. It's not true. Once we get past that idea, maybe then we can accept that our pop stars can be criticized, without immediately defaulting to the idea that said critics are just hating! It is not the 1990s, and Kris Ex, the veteran music critic who controversially tackled Minaj's career to-date on Pitchfork on Tuesday, is not hating, he's pointing out some problems with Nicki's work that I myself have and guess what, I have a vagina and it's feminist.
Let's talk, people.
In his first Pitchfork column entitled "Maybe It's Time to Stop Caring About Nicki Minaj," Ex notes that in her latest single "Only," the Queens-born rapper is "ostensibly a feminist figure, by default—allowing herself to be used like some sort of blow-up doll by her labelmates and 'brothers' Drake and Wayne." He is right.
In the song, both Drake and Wayne talk about how they've "never fucked Nicki" for various reasons—Drake because she has a man and Wayne just because the moment hasn't presented itself? But according to the Young Money boss, she still "act like she need dick in her life," which is a disturbing thing to say if you're talking about a person who's supposed to be like a sister.
This is Nicki's fourth single from her third album, and she should be calling all of the shots on this project, just by the sheer trajectory of her career. She has American Idol and The Other Woman under her belt now. She lives in Los Angeles. There shouldn't be any features on any of her singles, in my opinion, just her blazing star power. Instead there are three featured guests on "Only"—Drake, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown—all touting raggedy subject matter. With "Pills and Potions" and "Lookin' Ass Nigga" dropping earlier this year and fizzling out, "Anaconda," "Only" and "Bed of Lies" are the songs she's presenting to convince fans to purchase her forthcoming album The Pink Print. The first two are problematic in their own ways, but here is where I diverge from Ex.
I like "Anaconda" because I don't take it seriously. The lyrics, in which Nicki details fictitious and perhaps real sexual encounters she's had in trade for clothes and things, are funny and JJ Fad-catchy. I don't quite agree with his reading of her lyrics as doing the job of "white supremacy and misogyny" because I see a joke which I believe is identified when she says "I'm on some dumb shit," and I am laughing at it. It's similar to my reading of Riff Raff and "Tip Toe Wing in My Jawwdinz." I get the joke.
In a Complex magazine cover story that also debuted on Tuesday, Minaj herself admits to Lauren Nostro that "Anaconda" is silly.
I wanted to create a song that embraced curvy women. I wanted to be sexual but be playful with it. And I wanted it to be so melodic that even if you don't understand English you could still go along with the melody and you would have no idea about all the raunchy shit I'm saying—I get a kick out of that. It was simple to write. I just created the melody and then I let the words happen. I started laughing when I said, "Boy toy named Troy." [Laughs.] That whole song, I was just being dumb. It was a joke. My biggest thing was seeing how my girlfriends Sherika and Thembi were going to react. If they don't like a song, they'll be like, "No." As soon as they walked in the studio, we were laughing and having fun. I thought, if we're doing this, then everybody is going to have fun with it.
But her next quote explaining why she chose such incendiary "Anaconda" cover art gave me pause.
The artwork was not premeditated. I was shooting the "Anaconda" video and I had my photographer there taking pictures. When I was about to shoot my next scene, I asked to see the pictures he'd taken. He went through five or six and that one came up, and I was like, "[Gasps.] Oh my God. Yo, that picture is crazy!" What made me excited about it was that people hadn't seen me do a picture like that in years. The reason why I stopped taking pictures like that was because I needed to prove myself. I needed for people to take me seriously. I needed for people to respect my craft. I've proven that I'm an MC. I'm a writer; I'm the real deal, so if I want to take sexy pictures, I can. I'm at the level in my career and in my life now where I can do whatever the hell I want to.
The last line is what I take issue with for two reasons. I am clear that the photo was premeditated, Nicki is no fool and it was released to grab all the attention it could using her sexuality, specifically her butt, to reach her goal. Fine. However, if she's "at the level" in her career to make those kinds of choices, then own it. If you're trolling for attention, name it and claim it. It's like when she said she didn't read Chuck Creekmur's infinitely bad open letter to her, asking the MC to pull up her pants and help him raise his daughter. Her response:
"'Shut your stupid ass up. Bye, dad.' I laughed at it."
Nicki, you read it.
Elsewhere, the ownership and leadership she boasts also means that Minaj is in control of her lyrical content, and allowed Wayne and Drake to lurk creepily around her and declare that she needs "dick in her life." She thought that disrespecting the legacy of Malcolm X to promote a throwaway song was a great idea, as was utilizing Nazi imagery for the "Only" lyric video—until she was forced to apologize in both situations. In general, one can not profess to be a boss and then blame someone else when there's a snafu. Either Minaj is in charge of the things she claims or she isn't.
That said, it's hard being the only popular MC that happens to be a woman, and as she mentioned in one of my favorite quotes from her, it's impossible to be all things to all people. So as she transitions from cartoon Barb Nicki to natural Nicki to stripper heels Nicki, let's just all remember that being an artist is a process of growth. Just because she's famous does not mean she is going to get it all right all the time. Nicki is battling a music industry that says female MCs aren't historically all that profitable and there is only room for one It Girl at a time, which is why she's in the spotlight and catching all of the flack.
Minaj says she appreciates criticism because it makes her better, so when someone serves it up, maybe we all should listen–even if the person delivering it has a penis.
Image via Getty.