[UPDATED] Last week, Nicki Minaj released the lyric video "Only," her new single featuring Drake, Wayne, and Chris Brown. The song itself is a mediocre entree into her catalogue that allows Drake and Weezy to discuss how no, Minaj didn't bone them on her way up but also to fantasize that If She Did It, though... (No "I'm on some dumb shit" can excuse that hot garbage.)
More offensive, however, was the imagery in the lyric video: an animated clip rendered in a style reminiscent of Art Spiegelman, depicting Minaj as a dictator, with scenes that seemed directly nabbed from Hitler's speech at the Berlin Sports Palace. Further, the Greek columns of Minaj's reign were decorated with red flags depicting the Young Money logo inside a white circle, resembling a swastika. Quite similar to the Reichstag in its WWII era incarnation, the horse-warrior statue on its roof is replaced by a drawing of Minaj's ass from her "Anaconda" video art. There's also archival video footage of bombs dropping that appears to be from WWII.
It was all too close to seem inadvertent, and was extremely confusing: why would Minaj allow a video with this kind of imagery to get out there? Sure, it's just a lyric video, so her participation was no-doubt minimal compared to an actual video, but you'd also imagine that a boss like Minaj would vet everything that went out in her name. Minaj has compared herself to Malcolm X in the past, which provoked outrage, but this is something entirely different, and seems out of character. Did Safaree approve this or something?
Regardless, the video caused an uproar, for obvious reasons. Beyond Twitter emitting a collective "What the actual fuck," the Anti-Defamation League released a statement:
Directed by Jeff Osborne, the video evokes the style of Nazi propaganda films and portrays Minaj as a military dictator surrounded by red banners resembling those used by the Nazi Party during World War II. Ranks of solders are shown with red armbands mirroring those worn by Nazi soldiers.
Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor, issued the following statement:
Nicki Minaj's new video disturbingly evokes Third Reich propaganda and constitutes a new low for pop culture's exploitation of Nazi symbolism. The irony should be lost on no one that this video debuted on the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the "night of broken glass" pogrom that signaled the beginning of the Final Solution and the Holocaust.
YIKES. Yesterday, Minaj took to Twitter to respond. In a series of three tweets, she said, "The artist who made the lyric video for "Only" was influenced by a cartoon on Cartoon Network called "Metalocalypse" & Sin City. Both the producer, & person in charge of over seeing the lyric video (one of my best friends & videographer: A. Loucas), happen to be Jewish. I didn't come up w/the concept, but I'm very sorry & take full responsibility if it has offended anyone. I'd never condone Nazism in my art."
There's no way she saw this video before it dropped, right? Regardless, the Anti-Defamation League was correct when it said, "It is troubling that no one among Minaj's group of producers, publicists and managers raised a red flag about the use of such imagery before ushering the video into public release." Oh, if they only knew how common it is for an artist's group of producers, publicists, and managers to give the thumbs up to troubling bullshit in the music industry! Also, clearly, somebody, anybody, needs to take a goddamn history class, or at least turn on PBS. Minaj attended LaGuardia, the Fame high school, but so did my source, Kate Dries, and she confirms via gchat that they do teach history there: "I took AP US for two years. We take all the classes." What is even going on?
Here are my two, totally unfounded theories about how this happened: Either 1. Some cynical asshole working a midlevel job at Universal Music decided it would be a great idea to drop something like this to drum up outrage = publicity, which Minaj of course does not need. Or 2. Jeff Osborne, the artist/video director—who has been gleefully retweeting every bit of outrage on Twitter—actually hates Nicki Minaj, Drake, Wayne and Brown and they should fire him immediately. Either that or he's one of those 1980s, "punk influenced" assholes who thinks invoking abhorrent and/or racist imagery is being "subversive" and "provocative" (hello, Wes Lang). Whatever it is, ideally the outcome is Minaj fires his ass tout suite. And also, release an "Only" remix that cuts out all the men and replaces Chris Brown with, like, Rita Ora or something.
Update: Jeff Osborne has responded to the criticism over at MySpace, and his comments are possibly even more dickbaggy than we could have imagined:
"Before I start, be clear that these are my personal views and not the views of Nicki Minaj, Drake, Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, or Young Money.
First, I'm not apologizing for my work, nor will I dodge the immediate question. The flags, armbands, and gas mask (and perhaps my use of symmetry?) are all representative of Nazism.
But a majority of the recognizable models/symbols are American: MQ9 Reaper Drone, F22 Raptor, Sidewinder missile, security cameras, M60, SWAT uniform, General's uniform, the Supreme court, and the Lincoln Memorial. What's also American is the 1st Amendment, which I've unexpectedly succeeded in showing how we willfully squeeze ourselves out of that right every day.
Despite the fact heavy religious and economic themes were glossed over, there's also Russian T-90 tanks, Belgian FN FAL, German mp5 (not manufactured until 1966), an Italian Ferrari, and a Vatican Pope.
As far as an explanation, I think its actually important to remind younger generations of atrocities that occurred in the past as a way to prevent them from happening in the future. And the most effective way of connecting with people today is through social media and pop culture. So if my work is misinterpreted because it's not a sappy tearjerker, sorry I'm not sorry. What else is trending?"
It's disingenuous for Osborne to posit that we're all just dumb because we didn't notice the other references, because Nazi imagery is taught in school, and there's likely a very small population who would both watch the Minaj video and recognize the nuances of mid-century European weaponry as opposed to, say, Nazi-style armbands.
Further, no one is preventing this dude from exercising his First Amendment rights; in fact, as an artist, that is what he already did by making this video. He has not been arrested, nor has he been censored by the government, which would be actual violations of the First Amendment. He made a piece of art, he put it out into the world, and we the public are allowed to exercise our First Amendment rights by critiquing it. There's nothing I hate more than the person who invokes the First Amendment as an excuse for being a complete asshole, or to otherwise deflect criticism of the art they clearly thought was provocative.
If Osborne were interested in "reminding younger generations of the atrocities of the past" in good faith, he would not have framed said atrocities in a slick, delectable video that seemed to glorify fascism as vehemently as it glorified Minaj's ass. "Reminding younger generations of atrocities" is something that said younger generations learn in school—it's Veteran's Day, for goodness sake—and is a cliché, rote response heard all too often from many an artist whose actual end game seems to see how far they can couch their prejudice in irony. See, again, Wes Lang, who designed those confederate flags for Kanye West's tour merch, discussing his work incorporating blackface:
I'm taking it out of its context and putting it into my context and hoping that people can understand that I'm not glorifying this stuff.
And we are hoping that these artists can understand when their supposedly "advanced artistic mission," or however they posit it, does not sit well with the thinking public.
Jeff Osborne got what he no doubt wanted: to cause a stir in order to become famous. Welp.