Nicki Minaj’s attempt at doxing journalists on her Instagram stories last week for the ostensible purpose of inviting fans to pile on did not mark a new low for the star; it was like deja vu. For years, Minaj has waged war with journalists whose reporting she’s taken issue with, whose opinions she’s felt wronged by, whose questions she thought were stupid. In a certain light, one could interpret the outspoken rapper/singer as a crusader for the truth. In another less charitable interpretation, Nicki Minaj has taken a dictator’s approach to controlling the narrative.
As a result, journalists and hosts like Barbara Walters, Don Lemon, Vanessa Grigoriadis, Billy Bush, Wendy Williams, Joy Reid, Meghan McCain, outlets like BET and Spotify, plus a slew of reporters whose names aren’t quite boldfaced have found themselves in Minaj’s crosshairs.
While it had been brewing for years, Minaj’s media-hostility reached a fever pitch around the time of the release from her fourth studio album, 2018’s Queen. Minaj threatened to sue DailyMailTV host Jesse Palmer for stating that Minaj has a history of defending sex offenders. She pulled out of BET events after a tweet from the station unfavorably compared Minaj’s career to that of her sometimes rival and then-recent Grammy winner Cardi B, and then she followed up by tweeting screenshots of negative comments apparently left by her legion of Barbz on BET’s Instagram.
But maybe the defining act of Minaj’s Queen-related chaos occurred when she ordered her fans to expose and attack a Billboard writer who reported on her canceled NICKIHNDRXX tour with Future. “Barbz get me the name of this writer then hit them & tell them this is one black woman they will not bully into a corner by FRAUDULENT SHAMING TACTICS,” she wrote in the caption of an Instagram post that included a screenshot of Billboard’s tweet of the piece.
“So to clarify; because I realize common sense is far from common... I haven’t CANCELLED anything. I reversed the order of the US & EUROPEAN LEGS of my tour. This is for obvious reasons to anyone with a brain,” she continued. Eventually, she performed the European leg of that tour with Juice Wrld. She has yet to reschedule the U.S. dates. Is it now safe to call them canceled? Will it ever be?
In that post, she mentioned her suspicion that the writer of that piece was pretending “to not have basic sense so that they can board the Nicki Hate train & get some clicks.” Despite Minaj’s considerable privilege and ability to command attention by saying whatever (including rather obvious misinformation about the covid-19 vaccine and swollen testicles/erectile dysfunction), she sometimes exhibits signs of a persecution complex. It’s as though she’s fighting for her life from the comfort of her throne.
Minaj’s outspokenness is undoubtedly appealing to many of her fans. In a clip that has circulated virally a few times from the 2010 MTV documentary My Time Now, Minaj laid out her take-no-shit philosophy. “You have to be a beast. That’s the only way they respect you,” she said. And then later: “When I am assertive, I’m a bitch, but when a man is assertive he’s a boss. He bossed up. No negative connotation behind being bossed up, but lots of negative connotation behind being a bitch.”
But for all the fortitude of her bluster, in practice, Nicki Minaj’s assertion belies a moral shakiness. In November 2019, Minaj scolded Wendy Williams after she had been discussing Minaj’s husband, convicted sex offender Kenneth Petty. “There are people who report the news, and there are people who do it with an evil intent in their heart, viciousness. And I pray for you because I know you’re hurting and I know you must be sick and humiliated,” said Minaj.
Minaj is hardly the first celebrity to express disdain for Williams, whose empire is built on gossip. But she then hypocritically ventured into the same sort of gossipy conjecture that Williams trades in, turning the conversation to Williams’s ex-husband Kevin Hunter, who had a years-long affair (and baby) with another woman. Said Minaj:
Look at where you are now in your life. Look at what age you are. You’re sat up there being vicious all this time, and paid for that man’s mistress all these years. You paid for her shopping sprees, you paid for her hotels—b——, you probably even paid for her GYN bills, you paid to have that baby delivered, hoe. How you doin’, stupid. Wake up, hoes.
It is the waffling between self-defense and objectively outsized retaliation that indicates Minaj is less principled than she seems to want us to think she is. In her Instagram stories last week, she posted alleged texts from a Guardian Media Limited journalist to one of Minaj’s family members that read as coercive: “I know you are hesitant to speak with us. But just letting you know, CNN is in the country looking for you. And when they find you, they won’t hesitate to reveal where you live or where [your] gf lives…anything and anyone who is tied to you.” Intimidating sources into talking (with what were almost certainly lies, given that CNN does not typically reveal the addresses of subjects of its reporting) is unethical journalistic practice. (The journalist seemingly confirmed the legitimacy of the screenshots on Twitter, allowing: “I perhaps could have worded the inquiry better.”) Sharing this information, including the journalist’s name with Minaj’s 158 million Instagram followers, is an escalation that exceeds the initial infractions. (“This could have easily been resolved between me and the original party I reached out too —- now my life is endangered because of a misunderstanding,” the journalist tweeted.) Minaj also posted the business card of a Daily Mail reporter, claiming he had harassed her family. Apparently, Minaj provided no evidence beyond this claim to justify sharing his personal information.
Minaj is aware of her capabilities. Her fans piled on a writer in 2018 who tweeted gentle criticism of Minaj (“You know how dope it would be if Nicki put out mature content?”). This was exacerbated, according to the New York Times, by Minaj’s own eventual participation. After Wanna Thompson posted confrontational DMs from Minaj (who also referred to Thompson’s tweet on her own timeline), the Times reported:
In the week since publicizing the acidic messages she received directly from Ms. Minaj, whose next album, Queen, is scheduled for release in August, Ms. Thompson said she has received thousands of vicious, derogatory missives across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, email and even her personal cellphone, calling her every variation of stupid and ugly, or worse. Some of the anonymous horde included pictures Ms. Thompson once posted on Instagram of her 4-year-old daughter, while others told her to kill herself. Ms. Thompson also lost her internship at an entertainment blog in the chaotic days that followed, and she is now considering seeing a therapist.
Putting oneself in the shoes of a celebrity of Minaj’s stature is no easy feat, but I get the sense that when you are as privileged and praised as she is, all the kind words and opportunity become a reality that is easy to take for granted. The criticism, gossip, and straight-up lies then become a point of focus, and it’s then probably easy to feel as though you’re always under attack, even while enjoying the elite status that celebrities are afforded in our culture. And it’s not like Minaj’s issues with the press are always misguided or distortions. When Barbara Walters reported on The View in 2012 what Mariah Carey had said to her about feud with Minaj on the set of American Idol without including a quote from Minaj, Minaj was right to call her out for not following protocol and asking for comment.
On the other hand, it’s Minaj’s right to refuse to answer questions that she does not want to answer. This is something she has done repeatedly, most notably in an interview for a 2015 New York Times Magazine profile, when she shut down an interview after Vanessa Grigoriadis asked her, “Is there a part of you that thrives on drama, or is it no, just pain and unpleasantness…” Nicki was free to protest (and make good copy in the process). It’s worth nothing that as the last six years of Minaj’s public activity has been teeming with feuds, clapbacks, rants, and example-making, her behavior has only only legitimized the question further.
Relations between media and celebrity have never been so strained. Artists feel empowered to complain about interviews after the fact, or to question the credentials of a reviewer who gave them a less-than-stellar review. Undoubtedly, their respective legions of sycophants, whose praise and encouragement is ever refreshable with just a drag of the finger, have a lot to do with this empowerment. But I suspect the mistrust goes deeper, and is in many ways a direct result of the invasiveness of the paparazzi and scathing blog writing of the ‘00s.
Now, with American trust of the media is at an all-time low, Minaj’s anti-media aggression is particularly pronounced—an extreme example within a case study of an overall trend. If Minaj is to be interpreted as a truth crusader, her crusade is primarily in service of her own personal truth, which often doesn’t square with the objective truth. Objective truth itself is a dicey concept—Donald Trump’s presidency reminded us that if someone says something enough times from a large enough platform, a large group of people may just believe it.