There’s good news and bad news for Nicki Minaj regarding the immediate impact that two recent controversies have had on her career. Neither a harassment lawsuit filed against Minaj and her husband Kenneth Petty in August, nor her days-long Twitter ruckus of covid vaccine misinformation regarding her cousin’s friend’s swollen balls earlier this month (perhaps the latter was an intentional distraction from the former), seem to have impacted her music’s streaming popularity. Nicki Minaj, effectively, remains uncanceled.
However, the publicity did not appear to help Minaj’s numbers, a la R. Kelly’s in the wake of the broadcast of the first season of Surviving R. Kelly in 2019, and then again after his explosive interview with Gayle King a few months later. Kelly’s streams spiked considerably after those broadcasts—by more than double after the Surviving R. Kelly premiere. Despite the considerable publicity of Minaj’s vaxx flap (including in outlets whose demographic extends beyond hers, like Fox News), her profiting trended slightly downward.
According to U.S. streaming data provided to Jezebel by MRC Data, which tracks both audio and video streams, the day the story about Jennifer Hough’s harassment lawsuit broke (August 13) saw Minaj’s streams rise, but only slightly (4,321,000 vs. 4,087,000 the day before). Meanwhile, between September 13, the first day of Minaj’s vaccine-tweeting marathon, and September 23 (the date for which the most current data is available to us), Minaj’s music averaged 3,623,545 streams per day, only about 100,000 less than her average streams from July 30 to September 23 (3,766,375). The overall slight downward may have to do with Minaj not having released any new music in the timeframe this data represents.
What’s useful about streaming data is that it potentially reflects the will of music consumers more accurately than, say, airplay, which is programmed. A number of artists, as detailed in the 2019 piece linked to above examining streaming trends “canceled” musicians, have seemed to benefit from scandal, which affirms the notion of all press being good press and softens the threat of “cancel culture,” at least in the short term. News coverage puts artists in front of people, stoking curiosity or reminding them of old favs, irrespective of the tone and content of such coverage. There are also fans who, in the wake of allegations against a cherished artist, lean into supporting them (see: the people outside of the Brooklyn federal court where R. Kelly was convicted of racketeering and sex trafficking screaming while bumping his songs). Controversial figures are lightning rods. Longterm impact on Minaj’s career clearly has yet to be determined. The outcome of Hough’s against Minaj and Petty may affect that, but don’t be the least surprised if it doesn’t.