When Nicki Minaj announced on September 10 that she was pulling out of performing at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, the dots seemed easy to connect. Hours before, her husband, Kenneth Petty, had pleaded guilty to failing to register as a sex offender in California. As a result, he faced a maximum 10-year sentence. His sentencing is scheduled for January 22, 2022.
PEOPLE reported this, and Newsweek was among the outlets to put the bigger picture into perspective: “Nicki Minaj Pulls Out of MTV VMAs As Husband Faces up to a Decade in Prison.” Remember that? If you don’t, it could hardly be held against you. In the time since, the news has been swept up in a parade of headlines concerning Minaj and her willful spread of covid-19 vaccine misinformation to her nearly 23 million followers on Twitter.
This was presented in a string of tweets explaining why she would not be attending this year’s Met Gala, though later she took umbrage with the reporting of her own words.
Her story about that guy’s swollen balls was ridiculous on its face and premised with the same I-know-someone-who-knows-someone setup that tends to precede urban legends. Nonetheless, it has been effectively taken very seriously in the attention economy. Anthony Fauci responded to it on CNN. Minaj later claimed that she had been invited to the White House, but a White House official said she had, in fact, been offered a call, perhaps to aid her “research” as she decides whether to be vaccinated for covid-19 (also useful in this endeavor: a Twitter poll). She feuded with MSNBC’s Joy Reid and Piers Morgan, and co-signed Tucker Carlson. She ranted on Instagram Live. She has quote-tweeted lots of criticism, and could generally be considered to be just tweeting right through it all.
Minaj is riding the crest of an avalanche of her own doing. This bombardment of information feels like a performance. It is not unlike Kanye West’s feed at its most chaotic, but more disturbingly, it’s reminiscent of Trump’s presidency and the tweeting that often defined it. Trump took on a kind of teflon quality by pummeling the public with ridiculousness, aggression, and lies. When there’s always something new to get mad it, it’s hard to hold onto the last thing. The barrage of information is disorienting, especially when it’s so reliably outlandish.
Though it involves something as serious as vaccine misinformation, Minaj’s approach is mischievous. She’s just having fun mouthing off and clapping back on Twitter. If you like chaos, has she got an agent for you!
Meanwhile, whether it’s the intention or a welcome byproduct, it all functions to obscure stomach-turning allegations that went public last month. The woman who accused Kenneth Petty of raping her in 1994 (he subsequently pleaded guilty to attempted rape after being charged with first-degree rape) filed a lawsuit against Minaj and Petty, alleging a campaign of harassment. Jennifer Hough’s August 13 lawsuit alleges she was offered money to recant her rape accusation. And, according to the New York Times report on the matter, “At one point last year, the lawsuit says, Ms. Minaj called Ms. Hough, saying that she had heard Ms. Hough was willing to ‘help out’; days later, it says, Ms. Hough and her family members received an ‘onslaught of harassing calls and unsolicited visits’ from people she believed to be associated with the couple.” Additionally:
The lawsuit says there were then a series of encounters where Ms. Hough or her family members were offered inducements if she would recant: $500,000 at one point, $20,000 at another, with a proposed bonus that Ms. Minaj would send birthday videos to Ms. Hough’s daughter. Ms. Hough said she declined.
Minaj and Petty declined to comment to the Times, as well as the Daily Beast in its own reporting of the story. Minaj previously defended Petty, writing in reference to the alleged rape, which occurred when Hough was 16: “He was 15, she was 16 … in a relationship...But go awf, internet, y’all can’t run my life. y’all can’t even run y’all own life.” She has previously worked with and defended 6ix9ine, who pleaded guilty to the use of a child in a sexual performance in 2015, and voiced support for her brother, Jelani Maraj, on Instagram after he was arrested for raping his former stepdaughter when she was 11 years old. He was eventually found guilty.
But go awf about vaccine mistrust, I guess!