Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift: The VMAs, Feminism, and Music Videos

Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift have been in the news recently. I’m sure if you’ve been on Twitter within the last four days, you’ve heard about Nicki Minaj taking the VMAs to task for not nominating “Anaconda” for Music Video of the Year. If not, here’s the quick rundown:

Nicki Minaj took to Twitter to address her annoyance at MTV for not nominating her music video for “Anaconda” for Music Video of the Year, while nominating other music videos, which contained slim white women, chief among them being Taylor Swift’s music video for “Bad Blood,” which is full of her supermodel and actress friends.

Minaj tweeted this:

Swift assumed Minaj was solely talking about her and her video. Hers does feature a ton of skinny white women in it after all. So she responded with this:

To which Minaj replied:

And Swift (wrongly) responded:

And then things got cast by some outlets as Minaj coming for Swift, as if Swift was being attacked by name by Minaj. Minaj also had a response for this as well:

And retweeted many of her fans’ tweets that related to her argument as well as articles that told the whole story.

Thankfully, eventually Swift apologized and Minaj accepted.

I would like to point out that I’m not sure Swift’s apology would have come if some outlets didn’t write their thinkpieces and if so many people who are outside of Minaj’s Barbz didn’t rail against Swift’s “Mainstream Feminist” response. If people just bought into the spin some outlets were trying to put on it, Minaj wouldn’t have had the victory (if we must put it into win/lose terms) that she did.

In case you wanted to know my point of view on this, I have a very layered approach to the whole thing. First, you’ve probably already read my piece of big butts and how I, as a woman with a big butt, am tired of big butts getting the Venus Hottentot treatment. I called out Minaj for the part she has played in the big butt issue becauseโ€” even though she’s right about the VMAs and entertainment in general slighting black women and I’m glad she has called attention to police brutalityโ€”one of my biggest issues with part of her image (and by extension, her friend Beyonce’s image) is that the feminism that’s expressed in their music videos is still largely controlled by patriarchal consumption and the male gaze.

Here’s a small bit of what I wrote in that post (which also addressed why Iggy Azalea never gets flack for doing the same “butt” stuff):

Whatโ€™s really at the root of some peopleโ€™s irritation with Minaj is that she, as a representative of the Black Diaspora, canโ€™t parade her butt without carrying the weight of Hottentot Venus on her back. Iggy Azalea shouldnโ€™t be doing it either, but she also comes from a place of race privilege. She doesnโ€™t the carry the weight other black women carry[.]

As I wrote in that post, my argument against a focus on the butt isn’t based in some kind of respectability politics junk. If a woman wants to twerk, then fine. Heck, even I’ve twerked before since it’s in some of the hip-hop exercise videos I watch. So do I have a problem with twerking and big butts in general? No. If you’re a sexually confident woman, cool. Do what you need to do. Do I have a problem with an inordinate amountย of black female entertainers relying on butts and sexuality in a way that could have adverse affects on the fight to erase racial and gender stereotypes? Yes. One of the main reasons I don’t like “Anaconda” is because I literally don’t know who the music video is for. Is it for empowering women? If so, why are there so many twerking women in it? It looks like the videoย isย for men, since so much of the focus of it is on women, with Minaj as the HBIC of all of them and the rest seemingly following a flunky-type role. Wasย the video for Drake? Why is he evenย inย the video?

Personally, I feel like Minaj and Beyonce’s versions of feminism are the other side of the coin to Swift’s (and Katy Perry’s, who posted a very cryptic tweet to seemingly call out Swift for victim-baiting during the Minaj-Swift tweet thing and wanted Rihanna’s “BBHMM” to get a video nomination). Either you have a big butt and have long hair to be considered a viable, attractive woman, or you have to be skinny and part of the Popular Girls. With both versions of feminism, you have to be immediately sexually confident or willing to exercise that confidence in front of the male gaze. But what happens to the girls in between? The girls whoย aren’tย yet confident in their bodies or looks? The girls who feel like they have to fit one of the two molds to be accepted by society? Who is out there for them?

(If I have to stan for anyone, it’d be Janelle Monae, because she has based her entire career partly on the premise that women can choose to be modest in public in terms of looks, dance, and demeanor and still be perceived as sexy. She gives me and girls like me the confidence to know that we don’t have to follow the path society sets out for us. We can be weird and still be cool.)

HOWEVER. I do have to say I’m on Team Nicki when it comes to calling out the entertainment industry for its lack of support for black women and their content. Regardless as to whether I agree with constant rumpshaking or nah, “Anaconda” broke the VEVO record. It was ridiculously popular for weeks on end, if not months. It broke the internet before #breaktheinternet was even a hashtag. Minajย does deserve to be nominated for Music Video of the Year just as much as Swift’s “Bad Blood” does, which, from my point of view, just backs up how segregated feminism is.

The video has been hailed as a feminist triumph for the amount of women superhero-esque characters there are in it, but all it does is reinforce the stereotype Swift’s High School Cool Girl Clique aesthetic, an aesthetic that seems to be at the heart of Mainstream Feminism as a whole. (Yes, Zendaya and Serayah are in it, but the whole squad of Swift’s “Bad Blood” clique looks like a high school squad of Mean Girls stomping down the hall. There’s even Lena Dunham, taking up the spot of the not-so-cool girl that the Cool Girls allow to tag along.)

To me, Swift’s video has just as many bad tropes in it as a rumpshaking-for-patriarchal-consumption video would. Ironically, Swift often puts herself as the victim in her music videos, whether it’s her being scorned by love or looked over by That Cool Guy or whatever. But in recent years, she’s really become the Cool Girl she’s railed against in the past. The “Bad Blood” video, particularly the superhero element, just reinforces the notion thatย to be accepted, you literally have to be imbued with something “special,” with that specialness usually coming in the form of a skinny girl who happens to fit Eurocentric standards of beauty.

(Also, it seems like “Bad Blood” is more Kendrick Lamar’s song than it is Swift’s, seeing how she only sings the chorusย to her own song, leaving Lamar to actually be the one to fill the song with lyrics.)

My one wish for feminism in popular culture is that there is a chance for other feminist points of view to 1) not be considered “attacks” and 2) actually be welcomed in the larger conversation about women in society. Feminism is supposed to be about letting women be themselves in whatever form that takes. But routinely, Mainstream Feminism largely boils down feminism to easily digestible and generally incorrect tropes and dismisses other women’s points of view. Take for instance my mom, who decided to give up her career to stay at home and raise me and my siblings. That act is largely looked down upon by Mainstream Feminists who believe the only path towards true feminism lies in going to work, when in actuality, so many of those feminists find themselves adhering to the patriarchal rules of success. Sure, women can go to work and should be able to work if they want to. But my momย chose to stay at home. How is her choice to raise her childrenย not a feminist act? It’s just as feminist as me decidingย toย work.

I guess what I’m ultimately saying is that 1) Nicki Minaj was right to call out the VMAs, 2) Taylor Swift stuck her foot in her mouth and made herself look like she was playing the victim and 3) Society (and the people that shape society’s viewpoints) needs work when it comes to embracing all of what women are.

 

  • Three words that will never get traction or even be mentioned in the Mainstream Media (because they benefit so much from all three) are racism, misogyny and homophobia.

    MSM do not want these conversations taking place, because it aids and abets all three. It attempts to erase the very subjects from which it benefits by: never mentioning it when its obvious, or saying the words themselves, even in situations where the words are meant to be said (such as in several mass shootings) , or attempting to control the definitions of those words, so as to muddy up the issues surrounding them.

    • Also wanted to add that the people who are most cognizant of these issues are mainly people who don’t get all their information from television.

      I’ve noticed that people who do are often only aware of the periphery of these issues, have no understanding, whatsoever, of their deeper meaning or importance, and often can’t articulate exactly what the major issues are surrounding those three words.

      If the MSM could control the Internet it would make certain that none of these issues would ever be known, mentioned, or understood at all.

      Luckily it can’t control places on the Internet with actual information or keep people from acting on it on Twitter.

  • Pingback: WOC Wednesday: Janelle Monae | COLOR()

  • Pingback: Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams”: Colonialism + A Boring Romance Plot, Wrapped Up In One Video | COLOR()

  • Pingback: Why Nicki Minaj's New York Times Magazine Interview Matters()