My initial perception of Nicki Minaj‘s work was that it was passable mainstream music that wasn’t sexually aggressive, but demanding in a cutesy weird way. I was attracted to her thinking she was unconventional. Then I youtubed her. What planet did she come from; with her exaggerated body parts and equally odd facial expressions? After a little research you find so many raunchy stuff from Nicki, including some Lil’ Kim-esc spread-eagle shots that look very “before” the Barbification. The overtly sexual lyrics and demeanor seems to have slowed dramatically. This could simply be marketing maneuver, opening up Nicki’s demographic to include everyone from the fashion forward, the femme fatal, the thug, and the Barbie-toters themselves. Though all of that may not add up to talent, it does add up to extremely popular.
She seems conscious that her good looks and figure is why she’s famous. So instead of going the route of Jennifer Lopez or Lil’ Kim who both used their sexual physicality and charged to acquire both male and female fans, Nicki seems less concerned with appearing sexy and seems to feed into the “weird”. Nicki walks a very thin line of unchartered territory attempting to keep hood credibility and her fun-loving Barbie persona. Despite her struggle to be universally accepted, there has been a tangible backlash from the hip-hop community. Most real heads take issue with her lack of musical and contextual substance.
By listening to her “discography” and reading her twitter page I still don’t know who makes up her fan base. She tweets pictures of herself with celebrities and fans alike, and though the page is a frighteningly bright shade of pink (a pink that numbs my mind just to remember it) she counters her overt femininity with photos of her male fans’ tattooed body parts. Minaj, the character, is never “off”. In every picture, her makeup and costumes are flawless. Similar to her twitter presentation; it’s all promotional and extremely perfect, at certain intervals she plugs a flower company for Valentine’s Day and hawks her T-shirts. There is something a little sterile about her though, lots of personality kept under tight reign and given only moments of freedom. This is a very different story from the one told by most of her interviewers. In articles the interest in her seems lukewarm at best. The writers really seem to dislike the density of her persona. Her insincerity seems to irk them. To me she’s just opaque. She’s just a character here to sell a product.
At the very least she is something different in cross-over hip-hop. Minaj is pioneering an alternative Black female persona to the masses. If Gaga is exposing up the public to high fashion and art then Nicki Minaj is a caricature of feminism. I do wonder if the only feminism we are willing to accept comes teetering on high heels, flanked by high pitched giggles, donning a mini skirt? Welcome our Beta version (training wheels mandatory): she is charming while evasive and if needed she bites back, with wit and a smile. When confronted about her bodacious body parts on Chelsea Lately she almost admits to wearing a body piece (for figure enhancement), joking that she has body parts that were only a few months old. She doesn’t attempt to make a statement or use her status to become anything besides rich. Nicki Minaj is who she chose to present to the world, take it or leave it. So she presents us with Roman, Martha, and Nicki. All this constantly playing dress-up with clothing as well as persona, sounds like the product of a damaged childhood to me. And if her MTV documentary was accurate, those are the facts. In the documentary we get a glimpse of who Onika was as she describes the same black and poor bootstrap pulling story that many African-American’s tell, and perhaps exaggerate. I mean it makes a good story.
Regardless, we are eating it up. Minaj has found much success with her debut album, including the highest debut by a female Rap artist. I think she’s in for a ride in the public eye because she is addictive in bite size portions.
There is, however a ceiling to this type of success. A time will come when doing what the label says doesn’t sell records. Will Nicki have another persona to sell us, even then? That fall can be harrowing. But right now, she is playing the game perfectly, never breaking character. I just hope there’s someone under her well-crafted facade.
Written by Cashmere Bryan
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