Nicki Minaj Doesn’t Understand Camp But It’s Not Her Fault

Photo: Taylor Hill/FilmMagic.
The first Monday in May has come and gone but the internet is still critiquing the outfits our favourite celebrities wore on the Met Gala's pink carpet. While the curators of this year's exhibit arguably ignored black camp and centred whiteness, we were still eager to see what our favourite rappers would wear to honour the theme. Because as Essence magazine editor-in-chief Constance White told Refinery29 earlier this month, rappers love camp. “Rappers are interesting," White said at the time. "I never know when they are deadly serious or going for high camp.”
Rapper Nicki Minaj walked the Met Gala red carpet on Monday, wearing a pink Prabal Gurung dress with a sweeping train and a jewelled overlay on the bodice. When asked about the inspiration for her look, she revealed she wasn't well-versed in camp style, despite being a camp style icon herself. "This is by Prabal Gurung, and this is how he interpreted camp, I guess," she said. "He established that for me, so the camp stuff, that's on him." In another interview, a reporter for ET asked if Minaj had any favourite campy looks from past music videos. She stated: "I have no clue, because up until today I had no idea what camp was. So, I don't even know if this is camp to be honest."
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The internet couldn't believe that the woman who rapped in bubble gum pink wigs, taking on different personalities as she wore over-the-top kitschy outfits, didn't know what camp signified.
But Nicki's admission speaks to a larger issue: the whitewashing of camp style and culture in general. Perhaps Nicki doesn't recognize camp because camp rhetoric rarely includes people who look like her. In Notes On The Uses Of Black Camp, an open cultural studies scholarly journal, Justyna Wierzchowska points out that academics often fail to include race when looking at gender and sexuality in camp performances. The journal notes author and Notre Dame professor Pamela Robertson Wojcik’s observes that critics do not usually explore race unless it’s to compare camp to Black culture or blackface. “Such comparisons,” the journal states, indicate and strengthen the assumption that all camp is white.
Okayplayer music editor Ivie Anie made a point that echoes Notre Dame professor Pamela Robertson Wojcik’s assertion above. "People are critiquing Nicki Minaj for admitting she didn’t know what camp was, but she’s been it her entire career," Anie tweeted on Tuesday. "Camp discourse often glazes over Black culture so it’s more interesting to me that she never recognized the phrase yet is inherently camp bc of Blackness, because of hip-hop."
The Met Camp exhibit also glazes over Black culture, only showcasing 3 Black designers and omitting Black cultural references in general. But the red carpet was a step in the right direction as Black celebrities paid homage to the many Black camp legends who were left out of the exhibit. As we continue to acknowledge Black culture’s contributions, perhaps more Black style icons — like Nicki Minaj — will be able to recognize the value they're adding to the cultural legacy of camp.
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