The REAL Issue Behind Nicki Minaj & Taylor Swift’s VMA Tweets

Photo: Gregory Pace/BEImages.
The 2015 MTV VMA nominations were announced on July 21 at 10 a.m. EST. At 2:14 p.m., Nicki Minaj tweeted, “If I was a different ‘kind’ of artist, Anaconda would be nominated for best choreo and vid of the year as well.” She followed up with, “When the ‘other’ girls drop a video that breaks records and impacts culture they get that nomination.” Then, Minaj remarked, “If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year.” At that point, Taylor Swift got involved. “@NICKIMINAJ I've done nothing but love & support you. It's unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot,” Swift tweeted. This set off a firestorm, with Minaj telling Swift, "Huh? U must not be reading my tweets. Didn't say a word about u. I love u just as much. But u should speak on this." Rather than commenting on what Minaj requested, Swift replied, "If I win, please come up with me!! You're invited to any stage I'm ever on." Minaj never actually named Swift, but it's hard to fault the "Bad Blood" singer for concluding that she was the subject of her fellow pop star's tweet, given the nominees for Video of the Year: Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar’s “Bad Blood,” and Beyoncé’s “7/11.”
While nearly all of those videos feature slim women, Minaj's original tweet referenced "the 'other' girls" (emphasis ours) dropping videos that broke records. Beyoncé is the only other "girl" in the category, and "7/11" did not break any records. Swift's "Bad Blood," on the other hand, smashed Vevo's record for most views in 24 hours when it premiered in May. And guess which artist was the previous Vevo record-holder? One Nicki Minaj. The video? "Anaconda." So yeah, it's not out of the question to assume Minaj might have been throwing a little shade Swift's way. (And no, this wasn't the first time the two artists have drawn comparisons. “Anaconda” and Swift’s “Shake It Off" videos came out within a day of each other last August. Both featured twerking, and Swift came under fire for cultural appropriation. Oh, and the only other female artist nominated for Video of the Year — Beyoncé — has so far stayed out of the Twitter kerfuffle.)

"Black women influence pop culture so much, but are rarely rewarded for it."

Nicki Minaj
That said, the real issue that Minaj seemed to take umbrage with is much bigger and thornier than a so-called feud between two successful pop stars — namely, the marginalization of Black female artists and how perceptions of women’s bodies are inherent in MTV snubbing “Anaconda” (and “Feeling Myself"). "Black women influence pop culture so much but are rarely rewarded for it," Minaj responded to a fan who admired her confidence. She retweeted a fan who told Taylor Swift to "stop using 'support all girls' as an excuse to not be critical of racist media that benefits and glorifies you." That's the "this" that she urged Swift to speak on. Minaj referenced this again when she responded to a now-deleted tweet from the On-Air With Ryan Seacrest account that referred to her taking "jabs" at Taylor Swift. "Nothing I said had to do with Taylor," she tweeted. "So what jabs? White media and their tactics. So sad. That's what they want." There is no denying the colossal cultural impact of “Anaconda." In addition to breaking those Vevo records last summer, the video sparked memes and an homage by Ellen DeGeneres. Minaj performed the song live at the 2014 VMA’s, with essentially the same costumes and choreography as she'd later employ in the video. The VMA overlords liked her enough then. So why didn't they like her enough to nominate her for Video of the Year? It is entirely possible that they might just have preferred the five other videos that they did honor. But maybe it also has something to do with the video's undeniably in-your-face depiction of unbridled female sexuality (“He toss my salad like his name Romaine”). Or how it celebrates a body that is outside the culturally accepted ideal of thinness (“I got a big, fat ass.”). Is it so difficult to imagine that those things might have made some of the voters at MTV uncomfortable? Minaj has been clear from the beginning about her inspiration for the song. “I felt like back in the day, thicker women were celebrated in hip hop, and I kind of felt like there was a shift happening," she told The Real in December 2014. "I didn’t like the shift. I felt like somebody needed to say something.” And yet her anthem to ample asses gets brushed aside for the VMAs' biggest prize. Why? A 2014 academic paper called Pornographic Performances that analyzes racism and sexism in music videos could offer some answers. To paraphrase one of the paper's findings, black women are often hypersexualized with an extreme focus placed on their bottoms. Want proof? See the numerous explicit videos that reduce women to sexual objects, such as Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" (the song "Anaconda" samples), Calvin Harris' "Summer," and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines." This hypersexualization is exactly what Minaj is subverting and directing back at viewers in “Anaconda.” She stares directly into the camera, demanding that we focus on a black woman’s bottom — the same bottom that is usually objectified by men, for men. This time, however, you see that it belongs to person — a person fully and expertly in control of her sexuality.

Why is Nicki Minaj's anthem to ample asses brushed aside?

It’s unfortunate that Nicki Minaj’s Video of the Year snub — and how she chose to voice her dissatisfaction — has become a feminist question of “Is she pitting women against women?” This isn’t about Minaj versus Swift. They don’t need to film “Bad Blood 2” (although someone at MTV is probably cooking up that as the opening VMA sketch right now). Nicki Minaj has spent the past day highlighting the marginalization of black artistry and creativity, female sexuality, and bodies that deviate from what we’ve been primed to accept as the norm. Don’t ask her to shake it off.

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