I know why Nicki Minaj, a rapper so powerful, with the best producers at her disposal, the lyrical mastery she’s developed over the years, and her ability to go so weirdly violent yet clever and interesting with her imaginary world… did a song about her ass.
We have the Sir-Mix-A-Lot origin. Anaconda is completely ripped from a song that’s super problematic: pure objectification of a lady’s posterior booty area. But so catchy and clearly celebratory. It’s hard not to like, quote, and enjoy, which is the challenge of our times, with so much sexist pop culture fun running amok. Like this Anaconda video. Nicki twisted Sir Mix-A-Lot into a celebration and reclaiming of the butt.
Presenting as a pure sex object, whipped cream, display, lyrics about trading sex for goods when she’s got all the money in the world. Sir Mix A Lot said, “People say you’re fat. Well, I’m not down with that.” Nicki turned this statement into “My ass is fat. And I use that objectified sexuality as currency.” I get it, but I don’t get it.
A body with no resemblance to the tall, underfed Russian 14-year-olds who walk haute couture runways deserves validation, and it ain’t fat. I agree with this point, 100%. Being proud of your body, especially a fetishized, obsessed-about part of it, is state of mind all women should internalize. But Nicki…
Nicki’s body is powerful and amazing, and I can say that because I just watched it ripple and contort for 3 minutes. She’s not fat, like she claims—she’s not fat at all. She’s literally working out in the video and her body is totally fit. Cut to the pool, where it’s just insane cackling (love it, love it) and shit-talking skinny girls (nooooooo why!). As if women can’t own and love their non-mainstream physical quality. No, we’ve got to shit-talk anyone who doesn’t possess it. I’m not down with that.
Then there’s the crawling towards Drake. The message that Nicki’s a bad bitch that don’t give a fuck has been pounded into our brains— then she’s on her knees, shaking to please. I’ve seen interviews with Ms. Minaj where she’s shit-talked haters, cleverly stated her funny point of view, aggressively intimidated everyone in her path… So why do we see her slithering into frame like she’s not the star of the video? I mean, the focus of this whole scene is the man. She slaps his hand away, but to add this scene at the end, completely static on Drake signifies that female sexual empowerment don’t mean shit unless a man is there to appreciate it. Shame. You can’t own your sexuality if it’s dependent on making Drake cry.
This makes me think of Lady, who’s banned video “Pussy Be Yankin” presented her, plus a bevy of other sexy black women, in a position of power. Men serve them, dance for them, massage them, and it’s all quite tame by rap video standards. So MTV banned it. BET banned it. They banned it. Banned. You can’t even watch it on YouTube today without a stern “inappropriate!!” warning. YouTube, people. YOUTUBE. Have you read the comments on YouTube lately? There is booty shaking. There is money flashing. There are men on leashes. The men aren’t even nude. But we never see them in a position of power. So this video, for whatever reason, is too dangerous to the general public. #inappropriate, indeed.
It’s like when that super-racist, super-stupid Asian Girlz video came out and everyone was upset by the dumb, offensive stereotypes only. As if it were cool to objectify a woman as long as you didn’t do it with lyrics like “Come here and sit on my lap, or we’ll send you back. And you age so well, I can barely tell.” Nope, just don’t say the words “Asian” in your chorus, but go ahead and rap about butt-fucking, happy endings, and the ever-charming “Bitch! I love you.”
Let’s talk about the Verhoeven-Bay Effect (which I just made up). Nicki has a grip on the balance between hip-hop and pop, working that line with sick beats, clever references and a strategy to become a business, not a rapper, that’s been extremely successful. She plays with her identity, goes hard against men, is completely owns her sexuality, bounces between unashamedly insane identities, and growls like a tiger. I fucking love Nicki, an imaginative creative force who’s aggressively doing her own thing in a world that’s been dominated by gangsta male posturing.
But what she’s done here is turn up all the lizard-brain reflexes we hold as a culture and wrap it in a mesmerizing blend of creativity, even though everything that makes us unable to turn away is problematic. It’s the Verhoeven-Bay Effect. Their skill as directors: an ability to heighten key moments in a film to levels of near-parody with ultimate sincerity (and no remorse). The pole-licking scene (well, every scene) in Showgirls. The triple-tittied woman in Total Recall. Bay’s finesse with choreographed explosions and sincerely delivered dialogue that borders on parody.
These directors see our culture and gender roles on a basic level, never challenging the caveman roles that oppress women in general. They make sexism sexy. They make racism fun. We watch these films and groan, but can’t look away—it’s in our culture code. Like children who touch the flame because fire is fucking awesome, we go and see their movies because in their bombastic sexism, they ring true, deep to our core, and we react because it is how we were raised.
Keep writing songs about your ass, but let’s change the world in which they’re made. My father was homophobic and sexist. He worked on cars and drove a truck. He tinkered with motorcycles, taking things apart and putting them back together. There were so many times I went into our grassless front yard, asking questions, eager to be taught the intricacies of engine repair. “Go inside,” he’d tell me. “Cars are for girls. Go play Barbie. Get your brother out here.” I would go to my room and fume. Those shitty moments were catalysts for who I am today.
Working in advertising as a strategist, I’m hypersensitive of how we present gender roles in our spots. I look at the larger messages each piece of marketing sends, and do everything in my power to avoid releasing another subliminal piece of brainwash. I want to shatter the male gaze. I aim for a message that is honest about the product, and inspiring to the audience. The Anaconda video disappoints me, because like this sexy hamster Kia ad, it reduces females, even the powerful Nicki, to eye candy, whose power is completely dependent on pleasing males.
Like abused children who interpret unhealthy relationships as love, we as a culture interpret the fun, bombastic, damaging reflections of our gender identity as a good time. We think we’re enjoying the show, but we’re just being treated to a replay of our lives, the familiar roles we seek to excel in. Ice-T said something like, feminism is bullshit, because every woman wants to be hot—and feminists are just women that aren’t hot. (Not really interested in sourcing the link… but he said it, somewhere.) That statement’s offensive, and misinformed, but there’s a truth in it. No matter how intelligent we are, powerful or secure, women are always trying to get one step closer to perfection. Until we stop focusing on our presentation and disengage from the amazing feeling we get when rewarded for obeying the rules we’ve been taught, society will never evolve.
I don’t have as much visibility as Nicki Minaj, but I do have the power to change the culture which she absorbs and reflects.
So I’ll be over here, in marketing, doing what I can to engineer ads that enter our culture with a higher awareness. Not much will change until we learn a different kind of love for each other, embedded in our subconscious culture codes. I look forward to a future where women make songs about our butts, not as sex objects, but as sexual, empowered beings.