Dear Nicki Minaj:
I don’t think you understand what you are doing. I think your brand purports to celebrate the female body. You position yourself as a strong, sassy woman, sure of herself and free to look—dress, speak, be—any damned way she pleases. I'll bet if we sat down and talked American History, you would be on the side of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Gloria Steinem, Edith Bunker, Lily Tomlin. But you are young, and rich, and too successful for your own good, so maybe you have lost perspective.
My dear, this “Anaconda” song of yours is an abomination. Even in a world where too much is cynically permitted and we all grow bitter, your video crosses a line. It sets us back—women and men—hundreds of years. I beg you to use your considerable power and talents to make better choices in the future.
I see you lately on the junket, a bit more modest, more demure, more covered. Keep it up. Meanwhile, because I care about you and all the young girls in your influence, let me explain to you exactly why “Anaconda” is a dangerous anachronism.
Five Outrageous Lies “Anaconda” Tells Teenaged Girls (and Why I Care):
1. Hey Girls, Selling Your Bodies Can Be a Great Thing!
You introduce yourself as a woman kept—in the most literal sense—by a “big dope dealer.” Thus begins your trek back into the pre-suffrage Dark Ages of subordination. For many a generation, American women have recognized the inherent dignity of earning their own wages and maintaining identities separate from their men. How have you missed it?
You excuse the criminal behavior of your charming male companions. You forgive as well their habit of drugging you into a stupor (“I’m high as hell . . . I’m on some dumb shit” and “‘cause he slung cocaine”). What a gal. Seems it’s all worth it because he “live in a castle” and keeps you “stylish,” which you insist is “real, real, real” (the repetition makes us wonder—are you trying to convince yourself?).
You offer your body in exchange for material goods (Alexander McQueen, Balmain, that Jag you pull up in). We thought we’d covered this. We, your elders, are stunned to be explaining it to you. Ignoring bad behavior in anyone, and letting yourself be bought, is a terrible, terrible thing.
2. I am Confident, So My Body is a Sexual Playground!
As sure-of-yourself as you appear onstage, my dear girl, “Anaconda” betrays the truth. A woman who believes, “he can tell I ain’t missing no meals” has something to prove. We are not fooled; your defiant persona attempts to mask the deep, familiar insecurity that sends so many young women into so many strange and treacherous beds.
So he loves your “sex appeal,” despite your ample curves. Nicki, please. A wise friend told me years ago, “So he wants to fuck you. Big deal. He wants to fuck everybody.”
Ain’t it the truth? If some man tells you he prefers you to a super-model because you offer “something he can grab,” might he be saying whatever it takes to get you into bed? You’re better than that, and smarter. We all are.
Of course you are beautiful, just as you are. In every human body is some element of grace or beauty, something stunning and lovable and easily cherished by another. But feeling comfortable—and attractive—in your own skin is far different than using your sex-appeal to achieve some perceived sense of power or material gain (“I let him hit it ‘cause he slang cocaine”).
That “power” is a most predictable double-edged sword. It is never real power, of course, and it will cut you to your core, leaving you lost, broken and prone to making exponentially desperate decisions. There is no quicker route to self-loathing than confusing your sex-appeal for power; serial one-night-stands will confirm this truth to nearly everyone who’s ever been there. STDs and unwanted pregnancies further drive the point home.
3. I Can Be Reduced to One (or Two) Body Part(s)!
I tend to give most of us credit, here in the 21st century, for knowing the perils of objectifying anyone. When we dehumanize a person—or a part of a person, or a race of people, or a gender—it becomes infinitely easier to inflict violence.
I thought we knew this.
And yet: “Yeah, he love this fat ass / Yeah! This one is for my bitches with the fat ass in the fucking club / I said, ‘Where my fat-ass big bitches in the club?’”
Nicki, My Dear, imagine your impressionable, female audience. The young girl who looks up to you, because she sees you on the Ellen show and in SNL sketches gone viral. You tell her this: despite your background, sense of humor, education, intelligence, family, inherent gifts and astonishing material success, you are best remembered by your prodigious ass.
The genetic accident which must have caused you so much strife while you were growing up—we all have them: big thighs, thick eyebrows, unsightly moles, skinny forearms, nappy hair, excitable tempers, huge boobs—defines you. Don’t you see? It’s the opposite of what we want our daughters and sisters and nieces to believe about themselves.
You are so much more than how you look! Isn’t this the refrain we hail upon our middle-school girls as they struggle to define their awkward places in the world? You deserve to be respected and treated equally by men! I know for sure we tell them this. And while in the post-Feminist world we can wield our girlish wiles for commercial and personal gain, we know the difference. We know our real value, measured in honesty, dignity, passion, creativity, commitment, service, stewardship and kindness. In the end, we hope we are remembered more for such sentiments than, “Yeah, I got a big fat ass.”
The media gives us constant images of women—and men, too—as body parts. Open a glossy magazine or watch a few Super Bowl ads and pay attention. If people are reduced to parts—to objects—it is infinitely easier to inflict violence on them.
Here at the end of 2014, I am surprised we don’t recognize the patterns of sexual violence. I am baffled by talk-show coverage of important men, their battered spouses and the victims of their abuse. Wide-eyed interviewers continue to ask questions I honestly thought we—all of us, more or less—had hashed out for several generations with some results.
Shouldn’t strong, successful women of influence be resisting (rather than encouraging) the temptation to turn human beings into objects? Ms. Minaj, I urge you. Use the megaphone of the zeitgeist to make a change. Tell the world—all of us, including your young and impressionable admirers—your story. I believe in you, Girl, and I’ve got your back. You are so much more than your big, juicy butt.
4. Other Women Are the Enemy!
In the end, “Anaconda” is a booty-call to “my bitches with a fat ass in the fucking club.” Represent, you encourage them! Let it go! Free those ample curves and your sex-u-al-ity! But your self-expression takes a dark turn when you admonish “those skinny bitches in the club.” There is no room on the dance floor, it seems, for women who are different from you. This attitude, my friend, is perhaps most dangerous of all.
Of course Big Girls have the right and freedom to express themselves in public. So do Skinny Girls. We live in a glorious age of tolerance, where we can fly whatever flag we please. All girls can shake their groove thang: black, white or brown, tall or short, in five-inch stilettos or in wheelchairs, with glossy-straight locks or crazy curls, rich or poor, gay or straight or anywhere in between.
Why, then, the aggressive opposition to the Sisterhood? Our mothers and grandmothers learned long ago how vital it is to stick together. When we tear each other down, we re-visit centuries of division and subordination. When women celebrate all our shapes and sizes, gifts, imperfections, strengths and spirits, women change the world for the better. Join the party, Ms. Minaj! (Don't even get me started on "Stupid Hoe." I mean it: do not get me started.)
If your lyrics are divisive, however, they pale in comparison to your video exploration of female relationships. "Anaconda" makes the wet dreams of every adolescent boy, ever, come true. My dear, there is nothing original or shocking about your aggressively lesbian, fleshy, and pornographic visions of what women do together behind closed doors (or in the jungle, or at the gym . . . ). It has all been done before: the bondage couture, the wet and sultry glances, even the butt-drums. It ain't Sisterhood; it ain't relationship; it reduces women and their friendships to the stuff of predictable fantasy.
Even in this Brave New Century, women fight to be taken seriously--in the workplace, in politics, by their husbands and sons--and to trust their own, inherent dignity. "Anaconda" reduces female relationships to abject nastiness. The good news is, self-respecting adults see through your fog machine to the hollow soul of your song. The bad news is, those adolescent boys (and all their wet dreams) don't.
5. Original Thought Doesn’t Matter.
I take it back. This is the most dangerous message of all. From the first note you announce the derivative nature of your song, but here’s the thing: Sir Mix-a-Lot said it all. Celebration of the posterior begins and ends with his joyful anthem to the booty, and “Anaconda” adds nothing to the discourse.
Your song mutates the playful tone of “Baby Got Back” into something dark and fettish-y. You incorporate the most foul (and phallic) lyrics from the original and play them out against a backdrop of consciously clichéd images. Dark-jungle-tribal girls, half-naked, at your service. Whipped-cream pearl necklaces, bananas (read here about Nicki's pseudo-feminist take on the whole thing) coconut-milk ejaculate. Really? The litany of visual banality would be purely boring if it weren't also so painful to watch.
But you see, Miss Nicki, I feel this way because I am a grown-up. I am old enough to know better (and so are you, by the way). My real problem with the ubiquity of your song is the age of your intended audience.
Teenagers accidentally happen upon your song. (Vevo pops it up in ad-form; twelve-year-old boys share gifs of your outrageous twerking; the video was an Xfinity On-Demand "top feature" for one illustrious week.) They are rightly intrigued. Because they are young and ignorant, they are shocked. Their imaginations are ignited, to be sure. But you fan that flame as violently as as a hard-core porn video. For generations, Herb Alpert's scandalous album cover has left something to the imaginations of pre-teened music lovers. Even the requisite, adolescent ogling of a purloined copy of Playboy reveals less than the aggressive camera angles in "Anaconda." As 13-year-olds discover the similarities between bananas and penises, I like it better when they snicker and giggle. When their minds are thrown open, instead, to the darkest recesses of gender politics, I worry about their ability to handle it. I worry about the messages you so overtly send about women--and men, and drugs and money and violence--because your medium is so intoxicating to the young minds being formed by the music they listen to and the images they witness.
The Nicki Minaj brand produces, packages and promotes with young people in mind. Perhaps only an audience with limited education and life experience will tune in; the rest of us (after the initial fascination of so much butt-jggling wears off) see the truth behind the leather bodysuit. "Anaconda" is a formulaic sham, a fraud, pastiche, counterfeit, not smart enough to be a parody, not brave enough for satire. And that's too bad, Miss Thing, because with so many young people watching, you are missing an enormous opportunity.
If you decide to use your powers for Good rather than Evil, what might you do? What messages--if you really think about the young girls and boys who love you--might you send?
I urge you to think about it, Ms. Minaj. I beg you to see the harm your perpetuate with your song, your video and your public persona. You have the right to be whomever you please--and to make your money however you can--but I suspect the younger generation is smart enough to support a better product (with a better message). Give them a chance. Trust your audience and yourself enough to contemplate your real worth as a woman and a human being. Then write songs about that.