I’ve been a fan of Nicki Minaj for quite some time. Ever since she dropped “Super Bass” during the height of my awkward phase, it’s been hard to stop listening to her. I’ve been there for every song she’s dropped since then, from “Roman’s Revenge” to “Pills N Potions.” Honestly, I don’t consider a social gathering a “party” until at least one Nicki song has been played. She isn’t just a producer of catchy beats and impressive rhymes, either; she has a story that I used to think of as heartwarming. I was inspired by her struggle as a Trinidadian immigrant living in New York City, selling mixtapes out on the street in the hopes that someone would notice her and make her famous. As a second-generation American, I’ve heard plenty of stories of how difficult it is to make a living in the U.S. when you’re brand new to the country, and as a result, Nicki’s story really resonated with me.
Despite my previous endearment for her, my opinion of Nicki was forever changed when she released the lyric video for her upcoming single “Only” on YouTube. In the video, she’s been cartoonized into a superwoman-like figure clad in tight leather, which is not where my problem lies. It’s the fact that the video seems to suggest that she’s the leader of a totalitarian dictatorship that’s eerily similar to the German Third Reich. In the video, Nicki Minaj’s character is seen sitting on a throne, being fanned by figures vaguely resembling the Grim Reaper, and flanked by large scarlet tapestries emblazoned with “YM,” a reference to her label Young Money. The “YM” has been stylized in a way that looks way too similar to a Swastika to be just a coincidence. If that wasn’t enough, other scenes from the video show Nicki’s character inspecting ranks of soldiers with scarlet armbands, another too-close-for-comfort similarity to the uniforms of Nazi soldiers during the war. The vaguely 1940s-ish font that Nicki’s lyrics flash by in and the simulated screen crackling throughout the video only added to the sinking feeling that I had in my stomach.
Would Nicki Minaj really stoop so low as to use Nazi references to promote her upcoming single? I was appalled. I couldn’t understand how anyone would think that it was okay to reference anything vaguely reminiscent of a systematic genocide. Is less than a 100 enough time to start trivializing one of the greatest acts of violence in human history? Is this simply the price that Nicki has to pay in order to get a response from her fans and from society at large? I’m disappointed that she has resorted to such sensationalist tactics as a way to attract more attention to her music.
I was shocked and appalled by the imagery that Nicki used in her video, and I wanted to know if other people felt the same way that I did. I started asking around to see how people felt about the video, and I was surprised at both the number of people that hadn’t seen the video, and out of those that did, that not a lot of people even wanted to discuss it. I can’t tell if the general lack of interest in this video is because people at Swarthmore simply don’t have the time to care about it, or if we have all become so used to sensationalist media stories that it just doesn’t affect us any longer. The video did drop at approximately the same time as the nude Kim Kardashian photos, so maybe it just didn’t have the right kind of shock value to elicit a strong response. But when I spoke to Samira Saunders ’18, who had just recently watched the video, I found someone else who shared the same strong opinions that I did.
“I wonder what they were on when they thought it would be even remotely okay to release a video like that,” Samira wrote to me. She noted that Nicki and her staff should have known better before posting a video that could reach so many people.
“Pop culture is so influential amongst youth, [and] it has already been widely acknowledged that, amongst other things, its casual misogyny is problematic. But to demean one group of people is obviously not enough; let’s throw in a little Nazi symbolism to trivialize the slaughter of 11 million people. Actually… let’s just have four of the most influential pop artists collaborate on a five minute “work of art” that lacks any subtlety in its depiction of the Third Reich.”
Samira called the video “distasteful, disappointing, sick and disturbing. Not to mention the irony of having Chris Brown’s face in front of violence, because in case we’ve all forgotten, he did still physically abuse his ex-girlfriend,” she concluded.
Rares Mosneanu ’18, an international student from Romania, was also horrified at the implications of the video.
“Coming from a place that had to deal with World War II and all the Nazism and Communism crimes therein, this music video is not just disturbing or offensive, it is a punch right in the gut to anyone who has ever been hurt in those horrible times, events that happened not even 100 years ago,” he said.
“How could 4 mainstream influential pop ‘artists’ — well, their statuses as artists were destroyed one minute into the video for me — create such a terrible piece? And just to top everything, they decided to bring Chris Brown back and give him the role of a Nazi general in the lyrics video — just like domestic violence was not enough on his resume, genocide is far more appealing apparently to the 21st century audience,” he concluded.
Even though some people had a fairly strong reaction to the video, not everyone was enraged about it.
“I think it was risky going this route, and I think Nicki Minaj is actually very smart, and understands that she is going to piss a lot of people off with this video, but there is definitely a purpose to it,” wrote Chinyere Odim ‘17.
Even though not everyone was offended by the video, I sincerely hope that some sort of action is taken against it. This might be constitutionally protected free speech, possibly, sort of. Regardless, it’s offensive to anyone who has any respect for the atrocities committed during the WWII era or any atrocities throughout history, and something needs to be said about it.