May 26, 2013
What’s the problem with “Anaconda”?
A lot of people don’t like Nicki Minaj. Specifically, a lot of white people who don’t listen to rap don’t like Nicki Minaj. I know because I used to be one of those people. To the casual observer, Minaj looks like a bizarre half-robot, half-Barbie doll that gained sentience and signed with a major record label. For a long time, I didn’t even know Nicki Minaj was a woman, let alone a prolific female rapper. Her outlandish and hyper-sexual appearance has made her a target for ridicule.
Even those who don’t listen to her music came out of the woodwork to spew hate for her recent single “Anaconda”. People laughed, and an uncomfortable amount of women decided to shame the music video for being sexually objectifying garbage.
But before I go on, dear readers, I’d like to take a moment of your time to talk to you about twerking. And if by some miracle you don’t know what twerking is, this video from Atlanta dance crew Twerk Team should clue you in.
Outside of hip-hop dance circles, twerking is often considered pretty vulgar. It’s something associated with classless women “acting like whores” on the dance floors of sleazy nightclubs. Which is odd, considering it’s so fucking hard to do*. The amount of muscle control and isolation needed to twerk effectively is kind of astounding. You have to admit the skill is impressive, even if you don’t find it appealing or entertaining to watch.
[*Don’t ask how I know that.]
Which brings us back to “Anaconda”, and a question it inevitably raised: can a woman sexually objectify herself? Why is it so gross and shameful for Nicki Minaj to write a song about the unprecedented awesomeness of her ass? Considering that so much of rap contains power fantasies aimed at young black men who live in poverty and oppression, “Anaconda” actually fits that mold quite nicely. The only difference is that this is a power fantasy aimed at women.
“Anaconda” is a song about a completely sexually liberated woman who gives zero fucks what anyone thinks about that. She boasts about how men flock to her, and how her sexual prowess is unmatched. And I think this is where a lot of people get confused. In a media culture saturated in content that objectifies women, many have come to consider women’s sexuality as negative and degrading.
Although “Anaconda” may blur that line for some, there is a definite difference. Minaj is completely in charge of the sexual tone of the song. For it to be objectification, she would have to be a helpless set decoration. In general, a good way to determine whether someone is being sexually objectified is the Sexy Lamp Test, and it goes thusly:
Can the person in question be replaced by a lamp and have the video/song/content lose nothing in translation? If the answer is yes, congrats: they’re a sex object.
It’s understandable to confuse the two when it’s so rare to see a woman portrayed as a sexually charged bad-ass in her own right. Where sex is something she does to men, and not for them. But, understandable or not, the confusion continues to cause a lot of problems for female celebrities. So can we please stop all the hate for Nicki Minaj? I mean, at least until she does something legitimately messed up. If she starts eating kittens, then she’s fair game.
[This article is dedicated to Betty Butt, a talented dancer and founding member of Twerk Team who was recently shot and killed at her apartment complex. The completely not-veiled racism that’s manifested itself since her death has shone a light on the way our culture views women and people of color in our media. It’s disgusting, shameful, and completely unacceptable. This one is for you, Betty.]