Next week is set to be a busy one for rapper Nicki Minaj. On Tuesday, she will feature on Jessie J’s new single, just one day after the release of her new single, Anaconda. For most pop stars, this would be preceded by the usual round of Instagram video teasers and smiley selfies with captions saying: “So excited, got something coming for you soon!!”
But this is Nicki Minaj. And Minaj wouldn’t be Minaj without making a statement in the lead-up to Anaconda’s release.
In this case, the single’s near-NSFW sleeve artwork has whipped up a flurry of publicity around the singer’s prominently displayed butt. Throughout her career, Minaj has used the public’s fascination with her bum to supreme advantage in building her personal brand. In recent months, as she’s stripped down the extravagance of her candy-coloured outfits and largely done away with her rainbow range of hair extensions, she has sexed up her image.
Take the music video she released in February for Lookin Ass. In front of director Nabil’s lens, Minaj spends most of the time arching her back in a skintight black dress and stilettos, perched on a lone chair somewhere in the desert. She spits out verses about the various incarnations of pathetic “lookin’ ass niggas” she’s encountered, peacocking proudly and thrusting the curves of her body to and fro. Sexual provocation and verbal antagonism complement each other as Minaj appears to use her body to distract straight male viewers from the venom she’s directing their way.
Here, Minaj hits her Instagram followers with a song title and g-string-baring photograph that almost certainly references Sir Mix-a-Lot’s butt-revering 1992 single Baby Got Back (of “My anaconda don’t want none/ unless you’ve got buns, hun” fame).
The question is whether this is a step too far, even for an artist who has always openly courted controversy. Did you catch Minaj’s best female hip-hop award acceptance speech at this year’s BET awards, in which she threw shade about how she always writes her own verses? How about when she partnered Barbie-like visuals, likely to attract a tween audience, with sexual cage-dancing in the Stupid Hoe video? Or the 2010 MTV documentary Nicki Minaj: My Time Now, in which she vented about gender double standards in hip-hop and the wider entertainment industry?
Minaj doesn’t shy from ruffling her audience’s feathers. But does it undermine her image as a powerful, independently minded artist to splay her almost-bare butt cheeks in a promotional image? Or is the joke on the voyeurs who only ogle at her voluptuous body and miss the message of her lyrics? Should we celebrate or censor her unabashed cover – or not care either way, and leave her to it?