September 13 sees New York Democrats head to the polls to pick their favorite candidates for the upcoming November election. Most media coverage swirled around the choice for Governor, with activist and actor Cynthia Nixon challenging incumbent Andrew Cuomo. A slew of celebrities have openly endorsed Nixon and donated to her leftist progressive campaign, including Lena Dunham, Rosie O’Donnell, Alec Baldwin and (surprise surprise) most of the Sex and the City cast. However, just a day ahead of the election, Queens-raised rapper Nicki Minaj flung her support towards Cuomo, with an almost – dare I write – Trumpian tweet: “[he] know[s] how to work for the people to make NY even GREATER.”
This isn’t entirely surprising when taking a closer look at Minaj’s political pinkprint.
In 2012 she rapped “I’m a Republican, voting for Mitt Romney/You lazy bitches is fuckin’ up the economy,” on the Lil Wayne track, “Mercy.” Earlier this year she found herself in hot water after collaborating with Tekashi 6ix9ine (Daniel Hernandez), who pled guilty in 2015 to a felony count “of the use of a child in a sexual performance”. In July 2018 — 10 days before the release of the Minaj collab, Fefe — Hernandez was arrested by the NYPD due to an outstanding warrant for allegedly choking a 16 year old girl at Houston’s Galleria Mall. A since-deleted tweet had Nicki sound the alarm to the “double standards” of music blogs, with Pitchfork having praised Lady Gaga’s 2013 collaboration with R. Kelly irrespective of his own flood of allegations.
For all her questionable collaborations and anaconda-sized blunders, Nicki has also whipped up a decent amount of philanthropy in her starship. She donated $15,000 to the Food Bank for New York City in the 2012 wake of Hurricane Sandy and in 2018 she handed $25,000 to the Red Cross after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston. Most radically, she offered to pay off college tuition debt and student loans for 30 fans via Twitter.
When asked about Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in 2015, Minaj responded, “am I convinced that she should be the next president? I still want to be open-minded about everyone” but then continued “I support her as a woman… She has gone through horrifying things, even within her marriage. She has been brave and weathered the storm. And continued being a boss. That’s something that every woman should feel inspired by, no matter if you’re voting for her or not.”
Indeed it would seem that Minaj does have an appreciation for strong boss female leadership, and during her own Beats 1 show, Queen Radio, she gave a shout out to none other than… Margaret Thatcher. So why did Minaj choose Cuomo over Nixon? Does Nicki Minaj [cue Ramona Singer on the phone to Bethenny Frankel] support women?
The parallel between Thatcher and Minaj is worth exploring, particularly in how they’ve both negotiated their positions of power in relation to other powerful women. Margaret Thatcher became Leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 and Prime Minister of the UK in 1979. She held the seat until 1990, making her not only the first woman to hold office, but also the longest-serving British PM of the 20th century. But she also proved that supporting a woman wasn’t entirely synonymous to supporting women. Thatcher was extremely indifferent about feminism and improving women’s rights, and almost seemed to enjoy being the only woman in the room. Of course it’d be offensive to Minaj’s legacy to say she harbors any of those same sentiments but listening to her music you can’t help but wonder whether Minaj actually wants other female rappers to succeed.
There’s a curious fragility in her feminism that ultimately feels self-serving. Nicki has a history of intimidation and tension with her contemporaries, rap girls who get a little too close to her freedom: Lil’ Kim, Iggy Azalea, Remy Ma, and most recently, Cardi B. With Queen, her latest album, it seems she wants to make sure everyone knows that there is only one. And she makes the point pretty explicitly: “You’re in the middle of Queen right now, thinking ‘I see why she called this shit Queen, This bitch is really the fucking Queen,” she cackles in “Chun Swae.” To Nicki Minaj, the politics of the pop/rap game is one of unwavering feudalism: mirror, mirror on the wall, there will only be one queen to rule them all.
Nicki’s obsession with royalty and pop feudalism wasn’t simply born on Pink Friday. This rabid need to single out female artists and platform them as “queens” – and to inevitably pit them each against each other at each turn of their career – has become a profitable mechanism that we’ve all had a hand in reproducing. We build them up just so we can knock them back down. Stan culture feeds off this feudalism for social clout — cashed through retweets turned platinum tweets — just as tabloids look to exploit it for clickbait turned financial gain. Pop culture history is littered with names of celebrities who have been in feuds, but it’s important to note that the names are overwhelmingly held by women. There is a bubbling misogyny that undercuts our relationship to women in popular culture.
It’s also interesting to consider how gay male communities might contribute to this misogyny, because it’s arguably difficult to divorce stan culture from gay male culture. I wonder if the love we harbor for our “queens” isn’t just a byproduct of the way we’ve come to fetishize them. In the process we dehumanize these women as mere entertainment: one step out of line and they’re cancelled. Perhaps it’s become even greater than the simple stan wars… Ryan Murphy’s Feud and Andy Cohen’s Real Housewives both rely on the characterization of female scorn and antagonism for their respective success. As much as I love my RHONY I begrudgingly know that at its crux lies the humiliation of women. TMZ, too… Creator and Editor Harvey Levin came out as gay in 2010. What is it out about our queerness that plays both magnet and catalyst to this female toxicity?
In questioning, “does Nicki Minaj support women?” perhaps we should first ask ourselves, “do we?” Because can we really fault players like Nicki for playing the only game of pop feudalism that has managed to exist? Can we fault Nicki for attempting to capitalize on the rules we’ve collectively been upholding? It’s encouraging to know that in a post-#MeToo world we’re finally becoming a little more attuned to the lived experiences of women and the systemic conditions that are continuing to hold them down. But it’s mighty time we recognize that this is what we’ve also been living for: creating, then feeding, the motherfucking monster.