While on a run today I listened to Nicki Manaj’s “Anaconda” and Meagan Trainor’s “All About the Booty” on repeat. Over the last few weeks I have been obsessed with these two songs and their accompanying music videos. Sure they are catchy but more importantly I can’t decide if they are the ultimate expression of agency or the worst things to happen to feminism since the Spice Girls introduced “Girl Power”. Maybe it is not that simple?
In light of the numerous critiques of these two songs, I am going to play devil’s advocate and explore both “Anaconda” and “All About the Booty” as giving voice to a particular female cultural consciousness in our particular historical moment. Please note this is just my initial thoughts by no means an exhaustive, researched piece (I could go on and on about “skinny shaming” and even what these songs say about the able female body and reproductive rights).
On Feministing.com Chloe Angyal makes a convincing argument that although Trainor decries the fashion industries impossible standards of beauty (We see the magazines workin that Photoshop/We know that shit ain’t real/C’mon now, make it stop) her own self-worth is problematically tied to what others think of her (Yeah, my momma told me don’t worry about your size/She says boys like a little more booty to hold at night). While this is true, I can’t help but notice that we don’t see much of Trainor’s body in the video. Through out the pastel hued romp, the twenty-one year old from Massachusetts is clothed from her neck to toes, in a rather modest button up, cardigan, knee socks, skirt and tights (and hideous chunky shoes). Despite being all about the booty, we don’t get to see her booty. We see a plastic rapped “silicon barbie doll” prance around, a gangster girl twerk and a heavy-set black guy, with a prominent muffin top busting a move. Moreover, the background is either an ambiguous pink setting or a stereotypical nineteen fifties middle class home. In contrast, Minaj’s booty jam is set for the most part in a jungle. Let me repeat, a jungle.
I can’t help but agree with Derrick Clifton that “Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’ Is the Fiercest Take on Female Sexuality of the Year.” He notes that she is just one in a long line of musicians to engage in “booty politics”. Others include Sir Mix-a-Lot (whom she samples), Sisquo (“The Thong Song”) and Bubba Sparxxx (“Ms. New Booty”). However, in Minaj’s case there is one key difference; it is her own booty that is being showcased. Even though her boy toys are buying her Alexander McQueen and she appears to be trading sex for Balmain, she is clearly bold, brave and in charge of her own sexuality.
Regardless of if the listener agrees with Minaj’s values it is hard to ague with her way with words. In “Anaconda,” Minaj taps into a history within hiphop of describing sexual conquests. Here I am thinking of some of the ways Biz Markie or even Dr. Dre created a narrative around their encounters with women. And this isn’t the only song, Minaj has carefully crafted her own image (and according to the rumors even her own body) to project a highly sexualized image of herself. But as I mentioned before, she has arguably been the one controlling much of this personae. However despite this agency she remains a complicated figure. In a very smart post entitled “Nicki Minaj’s Feminism Isn’t About Your Comfort Zone: “Anaconda” and Respectability Politics,” Carmen the Feminism Editor at Autostraddle, notes:
Feminists refuse to take Minaj’s statements seriously, continuously torn between embracing her sexually raw and eccentric persona with her own self-declared girl-power focus. It’s clear that when Minaj is making feminist statements in a language that resembles mainstream feminist discourse, folks are giddy to jump on the bandwagon — but her oversexualized state of being, her sexual aggression and occasional sexual dominance, often worry them. This is hugely problematic. It’s the impossibility of ultimately marrying the image of a sexually empowered woman to her state of existence which allows for the distorted view of women’s sexuality to prosper. When feminists honor Minaj’s feminist lyrics, as they did with “Anaconda,” and then admonish her for expressing herself with sexually charged images and videos, they are playing into the same dominant narratives about women’s sexualities that perpetuate victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and the subordination of women.
Maybe instead of arguing whether they are helping or hindering, it is more productive to think about the ways in which Minaj and Trainor are following in the well-trodden paths of women who used socially acceptable gendered avenues to express subversive views. Here I am thinking of the ways in which a woman like Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun was able to forge a successful artistic career by couching her ambition within Rococo expressions of mothers and children, or how suffragettes embroidered banners that demanded the right for women to vote. Trainor dodges any controversy or feminist labeling by masking her lyrics in a catchy doo-wop track. And Minaj grounds her radical approach by sampling Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s hip hop classic.
In a smart discussion of Beyonce’s feminist credentials one blogger notes that Queen Bey’s “feminism is not everyone’s feminism”. And maybe that awareness of the diversity of what the F word (feminism) can be, should be the take away for us. If one of the main critiques of feminism has been that it has privileged the voices of upper middle class white women, then perhaps we should be cautious of hailing Trainor for writing the anthem for body acceptance and self-esteem while censoring Minaj’s own take, albeit in a much more explicit manner, on the same subjects.