When I read criticism of Nicki Minaj by people who have proclaimed themselves champions of True Hip Hop (or at least whatever monolithic notion of hip hop they’ve come up with) there’s this running thread of additional sexism on top of the basic assumption that these artists are all looks, no talent:
Real artists can be successful without wearing next to nothing. These women are distracting audiences from true talent and music.
The switch is convenient: one minute the artists are mannequins, without creative input, knowledge, or agency; the next they’re sirens, wily temptresses luring otherwise refined fans towards lesser art.
They are whatever the critic needs in order to make them the scapegoat.
But back to the second half of this idea, the temptress luring fans away to places of superficial art. The Distractor. The crowd would embrace Real Art, the thinking goes, if only these women would stop getting in the way. We would be saturated in Lauryn Hills if Nicki Minaj would stop making music. The entire system of production and consumption is reduced to one individual, and she’s to blame.
Popular music works with the intersection of artistic intent and popular appreciation. The two shape each other and the process of enjoying and consuming music gives the artist the ability to make informed choices. The crowd liked that song with the repeating hook; should I do that or should I play around with longer verses and slightly esoteric lyrics? The successful artist knows what works and the crowd knows what they like; they both have agency.
They both have agency.
So to pretend otherwise, to reduce the artist to a pretty placeholder or lascivious succubus and the fans to clueless sheep, is insulting and inaccurate. Popular taste is not, in and of itself, a form of internalized oppression, and despite the fantasies of critics there is no heroism involved in taking a stand against what you perceive to be a great enemy but is actually just a case of you not liking the same stuff as other people. That’s not fighting the good fight; that’s stating an opinion.
Artistic dialogue needs opinions but it most certainly does not need devils, saviors, and martyrs.