Yesterday, while outside of the confines of my office’s strict firewall, I decided to watch the few YouTube videos that have been popping up all over my Facebook wall. So basically, Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda.”
Yikes, on all accounts.
I’ll admit, I was a bit predisposed to present Tay-Tay’s latest single with a giant eye-roll. I’ve seen a few gifs, specifically of the African-American buttshaking conga line that Taylor decides to crawl through. (Honestly, who is doing PR for this chick?) In a world where one’s race can determine life or death (what up, #Ferguson), cultural appropriation just stings so much worse. Look, I get that the half-baked theme of this video is to reject the stereotypes that “they” subscribe you to. But if you’re going to one-dimensionally represent whole groups of pop-culture, maybe - oh, I don’t know - show the faces of all the dancers in your video and not just the ones who HAPPEN to be white ballerinas? Maybe don’t treat the twerking minority like ridiculous props for you to crawl under? Or whatever - go ahead and get pink eye.
Speaking of twerking - let’s move on to “Anaconda”.
First off, I’m a huge fan of Nicki Minaj as an artist. She’s a great (if not completely bonkers) rapper. And from the first sample of “Baby Got Back,” you know the song is going to be all about Nicki’s butt. That. Butt. She loves it, we love it - there’s nothing wrong with loving Nicki Minaj’s butt.
However, the entire song and music video is not about Nicki loving Nicki’s butt and gaining power from her own body. Both the visual and audio cues (if you call being slapped in the face with literal asses a “cue”) are about Nicki gaining power from men loving her ASS-ets. First we hear about Troy, and then Michael, both of whom buy this MULTI-PLATINUM, MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR ARTIST expensive gifts to keep her value up. All because “he love this fat ass.”
And if that isn’t enough for you, the music video ends with a thirty-second lap dance that Nicki gives Drake “Drizzy” Graham, who otherwise has no artistic addition to the track. I REPEAT, DRAKE DOES NOT RAP A VERSE, ADD A HOOK, OR EXHALE ON THIS TRACK. He basically just shows up to oh-so-helpfully connect the dots for the listener/viewer that women butts are for male men to enjoy. The bigger the butt, the more men want you, and the better your worth in the world.
Thank god we figured that out.
So, here’s where I’m at with all this. Sure, it infuriates me that singer/songwriters who consider themselves to be “poetic artists” barely think through the symbolism they’re presenting to their young and extremely impressionable fanbase. And sure, I hate that a strong, talented, powerful, and capable women are creating art that values themselves un-ironically in relation to their male peer’s IRREPRESSIBLE sex drives.
But more than anything, I hate that these seem to be my only choices. As a grown adult women, pop-culture shows me that I can either a) view the world in drastically polarizing cultural boxes, or b) value myself to what I think a man wants. Even worse, not twelve hours after watching these VEVO treasures, I was performing a set on stage with my beloved improv group and was put into a scene by one of my teammates where he had to decide if he wanted to date me with the “giant butt” or my teammate with the “great cans.” I don’t think anything solidifies a zeitgeist more than someone you respect perpetuating it.
I’m not really sure what the take-away from this should be - after all, I’m apparently still living it. I guess, if I’m to choose one thing, it’s that we have to do better. Or at least try. The blessing and curse of social media is that everyone is entitled to have an opinion (or more than one opinion) on anything. Hell, if you show people that they can pour ice water over their heads for a moral cause - apparently the world can raise millions of dollars in a single day! I hope that we, as a modern society, can at least look at the options we’re giving ourselves and ask “is this enough?” If I’m looking at these examples, my answer is “no, this isn’t enough.” But I’m confident that there are popular culture examples that I’m not seeing on my timeline, examples that would encourage me to look at my improv partner and ask him why he assumes that my big butt has anything to do with his value of me. And until then, I’ll continue to create that reality for myself and hope that pop-culture catches up. Because I have a voice, and it matters. Cue bucket full of ice.