The Orientalism of Nicki Minaj (excerpts)
Minaj has stolen from various Asian cultures in two of her last music videos.
First up, Minaj teamed up with Michael Jai White in this “Memoirs of a Geisha“-inspired music video for “Your Love”.
The plot of the video: Michael Jai White is a samurai who runs an all-girls martial arts school. One of the girls has lusty, lusty thoughts for White. But, White only has eyes for Nicki Minaj who breaks some cement blocks with a karate chop while giving Michael Jai White a completely doe-eyed look, all at the same time. Because guys dig women who can kick your ass while not knowing how to form a thought.
So then, the stalker girl challenges Minaj to a slow-motion ninja fight which was clearly choreographed by a five-year-old. Minaj is killed, and Michael Jai White screams “NooooooOOOOOOO!!!!” as the camera moves away. Because apparently guys only like women who have the appearance of being able to kick ass, not women who actually can kick ass.
The Orientalism of the video is so obvious: the Yellowface eye makeup to give the appearance of slanty eyes; the excessive use of silk in every scene; the terrible ninja-inspired sword fight; the short kimonos — the whole video is like an Asiaphile wet dream.
Not content, apparently, to just appropriate Japanese culture, Minaj just released a second music video that appropriates a wholly different Asian culture. In her collaboration with will.i.am., both artists star in a very weird K-Pop-inspired music video for their song “Check It Out”:
This one has an outgoing K-Pop TV show host, lots of CGI Korean words popping out at you from the background (Angry Asian Man notes that they are a “crude” translation of the song lyrics), and — most bizarrely — an audience of robotic Asians in the studio audience. These women all wear sunglasses and short black dresses, and move in unison as they watch Minaj and will.i.am. drop some acid on the soundstage; at the end, they clap together, as if all their brains have melted. Is the audience a reference to Asian conformism, or to more of Minaj’s I-don’t-think-for-myself image?
What annoys me the most about these videos is how we’ve seen female pop stars do Minaj’s Orientalism before: Gwen Stefani, and Madonna before her, have borrowed heavily from Asian culture, with little regard for whether their actions are appropriate. It sucked then, and it sucks even more now that Minaj thinks she’s doing something unique and clever. Asian cultures have a rich and varied history, but in these videos, they are just a superficial, stylized and exoticized surface.
With Minaj in the middle of an East Asian cultural tour, one wonders how her Orientalism will manifest itself next. Next stop: Chinese opera? Indian Bollywood? Thai weddings?