I don’t remember when I began stanning Nicki Minaj. (For those of you with a life, you can learn more about “stanning” here.) However, I do remember memorizing her verse off Trey Songz’s “Bottoms Up” in middle school. Not far from when I ran on the treadmill in my parents’ basement with “Superbass” coming through my headphones — the girl I had a crush on at the time loved it so I wanted to seem with it. I can picture an old high school friend running, jumping and singing to “Starships” at a student council conference. After getting my license sophomore year, I would visit my sister at Grand Valley State (about a two-hour drive from my parents’) and on one trip I came across “Va Va Voom” — another Pink Friday: Reloaded-era song — which has a flow to its booming chorus that gives the impression it has been heard before. Not that it is unoriginal, but that its emotive, infectious sound is one that we shouldn’t be without. In my head, it’s the B-side to “Pound the Alarm,” which I recall playing at my junior-year homecoming. I asked my date, “What song is this?” and she was appalled that I didn’t know. Either way we had our first kiss that night on the sweaty, stanky public school cafeteria dancefloor. “Roman’s Revenge” left me comfortable using the word “cunt,” to my mother’s dissatisfaction.
But it was in 2014, with “Anaconda” and The Pinkprint, that my relationship to Minaj’s music became less perfunctory and more proactive. Everyone remembers the music video so I don’t need to go into detail, but the combination of the verses’ sharp and slick delivery and the unapologetic love for having a fat ass was a pivotal moment in pop culture and hip hop. It’s an era that feels both historical and present, as Nicki Minaj has ridden The Pinkprint’s success (in terms of critical response, sales and singles) for nearly four years, having released her follow-up album Queen last month, if you hadn’t heard.
Stanning is time-consuming, especially depending on who you stan. Stanning a punk-rock band like The Wonder Years as my friend Dominic has done for years, requires time and endurance to keep up with constant touring. Stanning Britney Spears, as my old roommate does, requires the exhaustive task of maintaining her relevance without falling back completely on her 2000-2010 success. Stanning is continuous, evolutionary. It creates a community: The Beyhive, The Navy, Swifties, Directioners … you get the idea. A key distinction to be made is the incompatibility of stanning a problematic fave, which is where my devotion to Minaj began to crumble.
I saw her tour in support of The Pinkprint the summer of 2015 and was so disappointed. A slew of aspects including flow, choreography, vocal performance and setlist choices left the show with an uneven energy that contradicted the woman at its center. Still, I teared up as she professed personal history in tour and album opener “All Things Go.” This may have been a case of excessive expectation on my part and my inner devotion to Minaj dwindled slightly, as I figured I most likely wouldn’t go see her live again. The price-to-payout ratio just didn’t seem there.
Fast-forward to Oct. 2016. I stan Beyoncé, and because I’m not fake, I have a Tidal account. Sorry not sorry, but I can’t risk being even a minute late to whatever the Queen B is up to. Nonetheless, Tidal has a handful of other cool features, including artist-made playlists, exclusive interviews, album-films and live streams/recordings of Tidal charity shows and Budweiser’s Made in America Festival, headlined by Beyoncé in 2015, Rihanna in 2016 and Nicki in 2018. Tidal’s annual charity show in Brooklyn offers quick sets from a stacked lineup of artists and, in 2016, Minaj sold me on her performing abilities during her 20-some-odd-minute set as she barreled through verses from “Roman’s Revenge,” “Monster,” “Down in the DM,” the “Pinkprint Freestyle,” “Chi-Raq” and “Only,” among others. With minimal back tracks, her MC skills were front-and-center, delivering her bars with equal parts ease and attitude. Furthermore, the transitions between tracks kept the energy going and the crowd on their toes. At this point my stanhood was back in full swing, just in time for the rapper to litter the following year with spotlight-stealing guest spots on tracks from Gucci Mane, Lil Uzi, A$AP Ferg, Future, Fergie, Katy Perry and more.
Following her feature on “Make Love” by Gucci (which dropped just in time for my Mardi Gras trip to New Orleans), Remy Ma released “ShEther,” which displayed the bars and bravado of Nicki’s TidalX performance over the course of six minutes, all the while accusing the rapper of plastic surgery, signing a 360, supporting her pedophile brother and doing cocaine. Nicki came back with her “Three Pack from Paris,” in which “No Frauds” was positioned as her response, but with time-consuming features from Drake and Lil Wayne, it felt less like a headshot and more like a flex.
As 2017 passed, Remy faded again and Nicki remained prevalent by way of her features. Features that largely distracted from the fact we were going on year three without a proper Pinkprint follow-up. There were rumblings, there were teases and with each passing season, the stakes seemed higher and higher. The sense of drag, in my experience, was only outmatched by the waiting period for Frank Ocean’s Blonde and every Beyoncé project ever since 2013’s surprise, eponymous album.
Finally, Nicki announces Queen via her twitter, slated for a Jun. release, which was quickly pushed back to Aug. (I assume this was due to a tip from Camp Carter that Everything is Love was coming that week). It was within those two months my devotion, amongst others, started to dissipate. Something I believe Nicki herself can feel. I mean, she tweeted about #Queen every day between the first release date and the actual one and still only grabbed the number 2 spot, and we all know how she feels about that. This palpable sense of insecurity permeates through Minaj’s twitter, maybe due to natural mid-career crisis tingz, or a response to the threat of Cardi B, who is one of the few women rappers to find lasting popularity in a post-Pink Friday rap landscape.
Her presence, amplified by Queen Radio on Apple Music, comes off as someone who is yelling the loudest to cover up the fact they don’t have much to say. She has stated the majority of Queen was recorded the week of its release and my initial response to that was, “Ooff it sounds like it.” It’s a dense record at 19 tracks, with more than a few skips. It hardly sounds as if it has been four years in the making, or helmed by a lyricist/rapper of Minaj’s caliber. It fails to dive as deep as Pinkprint cuts, “All Things Go,” “The Crying Game” or “Buy a Heart.” Nonetheless, while it lacks overall quality and substance, Queen does have moments of hip-hop gold. “Barbie Dreams,” “LLC,” “Good Form” and “Miami” represent the actualization of Minaj’s constant flexing on the record.
But a lot of the time, stanhood isn’t solely based on one’s music, which explains the existence of Britney Spears or Katy Perry stans in the year 2018. Stanning comes from a sense of connection to an artist and their work, and it is sustained over time by the intra-fandom community and culture. As an artist grows, so does their brand, music and space in popular culture. Miley Cyrus is probably the most clear-cut example of artistic transition and the subsequent regrouping of a fan base to continue the practice of stanning, if one chooses to do so. Miley’s Bangerz era was fun, and I stanned the fuck out of it, but that foundation began to crack as she tone policed Minaj in an interview and continued to show ignorance in place of openness and understanding. Then she went country, and I jumped ship, as did many. Can you name a song off Younger other than “Malibu”? Yeah, me neither.
The unravelling of my “barb” status concretely began when Minaj shamed sex workers after releasing “Rich Sex,” (a bop) on which she says, “If you know your pussy worth a benz truck.” Such comments stem from common misunderstandings regarding agency and empowerment, especially in regard to sex work. It’s perhaps this same misunderstanding that led Minaj to collaborate with 6ix9ine, a soundcloud rapper and convicted sex offender.
Furthermore, she added the collab to a deluxe version of Queen to increase numbers, released a music video for the track and bragged about fighting MTV to allow him to perform alongside her. You know you’re in deep when MTV is like, “nah too risky for us.” He pleaded guilty to using a child (a 13-year-old) in a sexual performance after the girl’s mother pressed charges following his admitted uploading of child pornography to social media. Contextualized, the cartoon video for the track leaves an even more bitter taste in my mouth. He has mitigated responsibility by claiming he, himself was a “child” when the recording took place and Minaj evades the serious issues at stake, simply vouching for him personally and leaving it at that.
He was set to open for the U.S. dates of the NickiHndrxxx tour, which has now been cancelled. Minaj’s camp can claim “production issues” all they want, but simply told, it wasn’t selling. I know because I spend a bit of freetime on Ticketmaster, considering and fantasizing about shows I can and can’t afford to go to. And if it’s not selling when the album comes out, I doubt it will sell better next year. I wonder what percentage of would-be attendees decided to skip as to not support a confirmed, confessed abuser. Prior to their collaboration and announcement of openers, I was playing it by ear; you know, seeing if I have the money the day of and if so, amazing, if not, it’s OK. But once she hitched her wagon to his, the decision was made for me.
It’s understandable why Nicki Minaj is quick with her shield and even quicker to return fire: She has been in hip hop for over a decade, dodging shots of sexism and double standards for years all the while breaking up the boy’s club to a degree her predecessors didn’t. Nonetheless, she was able to do so because of those who came before her: Lil Kim, Remy Ma, Missy Elliot, Lauryn Hill, etc. all paved the way just as Nicki has carved a smoother path for Cardi B.
It’s this legacy, though, that Minaj seems least interested in as she tears down women around her in order to maintain a sense or appearance of legitimate superiority. She did so recently by recalling Lady Gaga’s collaboration with confirmed abuser R. Kelly in order to mute criticism over her 6ix9ine feature; however, she failed to recognize how Gaga axed the song’s video and released another version with Christina Aguilera instead of Kelly to pull attention. This isn’t to say Gaga is blameless, but she recognized a mistake and took actions to remove an abuser from the spotlight. All of this occured prior to the mainstreaming of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, so one might expect Nicki to have a more enlightened response instead of bringing the abuser on stage at Made In America festival and then stepping off the stage to give him a solo song.
Made in America was the final straw that broke this barbz’s back. The set lacked the energy and presence of TidalX 2016, and it included solo songs from Ferg and Uzi in addition to the abuser all in under an hour (short as hell for a headlining slot). Hardly Queen tingz, if you ask me.
Finally, her response to Cardi’s shoe toss was equally disappointing. On Queen Radio, she complains of her embarrassment in front of the “upper echelon” (read: Cardi is hood, if you didn’t know), but even worse than the classist rhetoric she has engaged in is her invocation of postpartum depression as reason for the scuffle. Cardi has been open about post-birth struggles, which led her to cancel her opening spot on Bruno Mars’s 24k Magic Tour, even going as far to share a meme video with the caption, “This is how postpartum got me.”
Nicki went off about how hard and common postpartum depression is, even giving out the phone number for a helpline, but the entire monologue was less so a PSA than it is a shielded shot, using Cardi’s honesty and post-birth experience to discount her feelings, reducing them to one instance. Effectively Minaj negates any wrongdoing by offering PPD as a scapegoat to engaging in a real conversation about herself, all the while discounting the experiences, emotions and actions of any new mothers, especially those suffering from postpartum depression. They can speak for themselves, as can Cardi, as can sex workers; I want to hear Nicki talk about Nicki. But just as with survivors of sexual abuse and critics, Minaj has shut out much of her public, only getting a #2 and a cancelled tour in the process.
One day, I hope to stan again, but until I feel connection rather than confusion toward Minaj, I’ll be streaming the skipless Invasion of Privacy. Oh, and “Good Form,” a problematic favorite.