No matter our music tastes, there are certain songs that the majority of us have at least heard of. “Anaconda” by Nicki Minaj is one of those songs. The music video broke Vevo records with 19.6 million views within 24 hours, according to Nicki’s twitter. Even more astounding is the controversy surrounding the song; the album art, the video, and the lyrics themselves have all being widely discussed, both negatively and positively. Although not quite as well known, “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor is another summer jam that people have taken notice of, mostly in the form of praise.
The two songs can easily be compared; they both attempt to send a message of self-love and body acceptance, although it’s done in two very different ways. However, reactions both in the general public and the feminist community differed greatly for each song.
“All About That Bass” has been widely praised for its message of body acceptance and the supposedly groundbreaking message to ignore society’s standards of beauty in favor of curves and pastels. Many say that it is the perfect song to build up the confidence of young girls. More recently, there has been criticism from feminists, but overall the song has been championed as a confidence anthem.
Back to Meghan Trainor: her lyrics quite clearly imply that in order for a woman’s body to be worthy of self-love, it must be attractive to men. “Yeah, my mama she told me don’t worry about your size/She says ‘Boys like a little more booty to hold at night’ ” is just one example. This is obviously flawed and anti-feminist logic; if a woman’s body acceptance is based completely on her body’s ability to attract the male gaze, she then bases her self-worth on that ability. Meghan Trainor herself was recently quoted saying that she does not consider herself a feminist.
In contrast, Minaj has expressed feminist views in countless interviews. Still, many a (white) feminist blogger wrote an angry critique of how much her video objectifies women. Personally, I think that people are missing the point or maybe just choosing to ignore it. “Anaconda” is an anthem for young black women; it responds to Sir Mixalot’s original song “Baby Got Back”, which, though appreciating the bodies of black women, simultaneously objectifies them. In Minaj’s version, she doesn’t just tell black women to love their bodies (though she does that too); she tells them to own their bodies.
The imagery in the music video clearly is about black women owning their sexuality, about their ability and power to enjoy sex for themselves. The jungle setting of the video can be interpreted as a parallel to the Garden of Eden with an opposing outcome - the fruit throughout the video reminds us of forbidden fruit, and after eating the fruit, instead of being ashamed like Eve, Nicki becomes truly in charge of her sexuality. I think we are all aware of what bananas symbolize - in the kitchen scene, Minaj begins to eat a banana but then cuts it up instead, and the face she makes tells us everything we need to know. Finally, the lap dance scene. At the end of the video, a man makes his first and only appearance in it. That man happens to be Drake. As he sits in a chair, Nicki gives him a lapdance. The most significant part of the lap dance is at the very end of it, when Drake lifts his hand and Nicki immediately slaps it away and leaves, proving that it was she who decided the terms of the lap dance and she that decided when it was to end. Our culture demeans, objectifies, and dehumanizes black women on a regular basis, and their struggles so often go ignored. When they are so often used as props to add sex appeal, Nicki’s blunt lyrics and imagery are incredibly empowering. The video is centered around the women—their movements, their actions, and their choices.
So why is it that Nicki is portrayed as crazy and inappropriate, but Meghan Trainor is defended and widely appreciated? Nicki’s feminism does not fit into the airtight box that mainstream white feminism readily provides, but it does fit into her experience and into the experience of so many women. It should be valued as such. Feminism is about including all women; we have to realize that women from various backgrounds have various individual experiences that span beyond what we ourselves may know or understand.
Similarly, music almost always carries some sort of underlying motive that is not immediately recognizable and sometimes not even intentional; we can’t take everything at surface value because there are so often deeper messages interlaced within catchy lyrics and repeated refrains. When we don’t pull out and identify these messages, they can be repeated until they become internalized beliefs and this can be incredibly harmful. It’s important to recognize what’s problematic even in things that we enjoy. Unfortunately, the way the world is today, if we tried to avoid everything that is offensive or problematic in some way, we wouldn’t have much left to enjoy. I’m not going to lie, when “All About That Bass” comes on I definitely sing along and when “Anaconda” comes on I get unreasonably enthusiastic. However, as I’m singing along, I consider the repercussions of the lyrics I’m mindlessly repeating and I think that we should all try to do that at least sometimes.
Katja Vujic was born in Croatia to Bosnian parents and then moved to Nashville as a baby, where she grew up and experienced identity crises on a weekly basis. She is very into mom jeans, purple lipstick, shrimp quesadillas, and over-analyzing things. She is currently a freshman at Emerson College who is Very Excited to live in and explore Boston.