It seems that no matter what stance you take on the Taylor Swift-Nicki Minaj exchange, someone has a counter-opinion to show that your argument is racist, anti-feminist or in some way unbalanced.
In light of this, the media reaction was always going to be interesting – when the media must be seen to be fair and yet in touch with popular opinion, how is best to proceed? Whose ‘side’ should you take and what language should be used to detail the incident? Personally I found the views of most media outlets telling and in many ways disappointing.
In case you’re not clued up, Minaj expressed frustration about the lack of appreciation for her contribution to music in a not-so-subtle tweet aimed at her perceived systematic racism in the music industry: “If I was a different ‘kind’ of artist, Anaconda would be nominated for best choreo and vid of the year as well”, she tweeted.
Swift took this to be a personal attack and questioned Minaj’s support for other female artists: “I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot.” After being heavily criticised for becoming involved in a conversation that was about bigger things than individual artists, Swift apologised: “I thought I was being called out. I missed the point, I misunderstood, then misspoke. I’m sorry, Nicki.”
The media reaction to the above drama says as much about society’s stance on such issues as racism and feminism as the initial tweets did. The immediate media narrative was typically reductionist: Hollywood Life referred to ‘FURIOUS’ Nicki’s ‘rant’, Heatworld headlined their article: ‘Nicki CALLED Taylor Swift to squash Twitter beef!’ Glamour magazine described how Swift ‘shut down’ Minaj ‘and it was ‘WONDERFUL’ in a tweet that was then hastily deleted. C0nversely, the Independent’s Yomi Adegoke writes: ‘Minaj is simply another black woman being accused of divisiveness by a white feminist for pointing out racial inequality.’
Just like Swift’s tonedeaf response to Minaj missed the point, so too did these journalists. The sensationalist media indicated that this was just a ‘catfight’, language which helps neither the feminist or the anti-racial marginalisation agenda. Adegoke scrutinised Swift’s immediate reaction and elaborated on its meaning to an inordinate degree, whilst failing to point out that Swift retracted her comment and apologised once she saw she has misunderstood– is it racist to misinterpret a subtly-written tweet? The media debate focused on extremes of who is right and who is wrong without problematizing the finer details, and these arguments in themselves offer damaging messages to readers.
Yes, Swift missed the point: feminism does not mean all women must agree with one another – as Ellen E Jones points out, “They just have to use what power they have to safeguard other women’s opportunities to be heard.” Minaj has certainly been heard, but that doesn’t mean that what she has to say is right, just as Swift isn’t necessarily wrong. Minaj claims that the video for her song, Anaconda, ‘impacted on society’ and thus deserves a nomination, but the crucial detail – that she hasn’t necessarily impacted on society for good – is missed. A glance at the music video is revealing – it’s crass, semi-pornographic and eye-catching, it has certainly impacted on culture in the ways that Minaj listed. Does this make it award-winning? Many people impact on society, and not necessarily for the better. Whist Minaj has succeeded in tackling the notion that only a slim body type is beautiful (whilst ironically castigating thinner girls in no uncertain terms), she has also contributed to the very real and damaging notion that women are sex objects to be valued for their pleasing body type.
Not one article I have read points out that whilst Minaj is happy to call out the music industry for sidelining her, she also sees no problem with body-shaming artists with equal vigour. ‘If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year’, she tweeted. Her case isn’t helped by the lyrics of Anaconda: “F*ck those skinny b****es, skinny b****es in the club –f**k you if you skinny b****es”. She is seen cavorting and dancing for a man who appraises her before she walks away from him at the end of the video, in what some have deemed an empowering finale. In the age when feminism is having its moment, (that is, is deemed socially, culturally and politically salient), the media’s responsibility to take a look at how it represents conversations, and the implications of setting racism against feminism, Minaj against Swift, is more relevant than ever before.