Dear Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift Is Not Your Enemy
We’re knee-deep in the quagmire that is the maybe/maybe not feud between Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj, two close friends locked in a disagreement over — of all freaking things — the MTV Video Music Awards (read the full nominations here).
Here’s the quick rundown: Nicki is mad that “Anaconda” was snubbed for Video of the Year, and hinted that the reason she was snubbed was the institutionalized racism of the media and the music industry, somehow ignoring that Beyonce and Bruno Mars were nominated for Video of the Year, while Kendrick Lamar was nominated in that category as well…TWICE. This is not to say that Nicki doesn’t have a point about how racism permeates this industry, but it does seem she’s attacking the wrong person here. In between getting mad that “Bad Blood” was nominated, Nicki would go on to get angry about how the media applauded Taylor for taking her music off Spotify while her decision to roll with TIDAL didn’t get the same play. And yet, for all the talk of fairness and unfairness, Nicki’s points don’t exactly come from an objective level of fairness either.
Make no mistake, no matter how much she wants to deny it, those tweets were absolutely about Taylor. She starts by calling out a video getting nominated for glorifying “very slim bodies”, and since I can’t imagine she’s shading her friend (and Video of the Year nominee) Beyonce, one can only imagine she’s talking about Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” video (unless she somehow has a problem with the dancer from Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” video). The other big clincher is her tweet about how unfair it is when “the ‘other’ girls drop a video that breaks records and impacts culture they get that nomination”. Taylor’s “Bad Blood” music video beat the record set by “Anaconda” for most views in 24 hours on VEVO, so either Nicki is referring to Taylor or, this has to be the most ludicrous misunderstanding in social media history. So right off the bat, my B.S. meter was going off like crazy. Which leads me to the thesis of this whole editorial: Dear Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift Is Not Your Enemy.
Of course, Nicki herself would tell you that. In her series of tweets, she openly states she loves Taylor, and Taylor is similarly loving towards Nicki, even in the midst of this disagreement. But Nicki is directing her anger in the wrong places, retweeting arguments that Taylor needs to “stop using ‘support all girls’ as an excuse to not be critical of racist media that benefits and glorifies you”. Taylor is not the problem. It’s simply that Nicki’s anger is ludicrously misdirected. I do believe she has a point about racism. And she’ll always have a point about it. And, as a black woman, she’ll always be vastly more qualified to speak about it than I am, and she’ll always have my respect for breaking through in an industry that isn’t exactly welcoming. But this isn’t racism, and I think trying to say that it is weakens the very real instances of genuine racism in the entertainment industry. Of course, even if we ignore the race argument, her other points are kind of unfair.
Let’s break it down (and read our report on the “feud” to get caught up, otherwise this probably isn’t going to make a whole lot of sense. Hell, it might not make sense anyway):
1) Regardless of who Nicki’s talking about in the tweets, Taylor’s ultimately got a point when she says it’s kind of silly for Nicki to be pitting women against women. Why does it have to be Taylor who took Nicki’s nomination? Who says it wasn’t Kendrick Lamar or Ed Sheeran or Bruno Mars? Why does Nicki feel the need to call out Taylor instead of the guys? For all anyone knows, it was between Nicki and Kendrick, and Kendrick got the nod. Hell, for all Nicki knows, she was never even in the running. “Recency bias” is a very real thing in awards ceremonies. The more recently your video came out, the better your chances are of being nominated. Sure, it’s not always the case, but it very often is. The truth is, Nicki’s video came out last August, right as last year’s VMAs were being hyped. So it’s no big stretch to imagine that, for all the hype it got when it was released, voters had largely forgotten about it by now. Plenty of great videos have been overlooked because the voting committee just plain forgot about them. It isn’t right, but it’s not exactly a situation that’s unique to Nicki Minaj, or to artists of any particular race, color or creed. The music industry isn’t a meritocracy, so even if “Anaconda” was deserving, that in no way guarantees its nomination. Which brings me to my next point…
2) “Anaconda” was not deserving of a nomination. And you know what? Neither was “Bad Blood”. But here’s the thing: these shows get it wrong, just like the Oscars, just like the Emmys, just like the Tonys, and just like a Employee of the Year awards at some podunk marketing firm in Lansing, Michigan. An open vote means there isn’t going to be a uniform consensus that everyone is going to agree upon. It’s just a matter of numbers, who got the most votes, and who had the broadest support in each category. This year, Nicki didn’t get in. Doesn’t mean she won’t get that nomination next year. Hell, from a purely objective standpoint, how many great actors never won an Oscar? Not just the Leonardo DiCaprios or the Johnny Depps or the Samuel L. Jacksons of the world, but the classic stars who’ve never even been nominated, like Myrna Loy, John Barrymore, Edward G. Robinson, Joseph Cotten and Marilyn Monroe. How many great musicians never won a Grammy? Stars like Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Patsy Cline, Jimi Hendrix, Journey, freaking QUEEN! Do you really think anyone is going to be forgetting any of their music any time soon, just because they didn’t win some award? Sure, be upset you didn’t get nominated, but don’t put people on blast about it. Awards are not the be all, end all. And I say that as someone who’s a tireless Oscar devotee.
3) Yes, Nicki, it’s unfair that Taylor got applauded for pulling her music from Spotify while you got no play for doing the same thing with TIDAL. But that isn’t exactly Taylor’s fault.
Taylor is lauded for pulling her music from Spotify because it was a singular stand. She was just one person, which is easier for the media to single out. Also, “Taylor Swift makes stand against Spotify” is a much more seductive headline than “A bunch of rich people hold a press conference to announce they’re opening their own music service to get more money.” I’m not saying that the stand Nicki and the other artists took against music streaming services with TIDAL has any more or less merit than the stand Taylor took against Spotify and Apple Music. Only that, by virtue of being just one person making a stand, Taylor seems…well, braver, I suppose. No, it’s not fair. But that’s not exactly some new detail Nicki should be surprised to discover.
But even beyond that, the entire TIDAL launch was such a poorly-designed affair that it ended up coming across as a group of insanely wealthy artists whining about how they should be getting more money. Sure, it was supposed to be about equality of profit for all artists, but that’s not really what it came across as. It came across like Jay Z, Madonna, Nicki and the rest getting mad about how streaming music services impacted their bottom line. I mean, do they really care if Johnny McRandomBand is getting cheated by Spotify? I don’t really know the answer to that question, and frankly, I don’t know if Taylor really cares about random bands out there either. But from reading her open letter to Apple over their streaming music service, it’s easy to see why the media takes her more seriously than they took TIDAL:
I’m sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service. I’m not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.
This is not about me. Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows. This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success. This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt. This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create, just like the innovators and creators at Apple are pioneering in their field…but will not get paid for a quarter of a year’s worth of plays on his or her songs.
These are not the complaints of a spoiled, petulant child. These are the echoed sentiments of every artist, writer and producer in my social circles who are afraid to speak up publicly because we admire and respect Apple so much. We simply do not respect this particular call.
In her letter, Taylor makes a point that this has nothing to do with her, and everything to do with the principle of the matter. That’s why the media applauded Taylor (also because her rebellion worked, whereas TIDAL has been a hot mess express since launch).
Nicki essentially implies, through her tweets, that the media is this fickle darling who is anxious to laud Taylor Swift while jumping down her throat. But it’s far simpler than that. It’s about appearances. That’s all. Nicki is complaining about something that’s within her control. You don’t want the media writing lousy stories about you, don’t go on Twitter and throw a temper tantrum when things don’t go your way. Even when you’re a celebrity, if you expect everything in life to work out for you 100% of the time, you’re going to have a really bad time. Taylor Swift is not your enemy, Nicki.
Maybe you were never saying she was, but it was kind of hard to tell.