On Tuesday, July 21, Nicki Minaj received a VMA nomination for Best Hip-Hop Video for “Anaconda,” and while she was excited about the nomination, she still felt snubbed for “Feeling Myself” and the fact that “Anaconda” didn’t get nominated for best choreography as well. She also took the time to point out that videos by “other” girls (read: white) about skinny girls would get the nomination/win hands down and that black women often don’t receive the recognition for their achievements that they deserve. Which is when Taylor Swift took the time to feel personally offended and throw out her two cents with the Tweet, “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…”
I learned about the “feud” within two hours from a friend on Facebook whose status read that she was off the T-Swift bandwagon and was seriously disappointed in her. When I asked what happened, she sent me to this link.
I admit, I didn’t initially see what the big deal was – not because I thought Taylor was in the right but because 1) it seemed like a misunderstanding and 2) it was consistent with Taylor’s brand and personality. Nicki had thrown around a bit of passive-aggressiveness, which as one of the US’ top white female singers Taylor could easily (if inaccurately) assume was a jab against her. However, Taylor getting in someone else’s lane and aggressively trying to protect her brand is pretty par for the course. She’s constantly talking about her rights as an artist and would never allow her music to be listened to for free. She tightly monitors who is filming her and what gets out. She spends numerous songs and interviews talking about how people try to misrepresent her but she’s not going to let them. So was it really surprising to anyone that she would take Nicki’s Tweets and make them all about her? Or have people just not been paying attention?
And while I thought it was a bit dumb for people to react as insanely as they did, this was a good teaching moment to learn about white fragility, which is “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” Taylor Swift, a white woman, presumed that Nicki Minaj, a black woman, was criticizing her and downplaying her work. She ignored the wider problem that Nicki was actually criticizing, which is black women and other women of color not getting the recognition they deserve, and instead made it about her. Even when Nicki responded with, “Huh? U must not be reading my tweets. Didn’t say a word about u. I love u just as much. But u should speak on this,” Taylor only managed, “If I win, please come up with me!! You’re invited to any stage I’m ever on” – as though standing on stage because a white person allowed you up there could in any way honor Nicki’s accomplishments and talent.
Eventually, the two made up, with Taylor publically apologizing and Nicki very graciously accepting, but the damage had been done. Nicki’s original point about black women rarely being rewarded for their work and contributions had been washed out in a wave of vitriol against her and Taylor, including some bad press where she was painted as a crazy, uppity black woman against Taylor’s perfect, pure beauty. Fortunately, most of public opinion went Nicki’s way, which points that society is getting tired of black women getting stepped on and misrepresented, but that’s no guarantee that this won’t happen again. But at least Nicki stood up for herself and her principles and made it a little easier for other black men and women to do the same. Hopefully, it’ll translate to greater artistic equality in the future, and, with any luck, Taylor will realize that she’s not always in the right.