It's no secret that I love Nicki Minaj; I think her brand of poc power and savvy is incredible and underrated. It pains me to say, then, that Minaj's new lyric video for "Only" is not only problematic and offensive, it's almost a direct homage to Nazi propaganda. I can't believe I have to type that sentence. The lyric video, released by the 31-year-old rapper over the weekend, is animated and depicts Minaj as a dictator, with black and white imagery that uncomfortably and undeniably harkens to Nazi imagery and includes a Young Money logo that seems to stand in for a swastika. The Anti-Defamation League has condemned "Only," calling it a "new low for pop culture." What remains to be seen here is how Minaj will respond to the warranted backlash.
First, though, I'd like to delineate that I do not think Minaj is a neo-Nazi; that sentiment seems to me about as ridiculous as the video. But the video is, for all intents and purposes, pretty vile. The Anti Defamation League's National director Abraham H. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, issued this statement:
Nicki Minaj’s new video disturbingly evokes Third Reich propaganda and constitutes a new low for pop culture’s exploitation of Nazi symbolism. The irony should be lost on no one that this video debuted on the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass” pogrom that signaled the beginning of the Final Solution and the Holocaust...
This video is insensitive to Holocaust survivors and a trivialization of the history of that era. The abuse of Nazi imagery is deeply disturbing and offensive to Jews and all those who can recall the sacrifices Americans and many others had to make as a result of Hitler’s Nazi juggernaut.
The problem with fandom is accepting that your faves are problematic, and that's why I generally try to stay away from it. With Minaj, there is absolutely no defending her use of such blatant illusions to Nazi propaganda. There's a fine line between subversion and actual offense, and she overstepped it by a mile here. The same way that you cannot tell people of color that what they think is racist is not, you cannot tell survivors what is and isn't triggering.
What will be key here is the response from Minaj. Interestingly, the director of the video, Jeffrey M. Osborne, is not deaf to the shocked and disgusted responses to "Only;" over the weekend, he retweeted many responses but did not issue a statement himself. As Salon points out, Minaj is unfortunately not the first artist to use Nazi imagery in her art, and the gut-wrenched responses to the symbols in the video deserve a direct response from Minaj herself.
What I worry about is that Minaj does not like to apologize, and when it comes to sexuality or being such a powerful, black female artist, I admire that quality. But I fear that her response will focus on the intent of the video, which I am assuming (and giving her considerable benefit of the doubt here, just to be hypothetical) was a statement about her power as an artist. But that interpretation is not enough at all to in any way justify such horrible imagery and make light of the plight of so many people.
I hope that a response of any sort comes soon, because I am conflicted. When do we draw the line with artists we admire? The separation between art and artist was a pressing concern when Dylan Farrow accused Woody Allen of sexually assaulting her as a child, and I am posing the same question now — even though I respect and admire Nicki's career and her example for young women of color, how do I make sense of this offense?
Image: Getty Images