Remember when Nicki Minaj stopped donning bubblegum-colored wigs and fluffy tutu skirts a little over a year ago and everyone thought the pop-rap star had finally come into her own? Sike! While Nicki may look the part of a woman whose found herself, if you move past the straight raven-haired tresses and trendy body-con dresses she loves wearing these days, you can still very much see remnants of a black girl lost.
It’s become nearly impossible to scroll through your Instagram timeline without coming across a carefully staged photo of Nicki and Meek Mill “In love” — the storyline that’s now come to define both stars’ careers. No one’s talking about either rapper’s music — though in Meek’s case he brought that on himself — but as I look back on the trajectory of Nicki’s career it’s hard to pinpoint a time when the artist ever defined herself by her craft and for herself.
Those of us not familiar with an ass-less Onika got our first glimpse of Nicki as a plump-bootied rapping pop star who fashioned herself after a real-life plastic Black barbie doll. Few rap fans over the age of 21 were here for it, but we got it. Few entertainers enter the industry with the freedom to be their true selves. They’re fashioned into whatever their label tells them they need to be to sell records and tours and if they’re lucky, and fans stick around long enough, they eventually get to be themselves.
Most of us thought that was happening when Nicki got rid of the costumes and stripped her image down to embrace her natural Caribbean beauty, but I’d argue that this relationship charade with Meek is just a costume by another name. The east coast MCs are doing their darndest to convince the world they are “so attracted” to one another, but you only have to look at the way Nicki and her ex go back and forth on social media every so often to know truly unhappy she is with this new bae.
Nicki’s stated on more than one occasion that she dreamed of settling down and being a wife and having babies — a life that very much looked probable with ex Safaree. That is before she dragged him on social media and painted him out to be a jealous groupie. And now we see Nicki post videos of her twerking by Meek’s bedside and posting faux-candid shots of them together every chance she gets to simply sell fans another fantasy.
Enter the MTV VMAs last night when Nicki and Taylor Swift opened the awards together on the pretense of letting bygones be bygones. The bygone being Nicki finally seeming like she was standing for something when she called out MTV for an alleged bias in their VMA nominations, arguing that if she was a different “kind” of artist she would’ve received other noms. Taylor Swift jumped into the debate not even knowing the context of the argument and a Twitter dragging ensued, but yet again we saw Nicki essentially begging white folks to continue to let her play on their field when she appeared on stage alongside the biggest pop star out right now. I get it: industry politics. But if you’re gonna bow down to the man just to play with the big girls, don’t go crying when they expose the fact that you were never really in the club to begin with. And though her calling out of Miley Cyrus later was rather bold — “Back to this b*tch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley, what’s good?” — that was more about alter ego and sustaining rap bravado than actually explaining why Miley’s rebuttal to her VMA concerns was all types of oblivious wrong.
At 32 and after six years of being in the mainstream public eye, I can’t help but question whether Nicki’s tired yet. Tired of being someone she’s not, tired of being with someone she’s not really into, and tired of begging for respect in the game without ever giving the industry a sample of the real her to appreciate and embrace. I find myself already anticipating the public meltdown when Nicki can no longer pretend to be the character she’s presented to us for half a decade and hoping it doesn’t look remotely like that of other pop stars gone by. I’m specifically thinking Mariah Carey and Britney Spears here. *shutters*
Nicki’s got a strong enough fan base now that I’m sure should she decide to ever be as real as her raps allegedly are they’d embrace her wholeheartedly. Perhaps she needs to have a little seat on Oprah’s couch so she can remind her of one of her most poignant lessons: “If you come to fame not understanding who you are, it will define who you are.”
Image Credits: Getty Images/MTV