“So very sorry you’re probably obliged to write something about that Nicki Minaj bullshit” a friend messaged me the other day.
It’s true – since Nicki’s “Only” lyric-video dropped on November seventh, it has (at the time of this writing) amassed over a million youtube hits, and spawned nearly as many blog-posts condemning its alleged use of Nazi-esque imagery.
All the heavy hitters have weighed in: From the ADL’s Abe Foxman, who writes:
“Nicki Minaj’s new video disturbingly evokes Third Reich propaganda and constitutes a new low for pop culture’s exploitation of Nazi symbolism”
…To Heeb magazine’s own Arye Dworken, who addresses the song’s sole Jewish contributor, Drake:
[You’re] standing amongst off-the-charts iconography uncannily similar to that of the Nazi’s. Are you comfortable with that? Call me, Drizz. You need to meet my Holocaust surviving Great Aunt for a refresh
Try as I might, though, I can’t seem to muster the same level of indignation as so many of my friends, and peers. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really like the video – it’s a mediocre club song grinding along to fairly unimaginative fascistic iconography. But that’s my point, I suppose: The imagery isn’t so much “shocking” as it is “cliché” – generic “new world order” jack boot soldiers marching between black and red flags. Is it in bad taste? Sure, I guess? But is it anything any of us should be getting our blood pressure up over? Please.
There is, in fact, a long history of fascist and Nazi imagery in various strains of rock and roll theatrics. From Sid Vicious’ wearing swastikas in the 70s, to David Bowie’s infamous fascism flirtation during his “Thin White Duke” phase in (where else) Berlin, implied – and in some cases, explicit – fascist iconography has long been a go-to tactic for performers to both shock and titillate; A way to tap into a collectively unconscious tableau in order to invoke a particular reaction from an audience. It’s also a method that’s given performers diminishing returns on shock value ever since they started doing it decades ago. Hell, you can buy Pink Floyd’s “Marching Hammers” car decals, and those are supposed to represent actual neo nazis.
Clearly Nicki’s not doing anything we haven’t already seen in much more potent forms countless times already. So why are people freaking out over “Only”? Has the uptick in global antisemitism – a legitimately troubling trend – rendered some people so jumpy that they would lash out at a song featuring lyrics like “She was sitting down on that big butt // But I was still staring at the titties though” as “the low point in pop culture’s exploitation of Nazi symbolism” as ADL honcho Foxman exclaimed? (unless he’s talking about wack lyrics, in which case maybe he’s onto to something).
Yes, Minaj is exploiting, or at least “exploring,” fascist imagery, but not a way that’s particularly new, or impactful, or meaningful (or “meaningless,” depending on how you look at it). If it’s trivialization we’re worried about, keep in mind that “Only” employs the same iconographic tropes used over and over again in music, movies, games, books, and television.
In other words, I can sympathize with being put off – or even offended – by the video. I can’t understand why it’s being singled out.
When Nicki starts espousing the tenets of national socialism we can fret. When she animates herself in red and black over lyrics about her prodigious posterior, maybe we should take a step back and see if there’s something more important to worry about, instead.