Beyonce usually takes the heat when it comes to the skin lightening debate, and although I wouldn’t put it past her, being on the lighter side I know how a super bright flash and yellow surroundings can erase one’s pigment in a snap, so I never felt Bey was trying to deny her blackness. Lil Kim does catch a few side eyes in the bleach department, but we already talked about her issues last week, so we know what’s up there. But there’s someone else who’s been sliding under the increasingly lighter and whiter radar since they stepped on the scene, and that’s Nicki Minaj. The “Pink Friday” superstar declared herself the black Barbie when we first saw her, but Christie she is not. At this point she could drop the black part and no one would know the difference, and it seems that’s just how she and her creative team like it.
For the most part, Nicki gets way with her chameleon looks because her hair is almost always some shade that doesn’t typically occur in nature. This causes you to forget the fact that her skin has also been every shade under the sun except the one she was born with: brown. Take the Roman Reloaded cover Nicki released today, for example. The rapper/singer is completely unrecognizable with spattered paint covering her pink body. I might have thought this was Lady Gaga with the mangled blonde hair covering her head and breasts, which are an even lighter shade of pink, had I not been told otherwise. Although, if you look closely, I think you might see a brown finger. This isn’t the first time Nicki’s color was a bit off either. In this month’s issue of Vogue, she’s featured in what would otherwise be just a normal fashion spread, except for the fact that her skin was completely painted or photoshopped some aqua shade of blue. She also followed up her Marilyn Monroe-esque look in Madonna’s “Give Me All Your Luvin’” video with an actual song of that name, and a pale-blonde look to match. And although you may not remember this little fact from the way black women praise Marilyn, she’s not in fact African American, she’s a white woman from LA. I’m not one for conspiracy theories or to be too hyped up about an anti-negro agenda, but I honestly think the way Nicki Minaj is presented nowadays is a calculated effort to make consumers forget that she’s black.
It’s not even just Nicki’s skin that makes me call her escape from black America into question, it’s her music as well. Nicki’s had “crossover” success before she was even really fully accepted by the rap community or the black community. Initially, people were excited about the presence up a female MC after years of rap being a man’s world, and merely a year after stepping onto the scene she’s traded in the hardcore lines she once spit for bubble gum songs that catch the fancy of little English girls and magazine editors like Anna Wintour. When she speaks of not breaking down her upcoming “Roman Reloaded” album by genre, saying “There is no rap or pop for me,” she doesn’t have to explain anything to us. Her traditional rap songs are failing commercially while her pop songs climb the charts so we know who she’ll be catering to if she wants to keep spending $50,000 a month on Louis bags.
I never got into Nicki Minaj to begin with because of her caricature-ish branding so I’m not so much concerned with her success in the rap game as I am the need to appropriate white beauty to be successful as a pop artist. If you want to be a character, fine, but why a white one? From skin lightening to blonde hair brightening and the total elimination of brown skin period, it’s clear some white washing has been done and I don’t doubt that that has played a major part in her acceptance by the likes of the producers behind the Grammy’s and the Victoria Secret Fashion shows and the other stages Nicki has been given the opportunity to grace.
I know mainstream success and acceptance by white America is the Holy Grail for so many black artists, but when you get it this way, I have to question whether it’s a triumph at all. Sure, deep down she knows she’s black (maybe) but does the audience? Or are they more comfortable with her being a pink girl with a blonde wig and an English accent that looks just like any other Barbie rather than a threatening black woman? It’s fine to play dress up every now and again but when are you going to be your real self? You know, the black girl from South Jamaica, Queens, who stepped on the scene saying “Playtime is Over.”
Do you think Nicki Minaj’s look has become increasingly white washed? Do you think it’s intentional and plays a role in her success as a pop singer?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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