Are We Looking to Celebrities for Guidance?

April 10, 2012  |  

In a recent interview with JuJu Chang for ABC’s “Nightline,” Nicki Minaj sat down to chat about everything from witnessing abuse during her childhood to being compared to Lady Gaga. Naturally, during the conversation the actual content of her music came into question. Late last year, after a video of Sophia Grace passionately singing Minaj’s song “Superbass” went viral, the artist said she and her crew developed a running joke: “Can Sophia sing this?” While she said she never wants to offend mothers with her music, she didn’t come into the industry to appeal to children.

Ok that’s… understandable. Even though you wear bright Barbie colors and speak/rap like cartoon characters, aka elements which are appealing to children, we’ll give you a pass on that one. I’d argue it’s the parents’ job to keep their children away from things they don’t want them to see or hear for as long as possible. But we’ll get to that.

The interview went on to address whether or not Minaj’s lyrics, and really her career at large, contain a “girl power” message. Watching the interview, I’m under the impression that, for whatever reason, ABC wanted to portray her in a very positive light. They highlighted Minaj’s song “Moment for Life” and aired clips of her explaining what it meant to be “bossed-up” as a woman in the industry.

True, those two examples would definitely paint her in the pro-girl power light; however the segment didn’t highlight one of Minaj’s most recent singles, “Stupid H*e” or the fact that she relies on one asset in particular during her music videos.(See her booty clapping in a cage during “Stupid H*e” or winding up in Big Sean’s “A*s.” ) Or even the fact that while she encourages women to be independent and successful, she often refers to herself and her competition as bytchs, though she didn’t seem too fond of the term in the interview. Contradictions.

On the other hand, we can’t deny that Minaj is achieving success based on her talent and business acumen. Her album, which has been criticized as being sub-par at best, is selling slowly but she’s going on a world tour to promote it, so even if she loses on album sales, she’ll make much more money touring. She’s signing endorsement deal after endorsement deal and she’s said time and time again that she refuses to rely on a man to provide success for her.

So what are we to make of all this?

If you were to ask me, I’d say nothing much.

We shouldn’t be looking toward any artist or entertainer to be a complete role model for us. Really, most people can’t be complete role models for us. If you examine any one person long enough, you’ll find something you definitely don’t want to emulate. This is as true for ordinary people as it is artists. The only difference is that with non-famous people you may have more insight into why they do the foolish things they do, whereas a celebrity may or may not feel the need to constantly explain him or herself, knowing that they’ll never have the approval of everyone.

While I  won’t deny that I have a general interest in what celebrities may or may not do, when they act a fool, with the exception of a few, I can’t say that I’m truly surprised. 1. Because we’ve all been known to act a fool on occasion and 2. Because I don’t know, and therefore, have relatively low expectations for them. Jezebel reported that Minaj embraces being a feminist role model. I can see why she might think she fits that mold but  I won’t look to her for that, simply because I have better examples.

Some people see a problem in the fact that impressionable people, children and adults alike, can start to internalize the images Minaj and other artists portray as some type of guidebook to life. It is a problem and people surely will take on celebrity role models. But children, in the care of their parents, shouldn’t only have those images to teach them what life’s about. And grown folks who willingly subscribe to Nicki’s antics as the best way to live life are…probably beyond help.

But more people than you might suspect are looking toward celebrities and Minaj isn’t the only one. There are people doubting the plausibility of successful marriages because so many Hollywood unions end in divorce.  There are people personally offended because they feel Beyoncé lied to them about her pregnancy. And there are people who refuse to accept or acknowledge that Whitney Houston used drugs because they want to remember her fondly.

The best we can hope for from some celebrities is that they just might use their platform to do some good. And honestly, though not always consistently, I’ve seen Minaj do that.

I say all of that to say this, people, celebrities and common-folk alike, are complex. And being in the limelight doesn’t change that. People are never all good or all bad. The trick is learning what elements you may want to take from them and what elements you want to leave alone. Keeping that in mind, there’s no need to be surprised when Nicki Minaj is doing something positive like making it out of an abusive home and establishing a successful career as a woman in a male dominated industry.  Just like there’s no need to be surprised when she releases a video that looks like it could have been shot at the now defunct Freaknik and aired on the similarly terminated, “Uncut.” She’s a human being. By nature, she’s full of contradictions and if we can expect anything from her, we can expect that we’ll agree with some of her choices and disagree with others.

By the way, you can watch the interview in its entirety below:

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