My Anaconda Don’t Want None…of the Intersectional Norms

The famous pop and rap musical artist Nicki Minaj debuted the music video for her chart-topping single Anaconda in the summer of 2014 and it became an immediately viral sensation. With over 617 million views on YouTube, the video homage to female physicality has been met with a wide range of opinions, some honoring it for promoting sexual liberation and some abhorring it for vulgarity and objectification. The intended audience of this video was certainly young, probably those born mostly in the 1990s and perhaps the 1980s. This intention is evidenced by the millennial-aimed product placement, use of contemporary slang, and the song’s content reflecting the relaxation of societal norms around sex over the past few decades. However, the nature of the Internet and the immediate infamous reputation of Anaconda presumably made the audience much wider than just twentysomethings. The obvious superficial task of this video is to entertain, but Minaj herself claimed on Twitter that it was “impacting culture.”[1] The Anaconda video does present undisguised sexually imagery that reflects aspects of culture and the sexual, racial, and gender norms that pervade it. A closer look at the media, however, presents a challenging contradiction as to whether Minaj subverts these norms, or plays into them and encourages their prevalence within a societal framework.

The Anaconda video presents the viewer with four minutes and forty-nine seconds of hypersexual and choreographed cinematography to accompany the song. However, in just a twenty-second clip from 0:40-1:00 we see many of the images that Minaj repeats and that offer insight into the norms she is representing. Minaj presents the following scene: several individuals, all wearing little clothing, dancing in the jungle. Minaj herself, lip-syncing to the slang and double entendre filled lyrics of her single and adorned in gold, is the clear focus of the scene. She is surrounded by several other people, all dressed in black, appearing in various poses illustrating their flexibility on the wooden structure on which they all stand. The scene features copious amounts of twerking, a dance move closely associated with black hip-hop culture. Some people have argued that, with this scene, Minaj is “calling out society’s view of black women as exotic and animalistic,” adding to the argument made in her tweet that she is impacting culture.[2] Minaj is certainly presenting this norm, and, though she attempts to interrupt it, her broad audience may not pick up on her effort to push against this norm; consequently, the video may reinforce the hypersexual, exotic stereotype of black women for those individuals who do not realize that Minaj is trying to ironically undercut those very norms. The broader audience to which I refer includes the over 600 million viewers of the YouTube video, as well as many others who have heard the song in another context. Minaj attempts to undercut these norms by seemingly playing directly into them. That is, she blatantly plays the role of a hyper-sexual, exotic (literally set in a jungle) black woman to prove that she controls her sexuality and can ironically inhabit this stereotype as a way to push back against it. This is recognizable to someone who has studied gender and sexuality in a formal setting, or is simply exposed to GSS theory. However, with no contextual understanding of the stereotype Minaj is undercutting, and no knowledge of her intentions to “impact culture,” I imagine many viewers saw the video as reinforcement of the stereotype.

Within the twenty-second clip previously mentioned, Minaj and the other individuals in the jungle scene play into the existing paradigm within American culture of fetishizing lesbian eroticism. While the contemporary United States still very much exist within a strict heteronormative matrix, there has existed for many years an obsession with eroticism between women. Even while sex between two men has been considered taboo and unacceptable, sex between women has been labeled as hot and sexy, with hours upon hours of so-called lesbian fetish pornography readily available, for free, on a host of internet porn websites. Minaj’s Anaconda reinforces the paradigm of lesbian eroticism being connected to a fetishized sense of desire—male desire, as the paradigm exists in the modern United States. Within the twenty-second jungle clip, the audience witnesses several images reinforcing this norm: another woman mounts Minaj and twerks as Minaj caresses the other woman’s thigh, and the clip features several other moments on intensely intimate touching between all of the women, again within the framework of exotic, animalistic sexuality.

Many have argued that, through Anaconda, Minaj has paid homage to female physicality and sexuality and, in turn, created some visual representation of sexual liberation. However, if we examine Anaconda more thoroughly, it may present an inaccurate representation of how power structures operate in society. If power is simply repressive, Minaj’s hypersexual ode to female bodies and sexualities would be seen as liberating and powerful as it pushes against the power that tells society not to talk about sex, particularly if you identify as a woman. However, the intersectional power dynamics explored in Minaj’s video are clearly more complicated than her simply pushing back against the power repressing her sexuality. Again, a wider audience not exposed to excepted thought and theory in gender and sexuality studies may not understand that she is attempting to make a statement about women—black women in particular—and the repressive stereotypes and norms under which they exist sexually and in general. Thus, the video may in fact reinforce those norms and stereotypes.

Minaj’s video as a whole presents a complex mixture of messages for the audience, especially an audience knowledgeable about Foucault’s understanding of how we internalize power. While Minaj may be attempting to subvert the norm of male sexuality and female submissiveness, her video for Anaconda nevertheless presents a host of images that reinforce certain intersectional stereotypes of race, gender, and sexuality, all the while operating within the male gaze. Though she displays acts of female homoeroticism, they are presented within the fetishized matrix of lesbian sexuality popular in the porn industry and mainstream media. Nicki Minaj’s video appears on the surface a strong step forward for female sexual liberation and I, personally, respect her attempt to impact culture and challenge norms by ironically embodying an exaggerated version of a commonly held stereotype. However, the Anaconda music video presents challenging contradictions as it plays into lesbian fetish norms, and may in turn simply reinforce the stereotype of the sexually liberated, exotic and erotic black woman.

[1] Nicki Minaj, Twitter post, 21 July, 2015, 3:23 P.M., https://twitter.com/NICKIMINAJ

[2] Mueller, Kate. “‘Aaconda’: Why You Should Watch Nicki’s Video Again.” The Huffington Post, November, 11, 2014. Web. September 16, 2016.