Katy Perry's got nothing on Nicki Minaj.
At the 2012 Grammys, Perry rolled on-stage with a blue wig and her hit song "E.T.", then abruptly transitioned into "Part of Me," which pop news sources have attributed to her break-up with Russell Brand. (There are lines like "So you can keep the diamond ring," for example.) Things just haven't been the same since Perry's religious parents have tried to hook her up with Jesus-lovin' Tim Tebow.
Yet Perry was formerly the queen of cotton candy cloud sensuality, of references to sucking Snoop Dogg's lollipop and a hyperfemininity that only a white girl of pastor parents could muster. Sweet and adoring in her innocence, Perry doesn't stand a chance against hardcore female rapper Nicki Minaj, who stole the 2012 Grammys with "Roman Holiday." Both a tribute to and a pushback against the movie "The Exorcist," Minaj's performance engaged the short attention spans of social media users, compelling them to post their own thoughts on Minaj's "interpretation" of Catholicism, exorcism and the use of highly charged religious imagery in pop culture social media spectacle.
In "Roman Holiday," Minaj performed an exorcism of her alter-ego, Roman Zolanski. By the end of the performance, she was levitating high above fires and clergy members. EOnline called Minaj's performance the "worst spectacle" of the 2012 Grammys.
"As much as we like the rap pixie, Nicki Minaj offered up a Lady Gaga-lite scary religious movie that was way too long, kinda silly and way annoying coming so late in the show," writes Erik Pedersen. "But hey, at least she can always ask her Pope-date for absolution!"
Whereas Katy Perry is a softcore, singsongy teenage dreamer girl who is stuck at last Friday night's drunken party, Nicki Minaj exists in a space of highly charged religious imagery, relying on a male narrative yet occupying space as a female body. This just one of the reasons "Roman Holiday" shook things up. Says Racialicious' LaToya Peterson quoting Menda Francois' thesis "Step Your Pussy Up: Nicki Minaj and the Signifyin(g) Tropes of Hardcore Female Rap":
Implicit in Minaj's Signification onto the male narrative is a strategic process of identity construction, relying primarily on the male narrative and male voice to help shape the hardcore female rapper's public image. Essentially, by engaging in dialogue with the male narrative, Minaj is aligning herself with male rappers and creating her identity as one of (pseudo)masculinity, an asset valuable to her role as a hardcore female rapper. It is within this genre that femcees operate as performers of gender and are most harshly judged by an injurious rubric of masculinity.
Unlike Perry's "E.T.", which relies on the fetishization of black male rapstar Kanye West as "alien" in a sci-fi trope, Minaj's "Roman Holiday" transcends this othered "outer space." Minaj's exorcism of her male alter-ego Roman Zolanski completes her transformation into hardcore rapper, one who is capable of simultaneously being both and neither. If she had possessed demons before the Grammys, she certainly does not now.
Yet some social media users took Minaj's performance too literally. "Nicki Minaj possessed by Demon Grammy Performance," reads an FTD News headline. YouTube commenter iJared TV announced that he was vehemently against any sort of "religious type thing" in pop culture music videos.
"If you bring in any religious type thing, like a Catholic priest...you're gonna lose a lot of your Catholic audience," he says in his YouTube video commentary. "I'm not Catholic or anything, but you don't disrespect religion in your music or anything." But Minaj was not disrespecting any sort of Catholic audience. Her on-stage transformation was her own, and out of it came her alter-ego, Roman Zolanski.
Did Nicki Minaj Save the Grammys?
According to NPR, she did. Her performance catapulted the event from just another awards show into a social media spectacle complete with Twitter and second screens:
We all well know that this is how mainstream pop music survives in the single-download age. No one style dominates, and as artists compete for attention, they're turning ever more hyperbolic. At the Grammys, this was best illustrated by Nicki Minaj's wild debut of the title track from her upcoming second album, Roman Holiday. A tribute to The Exorcist that more closely recalled a florid Dario Argento horror opera, the number included mock clergy, levitation and Minaj singing "I Feel Pretty" in an accent that would horrify Downton Abbey admirers. "Roman Holiday" sent the Twitterverse into hysterics. And it's impossible to think that wasn't part of the reason it was approved.
Minaj has officially and fully entered into the Twitterific pop culture mindshare. In fact, her entrance was christened by a friendly email from the Catholic League, who was very concerned about the "exorcism" of Minaj's male-gendered alter-ego and, implicitly, her use of the male narrative. Indeed, anything involving non-normative gender is cause for concern.
Some Twitter users like @savory1, a self-described "hard working soccer mom" in Orland Park, Illinois, defended Minaj's performance: "It was art get over it." Minaj fired back on Twitter with a few words, slamming the Catholic League and everyone who for some reason may fear their own alter-ego, or just themselves.
- "Were they offended by 'the devil inside'??? Shut-up & watch the movie b**ch!"
- "Not, 2, Not 1...I wish I at least had a point five percentile worth of f**ks to give right now."
- "And more importantly, love people for WHO they are. #nohate #nojudgement #nocondemnation."
Now, is that something Katy Perry could have said? Not without a lot of sugary sweet sentimentality.
Image via Flickr.