RetroPop: Nicki Minaj's Obama-Noted Political Satire and the "Little Boxes" She Might Enjoy
Hi there and welcome again to RetroPop! The guest blog in which I attempt get funky whilst elevating the dignity of current Top 40 radio hits by pairing them with similarly-themed works of art from great women writers of the past, and have a bit of fun with the classics in the process.
I’ve already written about the amazing force that is Nicki Minaj when we mused on why Edna St. Vincent Millay might have loved Minaj’s “Starships.” But my favorite currently-charting lady rapper is in the news this week for a different reason and I thought it might result in another interesting RetroPoppy mashup, so oblige me as we return to the delightful Land of Minaj.
There's been much confusion on the Internet generally, and Twitter specifically, in the past few days about Nicki’s supposed endorsement of Mitt Romney. I thought to myself, “Huh. That’s unexpected. Eh, I love her anyway.” And, like (I’m guessing) a zillion per cent of other folks watching things on social media scroll by, I didn’t even click on one darn link to find out whether the information was true—I just moved on to the next tweet.
Well, thank goodness for my addiction to Rolling Stone, because the good folks over there got me hip to something much closer to the truth. Turns out Nicki was pounding the satire alarm:
Nicki Minaj has cleared up any and all questions surrounding her supposed endorsement of Mitt Romney during a guest verse for Lil Wayne's new Dedication 4 mixtape. ("I'm a Republican, voting for Mitt Romney/You lazy bitches is fuckin' up the economy," she raps on the cut "Mercy.")
'Ha! Thank you for understanding my creative humor & sarcasm Mr. President, the smart ones always do. *sends love & support* @BarackObama,' wrote Minaj on Twitter, responding to an interview on Monday when the President himself addressed the lyrics in question.”
Of course, I should have trusted Minaj for a little bit of straight-up satire, and I’m ashamed of myself for not having considered that possibility sooner. If you’re curious about the manner in which she made this provocatively partisan phrase-turn, click through to the video here, but be warned that it’s fairly explicit and quite unlike her mainstream pop tunes. Interestingly, the last time I talked about Nicki in a blog post, one reader lamented the lack of depth in her lyrics and I pointed to her more edgy, thoughtful and richly developed narratives and characterizations in her rap work. This is a great example of what I meant!
So let’s salute our rapping friend’s multi-layered (character-wise) rap by comparing it to another one of my favorite political satire songs from the past, Malvina Reynold’s “Little Boxes.” Though the tune became a big hit for Pete Seeger in 1963 it later turned into a hit for Reynolds (posthumously) as the theme song for Showtime's Weeds.
While the comment in Minaj’s rap comes from an aggressive, dark, and almost creepy place that sets this listener at unease, Reynolds instead uses a childlike goofiness to launch her critique of middle-class conformity. To be sure, that hokey-pokey-ness is a tactic Minaj often relies on in her satirical work (as in her verse from Kanye West’s “Monster” that I referenced in the earlier blog post, for example, when she briefly performs the role of a character without much experience in the music biz), but Reynold’s approach with “Little Boxes” is so deliciously sing-songy, it could well lull the listener into a trance of acceptance—precisely the behavior she is working to critique in her song.
As you hopefully know by now, I’m all about the discussion on these sorts of things, so does anyone care to share thoughts on any other favorite lady-performed political satires? Or any others that the President of the United States actually responded to in an interview? Yikes! The power of pop stars will never cease to impress me. Way to keep challenging your listeners and rocking the provocative-o-meter, Nicki!
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