Entertainment

08.21.14

Nicki Minaj’s Ass-tastic ‘Anaconda’ Video and the Curse of the Butt Career

Many celebrities—Nicki Minaj included—reached new heights of fame when we started paying attention to their rear ends. But have those ass-ets also been a liability?

By now, you’ve seen Nicki Minaj’s butt.

Maybe you were looking for it. You probably weren’t. She was going to show it to you regardless.

It’s not been so much a mission she’s been on, to show us all her ass, but some seeming personal vocation. Akin to the clergy receiving “The Call” from God himself, Minaj has been touched by a booty angel. For Nicki Minaj, nirvana could only be reached when all of the world knew exactly what her butt looks like. What it looks like naked. What it looks like in tight leggings. What it looks like in a photo shoot. What it looks like in a music video. What it looks like when she’s dancing. What it looks like while she’s lying facedown on the floor spread eagle popping up and down in the air and jiggling.

Nicki Minaj’s career up until now, then, has been in pursuit of her fairytale ending, a happily ever after in which we all find true love. With her ass. Every suggestive red carpet look, each risqué photo shoot, all of her derriere-centric rap lyrics have been veritable bread crumbs all marking the trail to the candy house she’s spent years erecting, one pair of gumdrops at a time: her “Anaconda” music video.

Video screenshot

The bonkers booty bonanza isn’t just visually an aggressive celebration of ass—this is no “blink and you miss it” situation; more of a “blink and open your eyes and THERE’S ANOTHER BUTT” one—but it’s also an anthem of sorts in support of it. About praising and embracing the booty in all of its forms, the song, in a way, could be seen as an opus of sorts for Minaj.

The old showbiz saying is “you gotta have a gimmick,” and Minaj has wisely gotten a few. Her schizo-affected delivery style is like no other. The ferocity with which she attacks her raps is unmatched. But, beyond all that, she has made her butt her biggest gimmick. And that may not be wise. .

As we’ve learned over the years, it’s not always—and maybe never—a good idea to make your career all about your butt.

This is not to reduce Minaj’s entire pop-culture contribution to a singular physical attribute, though it’s hard after watching and dissecting “Anaconda” not to imagine that the rapper might be OK with that. But with a red carpet full of celebrity cautionary tales in front of her who made their careers all about their behinds and might now regret it, perhaps Minaj might want to be weary that what might start as a solid, attention-grabbing gimmick can evolve into a liability.

There is no shortage of female celebrities whose public existence and conversation around is as much, if not more, to do with their butts as it is with their work. “Work,” of course, is a loose term when one is referencing Kim Kardashian, the proprietor of perhaps the most famous rear end in Hollywood. But would it be bold to say that perhaps the guffaws that accompany the idea of Kardashian and work is a direct byproduct of the role the obsession over her ass plays in her fame?

Groan if you want, but since breaking into Hollywood (yes, in an unconventional and pretty gross way), Kardashian has carved a pretty interesting role for herself in the industry. As a “persona,” she’s fascinating, and deserves credit—if we want to consider it a positive thing one deserves credit for—for pioneering the modern kind of reality TV star. Beyond that, she’s mastered a unique art of personal branding, is undeniably a presence in the world of fashion, and at the very least is notable for being the most gawked at of Hollywood’s zoo animals.

And yet Kardashian rarely, if ever, gets credit for these things that she has “accomplished,” for lack of a better word. Because, even with all of these things, we cannot stop talking about her butt. Kim Kardashian’s butt not only drives the conversation about Kim Kardashian, but drowns out any other talk about her. It may be what launched her into another echelon of celebrity and notoriety, but it’s also what’s keeping her from being respected.

A similar case, though one not nearly as extreme, could be made for Jennifer Lopez. Lopez, to be fair, is known for many things. For a time she was Hollywood’s best example of the “triple threat”—actor, singer, dancer—with a knack for honing an inventive and edgy pop sound that topped the charts while crowd pleasing, if slight, movies dominated the box office. She’s known for being a diva, which to be fair is a big facet of Hollywood fame, and is known for being a reality TV judge.

She is also known for having a booty so delicious and so integral to the success of her career that she at one point had a $27 million insurance policy on it.

There are likely many reasons why Lopez’s work isn’t given the weight and reverence that is awarded to her peers in both the music and acting worlds, but it wouldn’t be crazy to venture that incessant joking about and harping on her butt is one of them.

Even the more cartoonish way that Minaj is celebrating her ass in the “Anaconda” video may not be wise. Sure, it’s generating a conversation around the rapper that is louder than it’s been in a while, if ever—a great thing for an artist who is about to release a new album. But it’s also a precarious thing.

Miley Cyrus released a series of legitimately great pop songs last year—“We Can’t Stop,” “Wrecking Ball,” and “Adore”—and might have been one of the most fun music personalities to watch while doing it. At least at first. That whole twerking on teddy bears thing—it was cleverly edgy and sparked a cultural debate that, though ridiculous at times, was kind of enjoyable to observe as it unfolded.

But perhaps intoxicated by the attention she was getting or perhaps delusional and thinking the shtick had more merit and longevity than it actually did, Cyrus took the whole thing too far. The concert tour, the public antics, the acting out—it all became too much. It got to the point that we all would be happy to never hear the word “twerk” again, but at the same time it was the only word people seemed to bring up in regards to Cyrus. The great music she had released became irrelevant as people mistakenly thought Cyrus’s only relevance in pop culture stemmed from bouncing her butt at the VMAs.

And as for songs that so overtly center on the butt as a theme, like “Anaconda” does, well, ask Sisqó, he of “The Thong Song,” and even the man behind the sample Minaj uses, Sir Mix-A-Lot, about the career longevity that comes from that.

There is certainly something to be said about the fact that much of “Anaconda” is body positive, allegedly in celebration of curves and rejecting the idea that waifish and skinny is the standard of beauty—albeit a message that is laid out in far more explicit terms in the song. But there’s a difference between a body positive anthem that encourages women to not just embrace their curves, but flaunt them, and masking titillation as that message.

Meghan Trainor’s “All About the Bass,” currently number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, calls out the “skinny bitches” in the same way that Minaj does in “Anaconda,” and the song’s accompanying video is certainly booty-centric. But compare the two songs and clips and there’s an undeniable difference.

Still, let’s not be spoil sports. “Anaconda” is fun. Nicki Minaj is fun. Her butt is fun! Not to call anyone out, but a certain writer’s twin brother even texted him after a certain music video’s release to say that it changed his life. Nicki Minaj’s butt is a life-changing butt!

But (butt) it’s still worth wondering what effect obsessing over it will have on her career. The (rear) end.