Hip-Hop and Pop music carries great influence in popular culture and the entertainment industry. Twerking and showing off your body, especially your buttocks, has become a very popular occurrence within music videos today, but even in the past it was already present. For this assignment I will analyse the following two music videos: Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda and Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby’s Got Back. Both of these music videos place a lot of emphasis on large female buttocks and both of them utilise food imagery as metaphoric of the voluptuousness of the female ‘booty’. Critics have interpreted the booty in different ways:
Feminist scholar, Bell Hooks, argues that the fetishization of the booty can be compared to the reduction of female sexuality to ‘the pussy’. The booty, however, is “a more visible, PG 13 stand-in for female sexuality, easier to represent (and sell) in pop culture, but freighted with more racial connotations. A booty-centric vision of female sexuality asks who has access to the female body”.
Paresecoli (2007: 122) argues that the booty represents the “direct connection between black female flesh and food, especially soul food” and that it “embodies pleasure and nurture, desire and culture, and acts as a valid counterbalance against the sexist identification of black female flesh with the unruly and threatening sexuality that was attributed to it first by white culture, then by the misogynist streak in some aspects of young black culture”.
Since there are different criticisms on the topic, I will engage with feminist criticism and lesbian/gay criticism for this assignment. After looking at the two criticisms, analysis will be done on both of the music videos and their lyrics. After having done that I will relate it back to either the feminist criticism and/or the lesbian/gay criticism. There are also three questions and they will be answered after the initial analysis of Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda and Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby’s Got Back. These three questions are the following:
- Does the conflation of food and sexuality in these videos depict the female body as edible (and as such subject to patriarchal objectification) or does it signify, as Paresecoli believes, “pleasure and nurture, desire and culture”?
- Does the “booty-centric vision of female sexuality” presented by Nicki Minaj in Anaconda disrupt the conflation of female black flesh and an unruly sexuality, or does it reproduce the discourses that represent this sexuality as exotic and Other?
- Is Anaconda a parodic interpretation of or homage to Baby’s Got Back?
In the 1960’s a woman’s movement happened and one could even say that it was the beginning of modern day feminism. The woman’s movement was fundamentally concerned with different forms of literature within which women are represented or which was created by women. Feminism is the same as that and not a spin-off of it as some may believe it to be. The political is personal, feminism is a personal political position firstly, secondly in biology, and thirdly in culturally defined characteristics. Women has been portrayed in literature in a socially acceptable way as deemed correct by a patriarchal society. Feminists noticed this and pointed out that women can do anything a man can do or simply do their own thing without having to be considered as being mad (Barry, 2009: 85).
Feminism became more eclectic when it came to their criticisms and they started incorporating approaches such as Marxism, intertextuality, linguistics and so on. Feminist critics started to reconstruct experiences and records of women who were previously lost or supressed male versions of the world. More attention has been given to female writers, artists and so on in order to give them new prominence and status in the world (Barry, 2009: 85).
According to Toffoletti (2004: 2), what is considered as being monstrous, animalistic or the feminine Other, have been used by feminists in a progressive way in which monster discourse offers positive yet rebellious means to challenging the humanist subject hood. The effectiveness of the monstrous, animalistic and Other lies in its make-up as a feminist metaphor for change that threatens to cause disorder to phallogocentric models of selfhood, repossessing Otherness as a position of female subject identification.
In Nicki Minaj’s music video, Anaconda, all of the women in the video, including herself, are portrayed in a way that would make feminists cringe. The same is the case with the women shown in Sir Mix-A-Lot’s music video called Baby’s Got Back. After looking at lesbian and gay criticism, analysis will be done into both song including their lyrics and music videos with regard to feminist as well as lesbian and gay criticism.
Lesbian and gay criticism started in the 1990’s. the criticism is not exclusive to lesbians and gays, and it may be useful when making an initial comparison to feminist criticism. Lesbian and gay studies do for sex what woman’s studies does for gender in a way. The major feature in lesbian and gay criticism is to make sexual orientation a central category of analysis and understanding. It has both social and political aims, similar to feminism (Barry, 2009: 95-96).
What is known as classic feminism, once ostracised or disregarded lesbianism. According to Barry (2009: 96-97), lesbian should be seen as the most comprehensive form of feminism. Lesbian feminism is thus a radical form of feminism, since lesbians turn away from a variety of forms of involvement with patriarchal exploitation. Queer theory is quite similar to lesbian feminism, but more encompassing of all Other sexualities.
Hip-Hop has always been seen as being a heterosexual and masculine musical genre, but female rappers exist within it and this complicated simplistic reading of it. Nicki Minaj is one of those female rappers and she gained real success and her continuous transformations of her image centres on matters of sexuality (Smith, 2014: 360-361). This is why lesbian and gay criticism is applicable to the study ad analysis of Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda music video and lyrics.
It has been said that Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda was inspired by Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby’s Got Back and thus, Baby’s Got Back will be analysed before Anaconda with regard to the music video and the lyrics of the song below. First, the lyrics will be discussed after which the music video will be discussed. This will be the case for both songs.
In the very first section of the song there is someone talking to another person about a black woman with big buttocks. They say that she must be a rapper’s girlfriend, that she looks like a prostitute, and that her buttocks are big, round, gross, and black. This section alone is enough evidence to show how black women and their voluptuous buttocks or booty has been sexualised, even by other women and that because of it, she is seen as Other.
In the second section of the song, Sir Mix-A-Lot starts singing about that same black girl. He immediately starts off by saying he likes ‘big butts’ and then he goes on to describe how big it is and how much he likes it. It also arouses him sexually. Here it is more evident again how men make women and their buttocks sexual objects.
In the third section of the song, Sir Mix-A-Lot continues to sing about the girl and he praises her big butt and compare it to the flat white butts you see in magazines. He asks the woman to dance, to shake her butt and to use him. He also mentions that she is not an average groupie. Now, a groupie is basically a female fan of a band of musical artist who is more often than not very willing to do sexual favours. Again, there is sexual objectification of women present.
In the rest of the song Sir Mix-A-Lot basically goes on and on about this girl’s big butt and even calls it juicy, almost as if to compare it to food, more specifically, fruit. He even goes as far as saying he wants to have sex with her because of her big butt. The black female butt is to extraordinary according to him that even ‘white boys got to shout baby’s got back’. As the song progress he sings that no matter what or how many exercises you do, no one will have a natural big butt like that except for her and basically other black women. This is then when the infamous quote comes in: ‘my anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hon’. What this quote means is that he (or black men in general) have big genitals and that his manhood does not want a woman who does not have a big butt. Again, the buttocks are compared to food, this time bread buns.
Now, looking at the music video, it is two white girls initially talking about a black woman, how she looks, and about her big black butt. As soon as Sir Mix-A-Lot starts singing all you see are black women dancing semi-clothed and there are images of what looks like peaches or buns behind them. It is clear in the music video that only black women are shown with big butts and white women have flat butts. A banana and two lemons were shown momentarily in the video representing male genitalia.
In the following section Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda will be discussed, first the lyrics and then the music video. When that has been done a comparison will be done between the two songs and music videos.
The song starts out with the words, ‘My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun’. This line comes directly out of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby’s Got Back. This shows an immediate connection between the two songs.
The second section is where the song really begins. In this section Nicki Minaj sings about a rich man who often had trouble with the law and was involved with narcotics. He treats her well and spoils her, he told her he likes big girls, finds her extremely sexually attractive, and apparently, he even had sexual intercourse with her. He also told her he likes big girls because they have something to grab on to and that he does not like skinny or ‘boney’ women. Here we can see how men believe they can buy a woman’s body and affection through money and gifts. Once again, women are treated like sexual objects any man can acquire.
In the next two sections, it is once again a repeat of lines from Sir Mix-A-Lot’s song, the same lines about the anaconda and then, ‘Oh my gosh, look at her butt’, which is repeated a few times. With this emphasis is putt on these lines showing that it is important. The question is just why and what does it mean? This will be discussed in a later section of this assignment.
In the fifth section, Nicki Minaj sings about a different man than before who apparently has a big manhood, she compares it to a tower. She also sings about how good the sex was between them that he fell asleep afterwards. The rest of this section is the same at the previous one.
The anaconda line and the ‘oh my gosh’ line is repeated a few times again and in the middle of it all comes another line inspired from Sit Mix-A-Lot’s song, ‘Little in the middle, but she’s got much back’. This basically just reminds us that Anaconda and Baby’s Got Back is linked to one another.
In the final section of the song, Nicki Minaj sings about how she and her ‘bitches’ are all big and have ‘fat asses’ and how they rule the clubs over the ‘skinny bitches’. The song then ends with her laughing and saying, ‘I got a big fat ass’. Here she owns the fact that she has big buttocks and regardless, she knows that she is beautiful.
The music video starts out in a jungle of some sort showing that it is quite exotic. There are a bunch of women on some kind of a bridge before what looks like an African hut. The women are all semi-clothed showing off their bodies, but mostly their buttocks especially through the way in which they move and dance. There are moments where they are not in the jungle, but the way they dance still keep the focus on the buttocks. The lines from Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby’s Got Back are played off a record on a turn table and there are fruits such as bananas and pineapples on it as well. Note, the fruit are tropical and exotic fruits. Also, Sir Mix-A-Lot himself is not in the video and only a recording of his song.
The women in the music video also do a form of dancing that looks like exercise to help keep them in shape, but still the main focus is on the buttocks. Noticeably there are never any men in the music video, only women. The women are always together, dancing and exercising, they are all over each other. With that said, I can now clearly see why the lesbian and gay criticism can be applicable to the analysis of this music video.
In another part of the music video Nicki Minaj is alone in a kitchen with fruit and whipped cream along other things. She eats a banana, but pulls her face almost as if she is disgusted by it. The banana is symbolic of male genitalia. In the end of the video it looks like she is in a club and she is doing a seductive lap dance for a man and she makes exotic noises while doing to before leaving him high and dry.
Overall there are elements in Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda that can be seen as the objectification of women, but the way in which owns it and takes charge gives then opposite idea instead. Nicki Minaj takes on the role of a big, strong, and beautiful woman who knows who she is and what she wants.
In Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby’s Got Back, women are just there to be looked at and enjoyed by men. Food, especially fruit, are present in both music videos, but more so in Baby’s Got Back.
Below I will examine and discuss a few articles related to Hip-Hop, Sir Mix-A-Lot and Baby’s Got Back, and Nicki Minaj and Anaconda.
American pop culture has often described the body, especially the female body, not only in a sexual way but also as if though it is an edible substance available for consumption. Metaphors for edibility are often used as sexual innuendoes. In black pop culture the neologism ‘bootylicious’ indicated the deliciousness of the buttocks (Parasecoli, 2007: 111). This explains the use of the fruits in Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby’s Got Back and in Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda.
Nicki Minaj is an interesting character. Her fashion, music, and presence change continuously and this forms a part of vibrating black performance art. She uses her body as an aesthetic object in her music videos. With her lyrics she never holds back and says whatever she wants. This is part of what makes her a successful female Hip-Hop artist. Nicki Minaj’s performances, lyrics, and music videos are often quite unorthodox. McMillan (2014: 80) created the term, ‘Nicki-aesthetics’, to be used as an analytic recast of Nicki Minaj’s diverse fashion and vivacious performances. What she does can be considered deviant at times, but in reality, it is aesthetic choices she made. Specific things included in ‘Nicki-aesthetics’ are: anime facial expressions, coloured wigs, bright make-up, leg warmers and the list goes on. Bottom line, Nicki Minaj loves making a statement with her art, Anaconda is no different. The song and all its praises and criticisms will be discussed shortly.
As an artist, Nicki Minaj can do whatever she wants with any genre of music she attempts to use. She is an assertive woman who is open and proud of her sexuality and she uses her sex appeal to get what she wants. This is noticeable in her lyrics of Anaconda (Schoppmeier, 2015: 55).
In many of Nicki Minaj’s songs, there are hints of queerness. The question is: is Nicki Minaj actually queer or is it just strategic queerness that we experience from her music? Many artists use queerness in their music, but few are actually a part of the LGBT community. Some critics refer to Nicki Minaj and her music as ‘fauxmosexuality’ and it was added that heterosexual people pretend to identify with homosexuals in order to draw in more fans (Shange, 2014: 30-31).
Nicki Minaj plays with the existing Hip-Hop stereotypes and she is able to do so because of her enormous success and masculine dominance within the genre. With that said, she goes against the stereotypes of black femininity. Her song, Anaconda, and its music video is extremely explicit and packed with potential criticism for debate. The setting of the music video is in the rainforest and can be interpreted as a stereotype of African Americans being primitive and animalistic (Vos, 2017: 9). Nicki Minaj once again takes whatever people hold against her as a black woman and she owns in.
Nicki Minaj’ Anaconda is a racially celebrated song because of the ‘big fat ass’ regardless of the black female body having been seen as unusual before. Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby’s Got Back included lines such as: ‘Oh my God, Becky, look at her butt’ and ‘My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hon’, which was all used in Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda. Anaconda forms a part of what is known as the booty jam subgenre of Rap and Hip-Hop music because of how much emphasis it put on the sexualised female body from a female perspective. Anaconda can be interpreted as a statement championing woman’s self-esteem, body confidence, and sexual activity. While this is true, the song holds a deeper meaning which preserves the damaging patriarchal interpretation of the black female body as consumable sexual objects (Blood, n.d.: 5-6).
In 1992, Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby’s Got Back was so popular, it even became an anthem of sorts for black women at the time. The song however did not praise big women for their beauty, but instead sexually objectified them. In 2014, Nicki Minaj released her song, Anaconda, which is loosely based on Baby’s Got Back in many ways and because of this, she has been accused of being anti-feminism (Dreschel, 2017: 1-2). It is upsetting that Baby’s Got Back was loved and praised by many, but Anaconda was criticised. Nicki Minaj worked with a plan when she released Anaconda. She wanted to prove that the black female booty and sexuality is beautiful and nothing to be ashamed of.
Anaconda caused some controversy in feminism because on the one hand it is seen as sexually objectifying women and on the other hand as sexual aggression that makes Nicki Minaj admirable. The song received praise for promoting body positivity but was blamed for skinny-shaming. Anaconda is both offensive and enthralling, reckoned and reckless. This is what made it a far better song than Baby’s Got Back (Tobin, 2014: 1-2).
Now finally, we come to the questions mentioned in the beginning of the assignment:
Does the conflation of food and sexuality in these videos depict the female body as edible (and as such subject to patriarchal objectification) or does it signify, as Paresecoli believes, “pleasure and nurture, desire and culture”? The black female body is definitely seen as being an edible sexual object.
Does the “booty-centric vision of female sexuality” presented by Nicki Minaj in Anaconda disrupt the conflation of female black flesh and an unruly sexuality, or does it reproduce the discourses that represent this sexuality as exotic and Other? Both is equally possible, but the exotic and Other elements come through more strongly in the music video.
Is Anaconda a parodic interpretation of or homage to Baby’s Got Back? It is understandable why some may think Anaconda is a tribute of sorts to Baby’s Got Back, but when you look at the music video, Nicki Minaj clearly jokes around with it and does not take it seriously at all. The music video is quite satirical and thus I would say it is a parody of Baby’s Got Back.
Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda is a controversial song that can be interpreted in various ways, both negative or positive, this is part of its brilliance. The song can be looked at with different criticisms, praised or hated. But in the end, Nicki Minaj is still out there making music and making money, so does it really matter what others think her art means?
Barry, P., 2009, Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory, Manchester University Press: Manchester.
Bell Hooks, Transgression: Whose Booty is This?, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJZ4x04CI8c.
Blood, N.L., n.d., Oh My Gosh, Look at Her Butt: An Intersectional Feminist Critique of Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”, date viewed 10 October, from https://www.academia.edu/9801344/Oh_My_Gosh _Look_at_Her_Butt_An_Intersectional_Feminist_C ritique_of_Nicki_Minaj_s_Anaconda_.
Dreschel, O., 2017, Baby Got Back: The Sexual Objectification of Women and Gender Biases in Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” and Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”, date viewed 5 October, from https://medium.com/@oliviadreschel/baby-got- back-the-sexual-objectification-of-women-and- gender-biases-in-sir-mix-a-lots-baby-got- a215ada85bfa.
McMillan, U., 2014, Nicki-aesthetics: the camp performance of Nicki Minaj, Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, 24 (1): 79-87.
Nicki Minaj, Anaconda, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDZX4ooRsWs
Paresecoli, F., 2007, Bootylicious: Food and the Female Body in Contemporary Black Pop Culture, Women’s Studies Quarterly, 35 (1-2): 110-125.
Schoppmeier, S., 2015, ‘Hottentot Barbie’ as a Multicultural Star: The Commodification of Race in Nicki Minaj’s Music Videos, date viewed 10 October, from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/1114927 03/hottentot-barbie-as-multicultural-star- commodification-race-nicki-minajs-music-videos.
Shange, S., 2014, A king named Nicki: strategic queerness and the black femmecee, Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, 24 (1): 29-45.
Sir Mix-A-Lot, Baby’s Got Back, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JphDdGV2TU.
Smith, M.R., 2014, “Or a Real, Real Bad Lesbian”: Nicki Minaj and the Acknowledgement of Queer Desire in Hip-Hop Culture, Popular Music and Society, 37 (3): 360-370.
Tobin, P., 2014, Nicki Minaj beats the music industry at its own sexist game with “Anaconda”, date viewed 5 October, from http://theessential.com.au/features/source- material/nicki-minaj-anaconda.
Toffoletti, K. 2004. Catastrophic Subjects: Feminism, the Posthuman, and Difference, Thirdspace: A Journal of Feminist Theory & Culture, 3 (2): 1-14.
Vos, V., 2017, “I’ll Grind ‘till I Own It”: African- American Feminism in Hip-Hop, date viewed 10 October, from file:///C:/Users/Chan/Downloads/MA%20thesis%20 Vera%20Vos%20version%2025-06- 2017%20PDF%20(1).pdf.