Nicki Minaj: Superbass or Super-culturally-inapropriate?

Orientalism is the depiction of aspects of Asian cultures through Western imitation or expression. It was derived from a prejudice interpretation of Asian culture, as European people saw their culture as exotic and unusual. Orientalism can be strongly abused and broadcasted on a large scale by people that have heavy influence in society.

Nicki Minaj, an unusual suspect of enacting orientalism (in my opinion), insults the Asian culture in her song, “Your Love”. In the music video for the song, Nicki alters her usual appearance to exhibit Asian influence. She dresses in silk clothing (also wears a Japanese geisha), slants her eyes using makeup, and puts chopsticks in her hair in addition to several other Asian “imitations”. Her attempt at embodying the Asian culture is extremely limited and false, and she takes away from the true diversity and complexity of this culture.

One of the lines of her song states, “Anyway I think I met him in the sky / When I was a geisha he was a samurai / Somehow I understood him when he spoke Thai / Never spoke lies and he never broke fly”. My interpreation of these lyrics are that the relationship between a geisha and a samurai is glamorized and falsified. She is using the idea of an “exotic” relationship to add to her song, and through that idealizing the concept of having a “foreign lover”. She also states that the Samurai spoke Thai, yet Samurai’s are a part of the Japanese culture.

In my eyes, she is mushing multiple Asian cultures together throughout the song, failing to give recognition to the beauty of each individual culture.

9 thoughts on “Nicki Minaj: Superbass or Super-culturally-inapropriate?

  1. Natalie S

    Sydney I love this post because I feel like it is a common trend seen amongst artists. I feel that Nicki used the verse in her song because it sounded good rather than analyzing it to see if it was respectful to Asian culture. I also am impressed to see that you caught this moment in the song because as listeners it is common not to analyze the lyrics as much.

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  2. Iris J

    I think this is so important!! So many celebrities these days use Asian culture as a way to accessorize and no one ever calls them out for it. I remember seeing on Twitter that Nicki Minaj’s handle name was “Chun-Li” which made me roll my eyes so hard. Chun-Li is an already orientalized character so why make it more popular? Celebrities and society as a whole often ignore the idea of Asian culture appropriation and it’s so frustrating.

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  3. Emily I

    I have actually listened to this song a lot and I have never noticed these specific lyrics from the song. I really don’t like how Nicki mixed the different Asian cultures. Many people who are not Asian make assumptions that Asian cultures are the same, yet they are unaware of the obvious differences. Countries all over Asia have varying traditions and values. For example, Japan and Thailand have different social practices, such as greeting people. People from Japan usually bow, while people from Thailand press the palm of their hands in a prayer-like gesture called a wai.

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  4. JULIA Y

    Wow I feel like I had seen the video before, but maybe not! Or I guess it’s just an example of how widely accepted this trend is in music and media in general. I love this post because it sheds lights on how we don’t even notice it because maybe we like the movie, song, or famous person behind it. But that does not excuse it. This made me think of the many people who have worn traditional Asian clothing to prom and don’t see the cultural appropiation in it. Or how Kim K wears cornrows. Great post!

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  5. Yeah, I agree with all — no excuse here. Pure cultural appropriation/exploitation — without the smallest respect for the specifics of the cultures she is stealing from. This needs to be called out and made unacceptable — and we need to make people more aware of it — as we have begun to do more often with thinks like blackface and other more local American racist appropriations.

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  6. Lizzy L

    Thank you for posting this, Sydney. I have listened to this song dozens of times and have never caught onto those lyrics, but I think that it is important that all listeners pay more attention to lyrics. I think that if listeners are more conscious of lyrics and are able to call musicians out when they are being blatantly offensive, then perhaps musicians will be more respectful in the future.

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  7. SETH ENGLE

    So true. She really mix a bunch different cultures together and looks ignorant mixing together Japanese, Chinese, and Thai.

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  8. Grace S

    I have never noticed these lyrics before when listening to the song and she clearly confuses all of the different cultures and creates them as one. I think it also shows how people do not always recognize orientalism and brush it aside. This song was very popular and that gives her a profit without being held accountable for appropriating or exploiting multiple culture.

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  9. Oh my gosh, I have loved this song for years and had never even seen the music video, so I was not aware of the blatant cultural appropriation in the music video. I agree that it was totally inappropriate for her to take from Asian culture to make her video more intriguing, which is a huge part of Orientalism. Thanks for bringing this up!

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