‘Hottentot Barbie’ as a Multicultural Star: The Commodification of Race in Nicki Minaj’s Music Videos

Abstract: This paper is concerned with the ways in which race is commodified in Nicki Minaj’s music videos. It is argued that by selling both whiteness and blackness in various forms, Minaj establishes and sustains her persona as a multicultural star and is thus able to satisfy the demands of a wide, racially mixed audience. Most of Minaj’s videos are analyzed to support this point. The paper discusses Minaj’s music regarding genres and lyrical content, as well as the images in her clips, including her looks and moves. It is demonstrated how Minaj succeeds in and switches between both white-coded pop and black-coded rap music, how she embodies the white beauty standard as well as the exotic, sexual black woman, and how she successfully juggles markers of whiteness and blackness in a way that allows her to use both simultaneously and to easily switch from one to the other without losing credibility. Thus, Minaj becomes a multicultural star who occupies a space beyond common constraints of the conventional black/white binary.

It’s conversational, that’s what people are going to do. As long as they talking [sic] about Nicki Minaj, I’m good” (qtd. in White 616). This is how rapper and singer Nicki Minaj1 responds to continuing rumors regarding whether she has had plastic surgery on her body or not. Interestingly, resolving the gossip by either verifying or denying the claims does not seem to be a central concern for her.2 Instead, her view—that people indeed talk about her is what matters—displays the importance of publicity for artists. In order to sell records one has to be in the talk. Publicity alone, however, is not enough. Artists also have to appeal to their audience, in other words, give them what they want.

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