The New York Times Magazine: The Passion of Nicki Minaj

“The world’s biggest female rap superstar has meticulously crafted her own image — and maintained it with uncompromising control.”—The New York Times Magazine

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Pop music is dominated almost exclusively by the female star — Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga and, as always, Madonna. Engaging in a frantic, complex game — crossing over many genres to keep up with the current caldron of hip-hop, electronic music and R&B; signing sponsorship deals to make up for the lack of album sales; performing live everywhere from sheikhs’ parties to worldwide arenas — these women arethe pop business now, and they’re not feeling particularly shy about telling us that. Their primary message has become one of being the woman you actually have to be behind the scenes to succeed today: powerful, outspoken and in control.

Nicki Minaj is the world’s biggest female hip-hop star, a top pop star and the first woman to achieve success in both genres. Like Beyoncé, who performed recently in Central Park with the words ‘‘boss’’ and ‘‘hustler’’ flashing on screens behind her, along with a grainy video in which she smashed a vacuum and a sewing machine, Minaj has become expert at modeling the ways that women can wield power in the industry. But she has also drawn attention to the ways in which power can be embodied by a woman standing up for herself and speaking her own mind. Minaj’s behavior isn’t exclusive to her tracks; she also exhibits it in the national telenovela that she, like the rest of these women, to a greater or lesser degree, is running about herself, feeding the public information about her paramours, ex-paramours, peccadilloes and beefs, all of it delivered in social media’s short, sharp bursts.

Perhaps you recall the three-act revenge drama that played out on various screens last month, as Minaj faced off against two major powers: Swift, the 25-year-old golden girl who may be the richest woman in music, and who spends time wholesomely baking cookies at her TriBeCa spread with a rotating cast of B.F.F.s; and Cyrus, the ex-Disney star who, more than five years ago, was extolling the virtues of purity rings but is now America’s pre-eminent ‘‘bad girl.’’ She first recreated herself as a pornified star who wore gold grilles on her teeth and introduced the mainstream to ‘‘twerking,’’ a dance originating in black circles in the South that involves shaking your buttocks, and more recently rebranded herself a ‘‘happy hippie’’ and ‘‘genderqueer,’’ neither male nor female.

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