When the above quote hit my Twitter feed this morning, followed by a litany of “you tried its,” I was intrigued. As I read “The Passion of Nicki Minaj” by Vanessa Grigoriadis, I didn’t love the tone. In many passages I found Grigoriadis indifferent at best and condescending at worst, but chalked my disdain up as standard reaction to a New York Times piece and continued reading. As the piece progressed, there was obvious tension between the story Grigoriadis wanted to tell and what Nicki was interested in giving her. The tension came to a head with a turn of events that ended with a teachable moment and incredible summation by the author. In the end, I found it pretty well written.
Of course, my Twitter timeline didn’t feel that way (
SHOCKER) and emphasized the flaws in the interview and the tension between Nicki and Grigoriadis. While I agree the interview was flawed, its imperfection is the catalyst for what turns into a damned good read.
Follow me for a minute.
The tension served the story better than the actual interview because the action leads to what is quietly the article’s thesis: “…she was right to call me out. She had the mike and used it to her advantage, hitting the notes that we want stars like her to address right now, particularly those of misogyny and standing up for yourself, even if it involves standing up for yourself against another woman.”
From the beginning of the piece, it’s clear that Grigoriadis is navigating terrain she wishes only to report —not understand. She wants the juicy stuff: including putting Nicki in the middle of conflicts between the men in her life; conflicts over which she has no control. When Nicki disrupts the interview to declare “That’s disrespectful,” the article turns on its heel. In a piece about Nicki’s dominance and control, we get a demonstration of said dominance when Nicki kicks the writer out of her hotel room.
Writers are trained to show—not tell. Grigoriadis telling us about Nicki’s power was disingenuous. She attempts to obey objectivity by presenting examples of Nicki as both formidable and vulnerable, but you can tell she finds a timid girl from an abusive home who has never been without a boyfriend more believable than Nicki Minaj the Powerhouse.
The dismissal leads the writer to examine what she did wrong. Where many female pop culture writers would have used the incident to rail against Nicki’s Girl Power platform as hypocritical (or “not kind”), Grigoriadis instead gives us its most important lesson: the codes of feminism do not protect line steppers—male or female. We don’t get that lesson unless Nicki forces her to learn it in the lobby of the Trump Hotel.
“Minaj may have had a fair amount of influences over the fact that pop stars are constantly telling us they’re bosses or they’re bitches or they’re ‘boss bitches’ which seems like a contradiction, or redundant, but is said without a trace of irony,” Grigroriadis states earlier in the article. After meeting the other side of Nicki’s hotel room door, however, she is left with the conclusion “I only knew that, in that moment, she was a boss bitch.”