Everything is wrong with Vanessa Grigoriadis’s interview and profile of Nicki Minaj

On Wednesday, media outlets started reporting about Nicki Minaj “shutting down” and “walking out” of an interview with Vanessa Grigoriadis for the New York Times Magazine. In the article, Minaj is on record calling Grigoriadis “rude” and “disrespectful” for speaking to her as if she was “stupid” or “beneath her.”  A thorough reading of Grigoriadis’s subsequent write up proves that the writer deserved it — and then some.

There are so many problems with the tone and language of this piece that it’s hard to focus on just one aspect of it, instead I’ll be addressing several of my major concerns: her problematic framing of the Minaj/Swift/Cyrus beef, her lackadaisical engagement with feminism, and her trivializing of Nicki Minaj’s personal experiences.

It is worth stating upfront that, fundamentally, Grigoriadis seemed indifferent to Minaj and her career. Perhaps it was the stuffy jargon characteristic of such a genteel publication, but reading her profile of Minaj, I certainly didn’t get the feeling that Grigoriadis was enthused about profiling the woman who has broken barriers in multiple music industries. Her piece was full of subtle jabs that I will address. If Grigoriadis’s prose is any reflection of her mood throughout the in-person interview, I understand why Nicki Minaj would be put off.

On the beef between Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, and Miley Cyrus

Grigoriadis incorrectly frames the beef between Minaj, Miley Cyrus, and Taylor Swift. For those living under a rock: this hear Minaj called out MTV for overlooking her video in favor of ones that were more respectable; Taylor took the criticism as a personal jab and used female solidarity as a tool to silence and invalidate Nicki’s concern; a week later, Miley called Nicki impolite and mean. Rather than acknowledging Minaj’s mistreatment, Grigoriadis grazed over it, indirectly following in the footsteps of other media outlets that suggested that Nicki is just an angry black woman. That made the profile emotionally hard to read. In reducing the events to a “three-act revenge drama,” she dismissed Nicki’s very real concerns about Black women and their bodies being overused and undervalued in the entertainment industry. Reporting for her largely affluent white male readership:

And you can imagine these women in their cars when the nominations for MTV’s Video Music Awards, which long ago stopped judging musical quality and moved on to assessing the size of empires, were announced earlier this summer. The list did not include a nod in the top award category for Minaj’s wild video for ‘‘Anaconda,’’ a song that samples Sir Mix-a-Lot’s ‘‘Baby Got Back,’’ from 1992. The video features Minaj flipping the script to be the baby who has back, refusing to let her co-star, Drake, touch her buttocks and, somewhat frighteningly (for men) cutting up a banana that’s a clear metaphor for the snake in their pants.

You can picture Minaj in her Maybach as she considered this particular affront and then used it to make a larger point.

Here’s the thing: if you’re going to talk about Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” video being snubbed for an award, please talk about why it was indeed an “affront” and not simply a matter of MTV powers’ personal tastes. “Anaconda”  broke Vevo’s 24 hour streaming record, and the internet, both of which matter in the context of today’s music industry. That is, indeed, an affront. And to add insult to injury, Grigoriadis mentioned Beyoncé’s nomination (for “7/11”) to suggest that Black women had indeed been represented. As if the slender bodies in Beyoncé’s video were an adequate substitute for those in Minaj’s.

But Grigoriadis isn’t one to pay attention to such details. For example, she says this when oozing about Taylor 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” The quickest of Google searches (all you have to type the names and ‘net’ for the Google to predict the results) shows Beyoncé’s projected individual net worth is double that of Swift’s. Furthermore, Swift is mentioned in juxtaposition to Minaj who, despite being acknowledged by Grigoriadis for her success and diverse audiences, is no such golden girl.

On music industry feminism

Grigoriadis tries to go feminist on the reader — but in doing so, fails to understand Minaj’s politics, illustrating Grigoriadis’s cluelessness. One obvious example of this being her attempt at classifying the use of the word “bitch” by today’s female musicians:

“‘Bitch,’’ in music, used to be an insult, a sneer, and it still can be. But female empowerment is a trend, and the word has been reclaimed — by Minaj, in many a track; by Rihanna, in ‘‘Bitch Better Have My Money’’; and triumphantly by Madonna, in her recent track ‘‘Bitch, I’m Madonna.’’ This is good for business and either good for women or not good for women at all.”

Never mind the fact that in BBHMM, “bitch” is actually not used as a feminist reclamation at all. Her slick comment about what the word “bitch” does for “women” (I’d implore her further to ask, which women?) is a coy way of projecting skepticism onto contemporary feminist understandings of autonomy. It reeks of a finger-wagging, kids-these-days shaming, that pervades the interview. At one point she described one of Nicki Minaj’s outfits as “a nude mesh Alexander Wang dress that the most party-hearty 19-year-old would choose only as a beach cover-up” and later references Minaj’s “The Night is Still Young” video as having the following aim: “pretending she’s a Barbie; glorifying women dressed as prostitutes  and set in red-light-district windows.” For the record, there is no dress code for sex workers and Minaj’s dancers were in a storefront window with pink and blue lights and television sets behind them because, they were pretending to be living dolls. Can’t say I’m surprised since this is also the writer who didn’t bother to notice and/or respect the orthography of ‘bell hooks’ – which I expected given her attention to feminism at other places in the article.

On Minaj’s responses, life experiences, and affiliations

Nicki Minaj was dead on when she called Grigoriadis out and cut the interview short. Grigoriadis used her position and the prestige of being a journalist (or a reader) of New York Times Magazine to patronize and belittle Minaj. When Nicki Minaj refused to answer questions about topics that had nothing to do with her, like the beef between Birdman and Lil Wayne, Grigoriadis condescendingly concluded that “interviews in the social media era are about being adored not interrogated.” This statement was only slightly less offensive than her suggestion that it’s “difficult to reconcile” Nicki Minaj’s childhood stories of witnessing abuse and drug use with “with the recent announcement that she’s developing a show about her youth for ABC Family.” Has Grigoriadis seen the ABC Family lineup? Its most popular show, Pretty Little Liars, is about 5 high school girls being stalked and attacked by an anonymous psychopath with plenty of drug use. Later, Grigoriadis justifies asking Minaj whether she thrives on “drama” on the writer’s high brow tastes–which, she is sure, the singer couldn’t understand:

As soon as I said the words, I wished I could dissolve them on my tongue. In pop-culture idiom, ‘‘drama’’ is the province of Real Housewives with nothing better to do than stick their noses where they don’t belong. I was more interested in a different kind of drama — the kind worthy of an HBO series, in which your labelmate is releasing endless dis tracks against your boyfriend and your mentor is suing your label president for a king’s ransom.

Because the drama of Girls is certainly sophisticated. (And she spelled ‘diss’ wrong).

This interview honestly made my blood boil because it reflected the micro (and macro) aggressions that Black women often experience from white people. They come in the form of innocently worded but accusatory questions from colleagues, passive aggressive “suggestions” from superiors, VMA snubs, sly comments from interviewers, and shade from affluent folks who want to know all the details of our culture and but trivialize our existence. But like this article, it reveals racism, classism, and sexism. People like Vanessa Grigoriadis get to slack on their research, look down their noses at Black women, and make problematic statements while our warranted responses are considered violent and misguided. It is unacceptable and unwelcome–especially in Nicki Minaj’s hotel room.


Feministing's resident "sexpert", Sesali is a published writer and professional shit talker. She is a queer Black girl, fat girl, and trainer. She was the former Training Director at the United States Student Association and later a member of the Youth Organizing team at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She received her bachelors in Women's and Gender Studies from Depaul University in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. A self identified "trap" feminist, and trained with a reproductive justice background, her interests include the intersections of feminism and: pop culture, youth culture, social media, hip hop, girlhood, sexuality, race, gender, and Beyonce. Sesali joined the team in 2010 as one of the winners of our So You Think You Can Blog contest.

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