Dissecting the Politically Charged Subtext of Nicki Minaj's "High School" Video

Categories: Nicki Minaj

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Last week, Nicki Minaj released the highly-anticipated music video for "High School" from her album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded--The Re-Up . The video is completely over-the-top. It's also factually inaccurate, since Nicki Minaj went to LaGuardia High School and LaGuardia High School is not the sprawling mansion of a drug kingpin complete with formal garden, hot tub, pool, and water-proof blond weaves.

If closely analyzed, Minaj's "High School" music video is both three minutes of sexually exploitative visual torture and brilliant visual literature. There's a lot going on below the surface. Let's drill down.

See also: Nicki Minaj, Summer Jam, Pop Fans, and What's "Real": A Few Thoughts

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New On The Hot 100 This Week: Taylor Swift's "Ronan," PSY's "Gangnam Style," And More

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This week's Hot 100 debuts include big names and the viral video of the year—and, surprisingly, a nearly year-old track by Beyoncé. "Dance For You" was released on the deluxe version of 4 a little less than year ago and has been on the Hot R&B Songs chart since April; for a good but nowhere near great record, it's showed remarkable staying power.

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Nicki Minaj Is Probably Not Voting For Mitt Romney

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After a year in which her rep as a legitimate rap artist has been dented by an album that split its time between dense rhymes and enormous, danceable beats, America has suddenly decided to take Nicki Minaj seriously. And all it took was her bigging up rich white dude Mitt Romney on a verse over G.O.O.D. Music's "Mercy."

"I'm a Republican, votin' for Mitt Romney/ You lazy bitches is fuckin' up the econ'my," she raps near the end of the verse, which appears on Lil Wayne's Dedication 4 mixtape. The Internet, whose geniuses often struggle with understanding rap lyrics, took her at her word: Google News has blown up with stories about the mention, with Twitter/Reddit/4chan distillery BuzzFeed among many outlets to publish a post to the effect of "Nicki Minaj is voting for Mitt Romney!" without engaging the context of the song.

That bloggers, reporters, and Twitter users would do this is unsurprising—engaging with the context of rap can be difficult!—but taking rappers at their literal word is almost always a no-no, especially when the lines take to the absurd.

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Radio Hits One: Nine Songs From 2012 That Should Have Been Huge

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The term "flop" in a musical context usually refers to an unsuccessful album. Although singles constantly perform above or below expectations, a song will rarely get a reputation as a flop unless there's a lot riding on it, such as a pre-release single from a big-name album. In 2011, Beyoncé's "Run the World (Girls)" and Lady Gaga's "Judas" failed to launch and became notorious stumbling blocks for two women who had up to that point experienced one success after another.

In 2012, no singles have fallen short of expectations in such a high-profile way, but hundreds of songs are constantly being lobbed at radio, and some great tracks get lost in the shuffle. Last year, I critiqued the singles campaigns of recent albums, suggesting how different tracks could have been released in a different order. But right now, I feel compelled to highlight some singles that simply deserved better, because by December, these songs will be long forgotten in lists that boil the year in pop down to "Somebody That I Used to Know" and "Call Me Maybe."

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100 & Single: The R&B/Hip-Hop Factor In The Music Business's Endless Slump

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Usher's Looking 4 Myself, Frank Ocean's Channel Orange, and Chris Brown's wingdinged-out Fortune.
Here are a few recent data points from chart bible Billboard and data provider Nielsen Soundscan as we move into the second half of 2012:

• In its midyear music-industry report card, Soundscan reports a return to the dismal album sales climate; year-to-date disc sales are off 3.2% from the same period in 2011. Last year saw the first annual rise in sales in nearly a decade, with albums eking out a 1.4% gain in 2011 over 2010. In the first six months of 2012, only one album sold more than a million copies, and it didn't come out this year: Adele's 21. Among the Top Five best-sellers for the year so far are a pair of stalwart acts from the 1980s: Lionel Richie, who on Tuskegee reupholstered his old hits as country songs and wound up with the year's second-best seller to date (912,000 copies); and Whitney Houston, who passed away in February, fueling sales for her 2000 disc The Greatest Hits which is now the year's fourth-best seller (818,000 copies).

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Nicki Minaj, Summer Jam, Pop Fans, And What's "Real": A Few Thoughts

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Last night on Hot 97, Nicki Minaj called in to Funkmaster Flex's show to chat about the sliced brisket that led to her peacing out of Sunday's Summer Jam. A brief recap: Hot 97 morning guy Peter Rosenberg called out "chicks waiting to sing [Minaj's poppy single] 'Starships' later," then called the song "bullshit," then noted that he was more interested in "real hip-hop shit." Lil Wayne, head of Minaj's crew Young Money, then tweeted that he'd pulled his people out of the show—including Nicki, who was set to headline; angry Tweets flew and Flex said that the station "ain't fuckin' with commercial rappers no more"; and Nas and Lauryn Hill filled in. Fast-forward to last night, when Nicki and Flex spent about an hour on the phone; audio below.

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Live: Nicki Minaj Takes Off From Summer Jam, Nas And Lauryn Hill Climb Aboard

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Jen Diaz/Hot 97
Lauryn Hill.
Hot 97 Summer Jam: Nicki Minaj, Young Jeezy, Rick Ross, J. Cole, Wale, Meek Mill, DJ Khaled, Waka Flocka, Trey Songz, Maino, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, French Montana, Mavado, Tyga, Slaughterhouse (and Nas and Lauryn Hill)
MetLife Stadium
Sunday, June 3

Better than: Seeing a Nicki Minaj concert.

In an era of increasing separation and ever-tinier attention spans, it's almost quaint to celebrate a tradition like Hot 97's Summer Jam with 60,000 of your closest friends.

Each year, Summer Jam means a sunny early afternoon heading over to the Meadowlands, the constant threat of rain during the afternoon hours, a few rap songs here and there with rappers featuring other rappers, walking into a chilly night leaving the show, and general ratchetness in the parking lot before, during, and after the concert.

Oh, and drama! Plenty of drama—which, in the years since Jay-Z vs. Nas evaporated, has turned into yawn vs. shrug.

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Radio Hits One: Dan Wilson, Linda Perry, And Other Pop Footnotes Turned Hitmakers

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Dan Wilson's hits, then (left) and now.
It's a familiar scene to anyone who's seen VH1 programs like Behind The Music or Where Are They Now?, or the channel's endless lists of 'one-hit wonders' of the '80s and '90s: a musician whose brief fling with stardom is well behind them sits at the mixing desk of a studio, while the voiceover details that they're moving into production or songwriting, to help guide new talent. It usually feels like an unconvincing cliche, like an actor saying "But what I really want to do is direct."

I thought back to those scenes when the Dixie Chicks won Song of the Year at the 2007 Grammys for "Not Ready To Make Nice," and a familiar face got to accept the award with them: Dan Wilson, who less than a decade earlier had enjoyed fleeting fame as the frontman of Semisonic. Their 1998 single "Closing Time" reached No. 11 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart (which means it would've been a top 40 hit, if Billboard had allowed songs without a physical single onto the Hot 100 at the time), but none of the band's other singles were remotely as successful. So when Semisonic broke up just one album later, it'd be reasonable to assume Wilson too would disappear; instead Wilson scored big, first with the Dixie Chicks, and then with three songs on Adele's blockbuster album 21, including the chart-topper "Someone Like You."

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Radio Hits One: Lil Wayne, Drake, Nicki Minaj, And Young Money Bring Crew Love Back To Rap Radio

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If you've listened to much urban radio lately, or even a little, you may have noticed that Lil Wayne and his Young Money Entertainment labelmates, particularly Drake and Nicki MInaj, are quite popular. You may have also noticed the same thing in 2011. And in 2010. And 2009. But perhaps nothing underscores the staggering extent of their domination of the airwaves quite like their presence on the top 100 songs of Billboard's 2011 year-end R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. No fewer than 25 songs, a full quarter of the list, feature at least one of those three Young Money stars. Wayne has the most, with 13, with Drake coming in with 11, and Minaj boasts 5. Add labelmate Tyga's appearance on Chris Brown's 2010 holdover "Deuces," and you've got 26. (I'm also counting Ace Hood's supposed solo hit "Hustle Hard," which was only ever played on the radio in the form of its remix that features Wayne, in those figures.)

The 25% Young Money market share on urban radio in 2011 is only a slight uptick from 2010, when the label held strong with 20%. And with Drake rising to prominence in early 2009 and Minaj following soon after, we've now had three consecutive years of Young Money domination, which had already been preceded by Lil Wayne's decade-long climb to becoming arguably the biggest star in hip-hop. In a way, the Young Money triad's success is nothing new; hip-hop has long thrived on crews and labels in which several popular acts stand shoulder to shoulder, from the Juice Crew to the Native Tongues. And in the modern era of corporate-minded rap, every star has his own label imprint with a roster full of loyal friends and collaborators. Mainstream hip-hop can almost be divided into eras defined by the biggest labels of the moment, the '90s cycling from Death Row to Bad Boy to No Limit. By the end of the decade, Lil Wayne had gotten his first taste of fame as part of the Cash Money Records hit factory, from which of course he later spun off Young Money as his star rose.

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How Not To Write About Female Musicians: A Handy Guide

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Maybe it's all that misguided Year of the Woman chatter that dominated year-end roundups, or the slow, agonizing creep of Fashion Week, or the coming apocalypse, but hoo boy has there been a lot of terrible writing about female musicians in the past few weeks. The latest offender is the New York Times style magazine T's cover-worthy profile of Lana Del Rey, which manages to be offensive from its first sentence and somehow gets worse from there. (There are even photos by the terminally icky Terry Richardson.) This piece inspired me to put forth four questions that writers, whether they're male or female, whether they're people with Tumblrs or those important enough to score offices at the New York Times building, should ask themselves before hitting "send" on their next piece about a woman making music.

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