What Nicki Minaj Can Learn From Grammy Snub

December 7th, 2012

(Photo: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)

By Gee King

Let this be a lesson to Nicki Minaj. Gaining massive commercial success while keeping true fans and honest critics satisfied is harder than it looks. Lauryn Hill, Kanye West and OutKast stand out as some of commercial hip hop’s exceptions — talents rare enough to transcend the limits of the genre while remaining completely true to the culture and themselves. Even Jay-Z has been guilty of shamelessly chasing mainstream trends while leaving artistry in the dust. But has Nicki’s transformation from genuinely respected MC and street chick to bubblegum Barbie pop star completely annihilated her artistic credibility? This week’s Grammy nominations, and the tides of hate she’s been wading through since her monstrous 2010, suggest so.

Not to put too much stake into the Grammy committee’s opinion, but celebration of culture on a worldwide level will always be positive to some degree. Besides, her Barbies made a fuss on Twitter. But, if we’re being honest, is anything Nicki’s released in the past year even remotely close to the mastery of craft displayed by Frank Ocean or the Black Keys? Sure, even 2 Chainz got a nod, but unlike Nicki, his 2012 was highlighted by ubiquity as hip hop’s universal guilty pleasure.

Nicki got snubbed because she chased a pop-leaning universal vision that compromised art while appearing both oblivious and calculated in the management of her stardom. Her choices are her own, she clearly has a greater vision for herself, but she and her fans can’t insist the rest of us ignore her questionable evolution. The more artificial she makes her appearance, the less she can get by on giving young people a beautiful black female sex symbol to idolize. Her potential for reshaping warped American beauty standards could be powerful if properly harnessed. But for now it’s still unclear if she’s found, or is even in search of, such a purpose.

In theory, Grammys are for artists who push through artistic boundaries, not tip toe around them. Obviously, criticism doesn’t stop at the committee’s opinion, but if you want to play the game, play it right. Her music and image over the past year suggest that she wants to be Justin Bieber, not Adele. Now she’s being treated as such.

It’s frustrating to those who know that her existence is potentially revolutionary. But there’s no denying that her music has gotten more pedestrian with each wrung of success she’s climbed. She has no responsibility to be Lauryn Hill, but she can’t expect the same respect from critics and appreciators of art if she doesn’t at least try to be better than those that came before her.

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