As you've probably heard, Nicki Minaj has recently released her new album, "Queen." Featured on this album is her single "Chun-Li," which was released in April. While I love Nicki and have a great deal of respect for her, "Chun-Li" left me feeling unsettled and confused from the moment I saw the title. It seemed like it would be too easy for Nicki to fall into the trap of cultural appropriation, and soon enough, she did.
I'd like to note that my intent is not to hold a grudge or stretch an issue that happened months ago, but with the recent release of Nicki's new album, I couldn't help but think about "Chun-Li" again. What bothers me now is not the actual act of appropriation, but the seemingly minimal reaction to it. I heard nothing about the people who stereotyped East Asian culture, wearing conical hats or chopsticks in their hair, and sometimes went as far as pulling at the corners of their eyes to make the "slant-eye" gesture while participating in the "Chun-Li Challenge." Nicki even reposted one of these videos on her Instagram.
I heard nothing about the imagery in the music video once it came out, which presented an amalgamation and fetishization of Asian cultures as well as multiple stereotypes. The most attention given to the issue was the outrage over Nicki's SNL performance, and even that seemed to come and go quickly.
I've tried to figure out why these issues seemed to be addressed so minimally. Other cases of cultural appropriation have been called out and criticized with no mercy: the Kardashians are often under fire for appropriating African-American culture, and there are endless complaints about girls wearing headdresses and bindis at Coachella. When Keziah Daum, a teenager in Utah, wore a Chinese qipao to her prom, Twitter instantly blew up over it. Nicki Minaj, however, has drawn much less criticism for doing much more than wearing a traditional dress. Why are we suddenly so silent when we see Nicki Minaj appropriating East Asian culture? Could it be because she, herself, is part of a minority group? Is it just because she's Nicki Minaj?
Many jumped to defend Nicki against the criticism of her performance on SNL. I've seen people argue that she is actually part Asian (her father is half Indian, which isn't part of any of the cultures that were appropriated), or that Chun-Li is just a video game character, and that it's not that serious. Many more have claimed that the appropriation is actually an appreciation of East Asian cultures. I've even seen some arguments using the model minority myth, implying that Nicki Minaj cannot do anything remotely racist or offensive against Asian-Americans.
There are endless excuses to be made, but none of them change anything. Nicki Minaj shouldn't have been able to get away with cultural appropriation as easily as she did. Because she is so well-known and influential, I expected Nicki to face much more criticism and outrage. Instead, her fame served to spread and encourage stereotypes of East Asian culture.