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Pop Goes the History: What's Wrong With Nazi-fied Nicki Minaj and Redface Gwen

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Rapper Nicki Minaj is taking all kinds of heat today over a music video that draws heavily on Nazi Germany imagery. The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement in which the organization's national director Abraham Foxman calls the clip "a new low for pop culture’s exploitation of Nazi symbolism."

Minaj has given a shrugging apology in a series of tweets:

The artist who made the lyric video for “Only” was influenced by a cartoon on Cartoon Network called "Metalocalypse" & Sin City.

Both the producer, & person in charge of over seeing the lyric video (one of my best friends & videographer: A. Loucas), happen to be Jewish

I didn't come up w/the concept, but I'm very sorry & take full responsibility if it has offended anyone. I'd never condone Nazism in my art.

What might be most troubling are the words "I didn't come up with the concept." No, she sure didn't. The fact that she thinks the video is based on Metalocalypse and Sin City is proof, because whoever came up with the concept was clearly invoking Leni Riefenstahl's 1935 Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will.

'Only' video by Nicki Minaj.

'Triumph of the Will,' 1935.

Nicki Minaj's song, "Only," is about herself, about how tough she is, how big her rear is, all that good stuff. The song is what it is—Minaj's brand of sexually-charged braggadocio, with backup from Drake, Chris Brown and Lil Wayne—and is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. But what the song isn't is an ode to Nazism or the Third Reich.

Nicki Minaj didn't come up with the concept, and when shown the concept didn't catch what it was, and when people pointed out to her what it was she tried to play it off. 

'Only' video by Nicki Minaj.

'Triumph of the Will,' 1935.

We can't help but recall No Doubt's "Looking Hot" video, which featured Gwen Stefani in a sexy Indian maiden costume being tied up by cowboys. When Native Americans complained that the video was an offensive trivialization of genocide, No Doubt pulled the video from YouTube and apologized, but claimed in the same statement that they had "consulted with Native American friends and Native American studies experts at the University of California." 

The circumstances are different, the music is different, the depictions are different, the artists' reactions are different, but the same question applies to both: Why? Why even go there in the first place? "Looking Hot" was not a song about cowboys and Indians any more than "Only" is a song about Nazi Germany. So why put all this time and effort into a video packed with culturally-loaded imagery that is barely, if at all, thematically related to the song? 

It's an important question because imagery matters, and context matters, and history matters. Stills from Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will are iconic, and they signify the rise of the Third Reich and Adolf Hitler. It's important that they continue to signify that, because it's important to remember what happened—what was allowed to happen—in Europe 80 years ago. If Triumph of the Will stops meaning Nazism and starts meaning Nicki Minaj—well, we're seeing history erased before our eyes. If a Native American woman tied up and surrounded by pistol-wielding non-Natives means she's "looking hot" instead of "about to be raped," we're losing history. 

"Looking Hot" was taken down soon after it was posted to the No Doubt YouTube channel, back in 2012. But it's been uploaded to the Vimeo page of The Wall Group, an agency for stylists:

Nicki Minaj's "Only" video: