Anna Sheils-McNamee: Take Back the Power!

(Editor’s Note: Anna wrote this essay last month, so it doesn’t reflect the antics at last night’s VMAs, but it is still a very prescient piece.)

Last month, Nicki Minaj tweeted “If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year.

Taylor Swift assumed the tweet was about her and responded with; “I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot.”

A few more Twitter comments were exchanged between the two pop stars, and it ended in Swift apologising for misunderstanding Minaj.  Although the discussion was heated, both seemed to display nothing but love and support for each other throughout. 

Articles and Twitter comments flooded the internet declaring that Minaj and Swift were now at war.

Minaj’s initial comment was a stab at sparking off a discussion about racism in the music industry and the portrayal and exploitation of female body image. Skipping over this the media quickly reduced the discussion to a ‘catfight’.  What could have been an interesting debate turned into ‘Taylor Swift v Nicki Minaj row’. 

The fans quickly jumped behind this with comments like: 

“I’m baffled as to WHY @taylorswift13 felt the need to come at @NickiMinaj for speaking on behalf of unsung black female entertainers..

and

“She made the jab about skinny females. And Taylor was sticking up because it was indirectly pointed at her.

As much as the media feeds the feud, the super fans don’t do much to stop it.

Whenever problems or conflicts arise, it’s a natural reaction to take sides.  However, sides promote the idea that you have to win and in order to win you have to destroy. So why do the Swifties, the Barbiez, the media and everyone else feel the need to do this to Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj when they’re not doing it to each other?

Something similar happened two years ago when Sinead O’Connor wrote an open letter in response to Miley Cyrus declaring she was the inspiration behind her video ‘Wrecking Ball’.  O’Connor’s letter was an attempt to warn Cyrus that she was being “pimped” by the pop industry.  Cyrus responded to O’Connor’s letter by re-upping Facebook comments that O’Connor had posted when in a state of mental vulnerability.  The media ran with ‘O’Connor slams Cyrus’. 

It’s pretty easy to jump on either side here.  Cyrus, you have major influence over how young girls see themselves, take responsibility for your impact and rethink your nudity.  O’Connor, come down off your high horse, stop slut shaming the poor girl, her sexuality is hers to do with as she wants.

What’s obvious is that both parties are exposed and vulnerable. As fun as it might seem to watch two women publicly fight it out, wouldn’t it be more valuable for all parties involved if we were to support and engage with the issues raised rather than fuel the feud with comparisons and competition?

Yes, the media perpetuate the feud, but as soon as the idea of a fight is planted, the fans get behind it.  It’s understandable. We’ve all been a loyal follower of some band or artist at one point or another.

I remember the wars waged at school when Gareth Gates and Will Young were competing in the final of  Pop Idol.  I’m pretty embarrassed to admit I cried when Gareth Gates lost.  So I get it. I understand the passion that goes into loving your favourite artist.

But there’s a difference between defending someone and supporting them. Defending a person or a side encourages blind loyalty, a willingness to support your side/person no matter what they do.  Supporting however, means caring, providing encouragement and being able to take a critical view point when needed.

By swearing blind loyalty, the fans are letting the side become more important than the issue. 

The main parties that benefit from a feud are usually the publicists, record companies and whoever else making money from the brand of the artist.  Nothing breeds more media attention than a hot and spicy feud, especially if it’s between two female pop stars. 

Look at Taylor and Nicki. With a simple tweet they were able to create more publicity for the VMA’s than MTV could possibly buy.  Just to note, over the past three years Taylor Swift has reportedly feuded with Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Madonna and Kanye West, and she is currently the biggest selling pop star of 2015. It’s not bad for business.

For the first time ever the fans have the power to swing a feud however they wish.  Twenty years ago, the closest you could get to your favourite artist was to wait patiently outside the stage door for an autograph – if even that. 

Now, in 2015, by using social media we do not only have direct contact with our favourite artists – we also have access to our fellow loyal devotees.  Like a well meaning army, we can put power behind the issues and artists we deem worthy.   This is our right.  As Lady Gaga beautifully stated; “Thanks for buying my record — I will live and die and breath my work and my art to protect your dreams. Because you protect mine.'”

Somewhere in all this, we want Minaj and Swift to fight, maybe we want them to express what we’re not allowed to.  However, wouldn’t it be more exciting if we opened up the debate that Minaj intended?  Why aren’t black women in the music industry recognised and celebrated in the same way that their white counter parts are?  Wouldn’t that be a better discussion?

Let’s use our Twitter weapon to challenge each other and our artists.  Lets battle with the issue and not each other – use our power to create interesting, informed discussion. We don’t have to be slaves to a monstrous media machine.

(pic via)

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