More Than Just ‘Bad Blood’

Hennenfent, Jessica (2016). “More Than Just ‘Bad Blood’: Embodied Imagery in the Nicki Minaj/Taylor Swift Twitter War.” Presented at the 23rd Annual University of Georgia Women’s Studies Student Research Symposium, February 26, 2016.

Abstract: In the summer of 2015, musical artists Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift got caught up in a “Twitter War” regarding the racial politics of the music industry. The feud came after Swift was nominated for a Video Music Award for video of the year, and Minaj was snubbed. In the media coverage of the viral tweets that followed, news outlets from TMZ to The New York Times used images of the singers to accompany their written reports. Such images were indicative of larger cultural, socioeconomic, and political events of 2015, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, in which Minaj was typically portrayed through racist, stereotypical tropes. Grounded in the celebrity studies work Sean Redmond and Richard Dyer, this work explores how celebrities are not exempt from image politics and are sites in which to disentangle larger cultural and political trends. Furthermore, I draw heavily on W.J.T. Mitchell’s ideas of “offending images,” in that whatever is done to an image is somehow done to what it stands for. In merging visual theory with celebrity culture, the concept of “embodied imagery” emerges; that is, the image is the body that is proxy to the celebrity, thus bringing the celebrity “closer” to individuals and simultaneously allowing for control to be exerted over them.  In this, racist, stereotypical images of Minaj attempt to strip her of her power and reinforce larger hegemonic discourses about black women.

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