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Nicki Minaj beats the music industry at its own sexist game with “Anaconda”

Source Material encourages investigation into the origins of songs, albums and films. Adaptations, cover versions, sequels and remakes are open to inquiry and scrutiny, enabling us to evaluate the changing shape of an idea through various forms.

Does anyone realise how deeply embarrassing and bad “Baby Got Back” actually is? It is the kind of inappropriate, near-offensive song that white people would sing during karaoke sessions as ironic self-mockery. The 1992 “classic” has Sir Mix-A-Lot’s quintessential opening line, “I like big butts and I cannot lie”, and the rest is, well, more stuff about butts. Its music video has the rapper dressed as a dancing turd on a 50-foot yellow ass (his words, not mine), and the song remains one of the few true blunders of 90s hip hop. Fortunately, Nicki Minaj’s recent take on “Baby Got Back” has strived to redeem it. Minaj’s “Anaconda” is just as fun and wacky as “Baby Got Back”, and maybe even more so.

While “Anaconda” has been making the rounds in various areas online, its heavy sampling of “Baby Got Back” is usually mentioned in passing, or at best, asking whether Sir Mix-A-Lot liked it or not. The more interesting issues, such as why Minaj chose this particular song to sample from, is usually dismissed. But in this case, is Minaj’s reworking of “Baby Got Back” better than the original?

“Anaconda” features very heavy sampling from “Baby Got Back”, but still remains refreshing and distinctive as its own song. “Baby Got Back”’s backing beat runs throughout “Anaconda”, but with some playful shifts in tempo. The Valley Girls’ “oh my god” intro has been turned into a hook that, in her video, Minaj cheekily sings along with. The piercing 90s synth cries crescendo in “Anaconda”’s refrain, and the lyrics “Little in the middle but she got much back” and “My anaconda don’t want none…” are straight from the mouth of Sir Mix-A-Lot himself.

“Anaconda” is undoubtedly a polarising song by itself, mainly because it is a sexually provocative, nearly uncomfortable song performed by a woman of colour. The lyrics feature audacious sexual imagery mixed with some teasing word play: “Dick bigger than a tower, I ain’t talkin’ about Eiffel” and “He toss my salad like his name Romaine”. The accompanying video has a scantily-clad Minaj in ridiculously impressive ass-shaking poses and dance moves. “Anaconda” is both outstanding and raunchy; stupendous and vulgar. It possesses the sexual energy of “Baby Got Back”, but Minaj turns Sir Mix-A-Lot’s near imbecilic humour into an empowering, dazzling tool which is the very backbone of the song. With a nudge and a wink, Minaj is highly aware of “Anaconda”’s near absurdity. With her unmistakable intoxicated cackle near the end, Minaj’s sexual brand is more confronting than alluring, which just makes “Anaconda” all the more riveting.

Recently, Minaj’s hit has been vehemently popular (or unpopular) within feminist circles. With every article praising “Anaconda” for promoting body-positivity, it has been blamed for skinny-shaming too. Regardless, studying Minaj with a feminist bent seems uncanny. With its bare-faced gratuitous product placement, the video for “Anaconda” itself contains much commercial pandering. Let’s not forget that Minaj is the same artist who performed other truly commercialised, overproduced songs like EDM anthem “Starships”, the bubble-gum pop tune “Super Bass” and the inexcusable “Stupid Hoe”. “Anaconda” does mark a return to her hip hop roots, which explains the shift in the critical attention Minaj is receiving. It would be interesting to see, however, if Minaj can ever produce anything as phenomenal as her verse on Kanye West’s “Monster” from 2010.

As previously mentioned, any supposed controversy around “Anaconda” is down to Minaj’s gender. “Baby Got Back” was never taken seriously in its heyday, and even now its tasteless objectification of women is more mindless than repulsive. On the other hand, Minaj’s consensual sexual aggression places “Anaconda” as a viable entry point into feminism, a concept that is gradually becoming ingrained — but not wholly accepted — into contemporary popular culture. “Anaconda” has reclaimed “Baby Got Back” from its murky shadows of novelty rap, repurposing fat-bottomed girls as a source for female emancipation and, more significantly, a lucrative money-making product.

While on Ellen, when asked how her video for “Anaconda” had gotten so hugely popular, Minaj remarks, “I really don’t know how that happened”. Ellen coyly replies, “Yes, you do.” We side with Ellen here, of course. After all, Minaj’s apparent confusion is a front: we all know that every booty shake, every ass jiggle, every single twerk is deliberate. “Anaconda” is a careful, tightly controlled orchestration, yet the song still displays hints of Minaj’s genuine weirdness. With its tacky romps and its call for 1-900-MIXALOT, “Baby Got Back” could never successfully express any sincere message that it originally intended. “Anaconda” is simultaneously off-putting and fascinating; calculated and reckless. Its exceptional moments of audacious female-powered indulgence takes it to new heights that “Baby Got Back” could never dare dream of.

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