Throughout her career, Nicki Minaj has used Asian culture to amplify her artistic endeavors and her personal aesthetic. The release of her Steven Klein-directed video “Chun-Li” and the Giovanni Bianco-directed visual for “Barbie Tingz” are no different. The vibrant music videos elicited several different responses from music fans and critics alike in regards to her Asian-inspired imagery. In past interviews, the musician explained her interest and infatuation with Oriental culture. However, many people continue to hurl cultural appropriation accusations her way.
“It’s been nothing short of disheartening to see Nicki continue to present a reductive version of Japanese culture, which she’s been accused of in the past, too,” wrote Teen Vogue writer David Yi in response to the “Chun Li” video. Adversely, Ira Madison III of The Daily Beast argues that while Minaj’s fetishization is at times side-eye worthy, it’s possible that it’s more so a form of appreciation, not appropriation.
“Of course, Minaj’s misstep is a far cry from other rappers who fetishize Asian culture sexually—like Drake (“let the lights dim sum”), or Kendrick Lamar calling himself Kung Fu Kenny, or Donald Glover joking about dating Asian women on his albums,” he writes. “It ultimately comes down to treating other cultures with reverence and respect, rather than reducing them to a hollow pop-cultural ‘aesthetic.’”
Despite the controversies that seem to embroil Minaj and her love of the culture, “Chun Li” wouldn’t be the first instance of the importance of Asia in her life or music. Aside from getting a tattoo in Chinese which translates to "God be with you" and dubbing herself the "Harajuku Barbie" early on in her career, she’s also released countless videos inspired by Asian-based art and films. It’s clear that the admiration runs deep. Here are five times Nicki Minaj’s music videos were inspired by Asian culture.
In the visual for one of her first solo singles, “Your Love” appears to be Memoirs Of A Geisha inspired, and tells the tale of two samurais-in-training fighting for their sensei’s affection. Inspiration from the Japanese and Chinese cultures are seen throughout the visual.
Royal blue silk cloths surround Nicki, who wears a geisha’s outfit, at many points in the video. Silk is one of China’s main imports, and according to Chinese legend, the material was found in 2460 B.C. by the “goddess of silk” Xi Ling Shi. Geishas are entertainers whose earliest appearances in Japanese culture date back to the 18th century, when they served as assistants to high-class Japanese courtesans known as oiran. Traditionally, geishas were men, but by the 1800s, women took over the art form.
“Check it Out”
The track, which was assisted by rapper/producer will.i.am and samples The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star,” was originally supposed to act as a tribute to Japanese anime.
“We’re doing almost like an ode to Japanese culture and Japanese anime,” she told Rap-Up in 2010. “I’m obviously a big fan and I’ve joined forces with like the only boy that I know that’s also able to capture that culture.”
Despite her wishes of a Japanese homage, the official video ended up featuring Korean elements instead. Mochimag points out that Korean subtitles are used throughout the video, not Japanese ones. The soundstage MC, who introduces Nicki Minaj and will.i.am. in the beginning of the video, is also heard speaking Korean before the song begins, not Japanese.
The Pink Friday chart-topper infuses elements of pop, rap and J-pop, which is evident throughout the song. A characteristic of J-pop is bubblegum-coated sweetness, and it can be classified as “cutesy” music.
The video itself is as vibrant and candy-colored as many J-pop videos, such as “Furisodation” and “Mottai Night Land” by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Of course, Nicki keeps her signature sex appeal intact throughout “Super Bass.”
Until “Anaconda,” “Super Bass” was Minaj’s highest-charting single on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 3 in 2011. Ironically enough, it peaked at just number 89 on Japan’s charts. Her highest-charting single there is “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” a Madonna song that she was featured on with M.I.A.
“The Night Is Still Young”
The Hannah Lux Davis- directed video for The Pinkprint track features several nods to Asian culture, as Nicki, former flame Meek Mill, and her friends enjoy a night on the town. From the choreography in the beginning featuring Anjali Mudra hands (common to practitioners of Japanese Buddhism) to the eye-popping pastel settings, there’s something for everyone here.
Peep the civilians enjoying fine cuisine with their chopsticks at the beginning of the visual, and acknowledge the paper lanterns and fans inside Minaj’s humble abode, which mirrors Japanese architectural elements.
Named after the Street Fighter II character, the recently released video features several references to Asian culture, such as logogram subtitles, a gong sound ringing out at the video’s start, anime-style special effects and cultural accessories like headpieces and chopsticks.
According to StrategyWiki, Chun-Li is the only female fighter in the second installment of the Street Fighter video game series, which was developed by Japanese developer Capcom. Chun-Li is reportedly the first woman to be used in a mainstream fighting series, and she is well-known for her Spinning Bird Kick. Her first appearance in the game was in 1991, and some may say that J.Reid’s production on the track of the same name pays homage to producers from the 90’s.