Someone recently asked me how I, a respected editrix, can embrace two artists as polarizing as Nicki Minaj and Janelle Monae. I ask: Why do I have to choose? I find it funny how quick people are to crown one with a halo and one with horns. Why do we have to evangelize one and demonize the other? Seems kind of lazy to me.
Now, I’m not saying Nicki and Janelle are kindred spirits or even cut from the same cloth—they clearly have a yin yang thing going on: Saddlebacks versus stilettos. The asexual versus the bisexual. One’s from ‘round the way, the other from outer space. Janelle wears tails. Nicki shakes hers. But even with all of their obvious contradictions, it’s hard to mute their similarities.
Both have strategically branded themselves. Monae, the artist. Minaj, the temptress. Though they appear to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, both performers have built their careers around cleverly constructed characters.
Costumes and alter egos have been an integral part of both of their imaging. Nicki is the impossibly inflated Harajuku Barbie dripping in hot pink and diamonds. Janelle is the tuxedo-clad, bouffant-rocking intergalactic android, Cindy Mayweather.
Their sexuality—or rejection of it—is a vital part of their personas. While half the audience crucifies Nicki for being attracted to both boys and girls, the rest are trying to figure out if Janelle likes either. Both toy with the ideals of gender identity head on—one wearing a corset and the other a cummerbund.