Super Bass Misses the Point

I think most people who are in tune with popular culture have, at some point, looked at Nicki Minaj and thought, “what the hell?” while either squinting or shaking their head, as if either action would make the hip-hop songstress’ tactics and image make sense. It doesn’t. Nowhere is this more clear than in the video for the song “Super Bass.” All the “reviews” of the video that I’ve read focus on how smokin’ hot Minaj and her gang of cohorts is. But what is the video trying to tell us? According to Minaj, “ ‘Super Bass’ is about the boy that you are crushing over… and you kind of want to get your mack on, but you’re taking the playful approach.” Okay, playful. “Pleasantly humourous or jesting.” Got it. I rewatched the video. Nope, it still doesn’t make sense.

Why are you humping an ice motorcycle?!

Why are you pouring Pepto-Bismal on your boobs?!

Why are you in a glow in the dark strip club?

I used to think that when people  reveal their bodies in the media, or in real life, it was an expression of their personal rights. Nothing could change that. Not film studies, not feminist teachings, not statistics showing the effect it has on women’s own self-image. Then I saw the video for “Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj and… maybe, just maybe, my opinion is changing. That’s not to say that Nicki’s just objectifying women in the video for “Super Bass.” There’s definitely a higher-than-normal concentration of mostly-naked men in the video. Both sexes are objectified in the video, through the use of isolating body parts in various shots, “clones” of similarly dressed (or undressed) people, and how the actors treat each other.

The gallery below shows selected shots and a commentary on how the video for “Super Bass”. You can also click the images to enlarge them.

There are three main scenes in the video for “Super Bass” – the first scene objectifies the female dancers in the video, through the use of look-alike clones and the arrangement of the shots in a way that emphasizes (and sexualizes) body parts… the repetition of which turns these body parts into objects in the viewers minds. The second scene does the same thing to the male actors in the video. In the final scene, the actors try to establish dominance over the other… without a clear dominant actor being established. Aesthetically, the video is fun and poppy, everything that a song about someone you have a crush on should be. But the subject matter doesn’t add anything to my understanding of the piece. Instead, the video degrades both men and women… and frankly, limits my enjoyment of the song.

– Jenna Marynowski

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There are 5 comments

  1. erictbehr

    This is a fantastic article. Reminds me of Laura Mulvey’s work on scopophilia, and in particular her theories regarding the presentation of the female figure in film as a dissected object. It’s always easier to objectify a fraction rather than the whole.

    Interesting that that phenomenon now includes the male figure. I wonder if that is a triumph for feminism in that it puts men and women on equal grounds, or if it is just more proof that western society is becoming exponentially more obsessed with sex.

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  2. beckysm

    I agree with Eric- great work! Regarding his question of whether the music video is a triumph for feminism- no, it’s not. Feminism is not about subjecting men to the same harmful objectification as women. It’s more about getting all people, regardless of gender, to regard each other as humans and not as objects. So this video definitely fails in that regard.

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  3. jennamarynowski

    Hey Eric and Becky,

    Thanks for the complements. About three years ago, I took a film studies class where we learned about Laura Mulvey’s feminist theories of film analysis… Eric is right, her work definitely influenced the analysis I did of this article.

    My contribution to the feminist discussion is that, while I agree with Becky about the goal of feminism, and that showing both men and women in various states of undress isn’t a triumph for feminism, I think it might be better than the alternative of subjecting just one gender to objectification. I would have to agree with your second suggestion, Eric, that the portrayal of men and women in the video is a reflection of our increasing obsession with beautiful people and their bodies in a sexual context.

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  4. fede

    take a look at greek sculture or roman painting if you wanna see some “obsession with beautiful people and their bodies in a sexual context”. There’s nothing new about that.
    And I must say again: the men and women in that video are in no way “unrealistic”. Just because you, or the people you know or sleep with, don’t have that kind of body doesn’t mean they do not exist or they are not real! that’s absurd (and a bit ignorant).

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  5. jennamarynowski

    Hey there Fede,

    Thanks for the comments. I don’t believe it’s absolutely impossible to have the bodies that the actors in the video for “Super Bass” do, if they have the motivation and time (which I would doubt that the “entrepreneur” Minaj mentions in the song does). However, I would question whether the actors look exactly the way they do in the real world compared with how they are portrayed in the video (I’m not knowledgeable enough about video editing to know whether the people in the video have been airbrushed).

    I do think, however, that by presenting these sculpted bodies repeatedly this video is presenting an “idealized” body type as the norm… which clearly it’s not, as we don’t see an abundance of people with these types of bodies in our everyday lives. Additionally, when the lyrical context of the song (Minaj singing about how this man is “the kinda dude I was looking for”) is combined with the imagery of this video, it’s suggesting that to be worthy of Minaj’s attention – perhaps even all women, if you agree that by cloning herself, Minaj is suggesting that she is the “norm”, this is the prototype for how a man has to look.

    The images that are presented in popular culture have a huge influence on our lives and our perception of beauty. I just think that one’s physicality doesn’t make someone an “ideal man” and think that this should be expressed more often in popular culture.

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