David Hajdu explores Nicki Minaj’s relationship to Marilyn Monroe
Nicki Minaj wants to be the Marilyn Monroe of hip-hop. So let’s just say she is. After all, being a member of Minaj’s audience is all about submitting to her will, just as inducing submission was one of the main objectives of Marilyn’s art. This Sunday was the fiftieth anniversary of Monroe’s death, and the occasion brings to mind how much Monroe and Minaj have in common as musical performers, and how different they are in important ways.
Like Marilyn Monroe, Nicki Minaj is a sex symbol for her time and a magnificently theatrical self-construction, and she has no singing voice to speak of. We will probably never know exactly how bad Minaj’s singing really is, because Autotune and other studio effects do so much of the work on her recordings. No matter: Her music is ludicrous fun, and much of its appeal lies in the coy way Minaj plays off her own amateurism as a singer. In that, she’s not far from Marilyn Monroe, either. A rare moment of unironic self-seriousness in Minaj’s music to date happens to be the song she recorded in tribute to her idol, “Marilyn Monroe.”