Pop stars are the natural born enemies of lazy bones feminism. They are easy targets, popularly anti-intellectualized, highly visible pawns/players in the capitalist mind-fuck machine that sells women back to themselves, and mostly…the easy critique of pop stardom is enough. We probably don’t need to spend too many hours trying to decipher Miley’s secret messages or investigate how often Kim Kardashian breastfeeds her child BUT…today they got my attention.

Has anyone else in NYC seen the new subway ads for the new perfume from Nicki Minaj? I haven’t smelled it yet, but since the reviews says the “top notes” are lemon, orchids, tonka beans and musk, it’s likely reminiscent of a funeral parlor. But this is irrelevant. The train that took me home last night was covered in hot pink images of Nicki Minaj with a cotton candy wig surrounded by a host of fascinating curlicue slogans…

“Enjoy your ride to the Queendom”

“You can be the king, but watch the queen conquer”

and finally

“If she believes, she will reign forever”


If I pull these together I get one story, and I like it.

It’s well known that Nicki Minaj is a staple icon in the transvestite community. She’s part of a lineage of aggressively provocative, uber-femininty that summons the masculine through strata of lip liner, eye liner, cheekbones, and glitter. So the Queendom makes sense to me as a marketing strategy. But then I remembered an article that was floating around a few months ago about Why Drag Queens Are Better Role Models Than Disney Princesses and I decided the choice to be a Queen instead of a princess (yes, I know our options are limited, but hear me out) was a respectable one.

Then today a friend sent me a link to this: Katy Perry’s new perfume “Killer Queen” and I can’t stop thinking about it. So Katy Perry is also a Queen. We kind of knew that, but I never cared much until today.

Now we recognize Katy Perry as the Queen of Hearts, and Nicki Minaj’s commercial is easily pulled from the Snow White trope of a lost girl running though the forest, but both of these new ad campaigns have certain distinctions from things like Brittany Spears’ inane Fantasy.

Neither of the new heroines are hunted or murdered by men, which is at least refreshing. And since what these women are selling is liquid (sexy) independence, power, liberty (for only $32!) complete with this ugly bottle, I find the device of The Queen to be an intelligent and interesting choice.

If you’re a (post) modern thinker, you’re working with the understanding that “gender reality is performative, which means, quite simply, that it is real only to the extent that it is performed” (Butler, 1988). Our embodied selves are composed within the limits of a small range of viable roles. Drag performance produces an ambivalent, contradictory space where the viability of the impossible can be explored. Imagine, for example, that you could wear a lot of make-up and a little bit of clothes and not be a slut. Imagine, for example, that you didn’t give a shit about purity or politeness or Prince Charming. But you love push-up bras. The reason we love the Queen, and the reason drag performance is seen by so many people with all imaginable gender identities as meaningful and liberating is because of the mockery it makes of the princess. The Queen kills the princess, because the princess kills our souls.

There is an important critique of both feminist and queer theory that suggests that the explicit analysis of gendered performances can submerse and solidify racial performativity. It can be argued that drag performance encourages racial norms as it breaks up the “illusory coherence” (Loxley, 2007) of gender identity, especially in the use and valorization of certain stereotypes over others. Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj are an interesting case study for this question. Katy Perry is as lily white as 1920’s Vogue, and Nicki Minaj had her butt surgically enlarged in order to fulfill the hip-hop/black male fantasy. I would argue that both of these women are racialized even before they are sexualized, but that their QUEENDOM is actually working to loosen those racial obligations. It is in the sphere of near-drag-queerness that Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj meet. Neither of these women make any gesture towards or claim to the “real”. They play cartoon characters, larger-than-life Barbie dolls who manage (like Barbie, with her plastic skin and sealed vagina) to be raceless and sexless. So what should we think when, in both of these new ad campaigns, the women rip off their wigs, drop the jewels, and tear up their dresses? After some poorly enacted soul searching, they reach the castle or the throne alone and unburdened. They aren’t naked or fresh faced. They aren’t bearing their souls. Katy Perry keeps her corset on. They “own it”, “work (werk) it”, and most importantly, they “believe” in their own performance. Pretending to be women pretending to be men pretending to be women, The Queen is complicated enough that she stretches our collective imagination and makes room…and that’s really all we can ask for from a stinking eau de parfum that you’ll probably get trapped underground with any day now.




~ by Vy on December 10, 2013.

One Response to “#RuleYourQueendum”

  1. Is it no accident that this was posted right on the eve of another Queen/Queer pop event? I think you might need to add #queenbey into this mix.

    A strange year for femaleness, pop music, and feminism indeed.

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