Nicki Minaj is a rare breed of celebrity - she doesn't give a hoot what anyone else thinks.
Though she’s one of the most famous pop stars of 2015 (with more than 20 million Twitter followers and counting), she isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Unlike fellow famous folk who shy away from getting involved in controversial debates, Minaj is normally at the centre of them.
Earlier this year she famously criticised the VMAs for nominating music videos that ‘celebrate women with very slim bodies’ (read: Taylor Swift), and spoke out against the media, Miley Cyrus and anyone else who didn't get her point for their white privilege.
When black woman Sandra Bland died in police custody after allegedly being physically apprehended during a traffic stop in Texas, Minaj immediately joined the social media movement #BlackLivesMatter.
She spread awareness about the story on Instagram and in an interview, told Billboard: “I did research on the Sandra Bland case. That’s why it hit me so hard. I remember speaking to other women at the time. This could have been me. I’m a sassy woman. I may have given a little bit of attitude to a police officer. I could have never come home.”
Minaj’s apparent honesty and passion for racial equality were lauded all over social media. Her fans and #BlackLivesMatter activists praised her for getting involved with the unsexy topics of politics, death and racism. People like myself who previously hadn’t spent much time thinking about Minaj started to take her more seriously and admired her readiness to use her platform for positivity.
But this weekend all of that changed, because Minaj outed herself as a big old hypocrite.
In spite of her previous stance on inequality, she agreed to perform for an African dictator – specifically Angola’s President Jose Eduardo dos Santos who has ruled the country for 36 years. Her concert was hosted by Angola’s largest mobile phone company Unitel, which is part owned by, you guessed it, the dos Santos family.
It has been reported that Minaj earned a $2 million fee for her concert, which she accepted in spite of a huge backlash from human rights groups who pointed out that Angola suffers from endemic poverty and Mr dos Santos has been long accused of overseeing corruption and human rights abuses.
Just this year 15 Angolan activists, including a prominent rapper, were arrested during a book reading where one of the books discussed was about non-violent resistant to repressive regimes.
But Minaj clearly lacked sympathy for fellow rapper Lusty Beinao and his peers, who were charged with the crime of ‘rebellion’, because she didn’t just perform at the concert this weekend - she flaunted her appearance all over social media.
Her Instagram is full of snaps from her Angola trip, with comments such as “Angola has my heart” and a photo of her with an Angola flag wrapped around her, saying: “Reppin the flag on my back. ANGOLA I LOVE UUUUUUUUUUUUU.”
She even took a photograph with the dictator’s 45-year-old daughter Isabel dos Santos, who is Angola’s only billionaire. Minaj wrote: “Oh no big deal...she's just the 8th richest woman in the world… GIRL POWER!!!!! This motivates me soooooooooo much!!!!”
What, exactly, is it that Minaj is motivated by? Dictatorship? A woman sitting on billions of dollars while her fellow countrymen are living in endemic poverty?
Either way, her reaction to the criticism is a far cry from those of other celebrities who have also been lured in by the cash dictators can offer. Take Mariah Carey. In 2013, she accepted $1 million to perform for Mr dos Santos and in 2008 gave a concert for Libya’s Gaddafi clan in St Bart’s.
In 2010, she spoke up about the latter saying: “I was naive and unaware of who I was booked to perform for, I feel horrible and embarrassed to have participated in this mess. Going forward, this is a lesson for all artists to learn from.”
Similarly Nelly Furtado and Hilary Swank respectively apologised for being associated with dictators (Furtado gave the Gaddafi family a private concert in 2011 and Swank attended the birthday of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov) and donated their fees to charity.
In contrast, Minaj has been firmly unapologetic – she responded to the Twitter backlash with the ominous (and weirdly dictator-esque) phrase: “Every tongue that rises up against me in judgment shall be condemned” – and there has been no talk whatsoever of her donating her fee to charity.
It is hugely disappointing whenever a high-profile person accepts a morally dubious engagement like this, but the fact that it was Minaj makes it so much worse. She used to be 'one of the good ones' – her Twitter feed was so refreshingly honest it seemed like her PR team had no hold over her whatsoever and she cared enough about #BlackLivesMatter to actually research Bland’s death.
But now her hypocritical decision to perform for an Angolan dictator calls all of that into question. It starts to unravel her positive work for racial equality, and forces her fans to consider whether she was being genuine with her #BlackLivesMatter support – or whether, as one critic put it, “when those black lives happen to be in Angola, their lives matter less than a paycheck from a dictator”.
If Minaj genuinely cares about #BlackLivesMatter, she needs to start caring about all black lives – whether they’re in America or Angola. And while she’s at it, I suggest she uses this $2 million to hire herself a new agent who refuses to take bookings from dictators.