Is Nicki Minaj Appropriating Chinese Culture?

Last weekend, female rapper Nicki Minaj served as the musical guest on the season finale of Saturday Night Live hosted by Tina Fey. Minaj performed one of her newest singles, "Chun-Li," and quickly came under fire after being accused of culturally appropriating Chinese culture in the performance. The conversation around cultural appropriation has occurred in multiples industries, including the fashion and music industry, but most of the discourse has focused on the appropriation of black culture by non-blacks. These non-black entities (companies, artists, singers, fashion designers etc.), employ aspects of Black culture without crediting those who produce this culture and, are praised for doing so while Black people are often shamed for existing within that culture. In this instance, Nicki Minaj, a Black woman, is accused of doing the same with Chinese culture. 

Image Credit: Instagram

Image Credit: Instagram

It all began on April 10th when Nicki reemerged on Instagram to announce that she had two new singles on the way, "Chun-Li" and "Barbie Tingz." The cover art for "Chun-Li" depicted Minaj as a martial artist. This, and the title itself, caught the attention of fans who wondered who Chun-Li was. It was reported that the rapper drew inspiration from a popular animated Chinese fighter from the Capcom Street Fighters game series of the same name. Chun-Li debuted in 1991 as one of the first female fighters in the game whose mission was to avenge the death of her father. She is a representation of female strength and a powerful advocate for justice. Though Minaj's lyrics do not align with the same call for justice, they do capture the fierce attitude of Chun-Li's character and Minaj herself has been a long time advocate for female rights, and body positivity. Chun-Li is thus a fitting character for Minaj to personify. 

Nicki's SNL performance drew on far less subtle aspects of Chinese culture. She performed in a traditional East Asian outfit and was accompanied by Asian backup dancers on a stage featuring an Asian-style pavilion. This proved problematic for some who took to Twitter to voice their critiques. One user complained that the performance was yet another example of how Asian culture was fetishized in American culture, and another was shocked that there was no uproar over the blatant appropriation. Some users came to the rapper's defense, stating that those offended were being oversensitive and that appropriation was a part of expression and art, while another used the fact that Minaj is part Asian as a reason it was not problematic.  

Cultural appropriation has continued to be a hot-topic issue in this country where white people are able to embrace the culture of minority groups and not receive the same scrutiny as those who actually exist and produce the same culture. It is white privilege that allows this phenomena to persist. There has been ample conversation on the line between cultural appropriation and appreciation, the former being exploitation and the latter being an expression rooted in admiration. Nicki’s performance and choice in title presents as more of a homage to Chinese culture, in theme with the Chun-Li character that inspired the single. If anything this situation demonstrates that the line between cultural apporpriation and appreciation is a blurry one that we as a society has not clearly defined yet.

“Chun-Li” is the first single from Nicki Minaj’s new album which comes out August 10th. You can check out her performance on Saturday Night Live below!

What do you think of the performance? Is it appropriation or appreciation? Comment Below! 

CultureZari Taylor