Nicki Minaj is apparently taking a break from Twitter. The rapper, who has more than 22 million followers on the platform and is known to joke and argue with them almost every day, has been unusually quiet for the past week. The last entry in their feed is from September 15th –a retweet from a fanPart of the post was: “When are people going to find out that NICKI MINAJ is NOT being shoved into a fucking corner?”
It all started two days earlier, on the night of the Met Gala, when she tweeted that she was not vaccinated against COVID-19 and would not attend the event. “If I get vaccinated, I don’t [be] for the mead “, She wrote. “It will be as soon as I feel I’ve done enough research.” In a confusing series of follow-up tweets, she said She recommended that people get vaccinated if they need to for work. And … well … she said Her cousin in Trinidad had a friend who became impotent after being vaccinated. “His testicles are swollen. His boyfriend was still weeks away from the marriage, now the girl has canceled the wedding, ”she explained. (Minaj later claimed that she skipped the Met Gala not because of her vaccination status, but because she had to look after her young son – although many people have speculated that her absence was really related to her and her husband’s current legal issues. )
This was the first time a celebrity had voiced a strange and clearly incorrect medical opinion. Was just a joke! Was just a joke! Was just a joke! But the cousin’s friend’s supposedly swollen testicles instantly turned into a meme and a late-night bit; Anthony Fauci took the time to debunk claims that COVID-19 vaccines cause impotence, and even the Trinidad and Tobago government was forced to step in and say there was no record of anyone having one Introduced vaccine side effect. Minaj suddenly found himself and began as the new protagonist in the ongoing vaccine wars accuse the media lying about them. After Tucker Carlson applauded her on Fox News, she did divided Part of the segment with a bull’s eye emoji and then yelled down Twitter critics for calling him a “white racist”.
At the same time, Minaj’s mostly young, very online fans – known as Barbz, after her alter ego Harajuku Barbie – saw themselves called upon to defend them. While fandom isn’t about idolizing a celebrity enough to believe everything they say, “Who do you stand for?” is a question of identity and worldview. A Nicki Minaj stan who believes in the science and benefits of vaccines is now committed to finding a way to acknowledge or accept Minaj’s reservations about vaccines. On Twitter you could see how fans experienced these personal, internal conflicts. And some political actors on the right seemed to see the unfolding events as something more: an opportunity for them to control the power of Stan culture.
Carlson isn’t a natural ally of a New York celebrity with millions of Millennial and Gen-Z fans, but he seemed tickled by the idea that the Barbz might undermine the Biden government’s vaccine boost. In a conversation with the right-wing extremist Candace Owens, he certified that he knew about Minaj close to “zero”, but praised her as a self-made success and “wild”. Owens also complimented Minaj, saying, “She shows her fans in real time what we’ve been saying for a long time: that there are people who control what you can say and what you can’t say. ”
That was exactly the twist that Barbz Minaj’s words had already given. She only asked questions and exercised her freedom of expression, they argued on Twitter, and she never, ever said she was an anti-vaxxer. The Barbz has started with the hashtag #IStandWithNicki express further assistance, and promised that they would not allow it to be “suppressed” or “silenced”. (Within the fandom there was a Mini game In response to the backlash, if you were really a Barb, would you have to? clear up that you “stand” with Nicki?)
Some of Minaj’s fans tried to lead her to better information, or shared personal stories about their positive experiences with the vaccines. But mostly they took over their rhetoric and started looking for evidence that the vaccines were more dangerous than they previously knew. They were annoyed with censorship and Pressure to “comply” with the demands of the government. “I hope this situation opens everyone’s eyes to the fact that THERE IS AN AGENDA,” wrote one fan in a tweet that went viral. “The government wants to push the vaccine as far as possible and anyone who gets in the way is being censored. Nicki Minaj didn’t downplay the vaccine’s effectiveness, just asked questions. Open your eyes. ”This tweet expectedly attracted supportive responses from anti-Vaxxers and conspiracy theorists who allegedly came from outside the Nicki Minaj fandom seemed to see it as a recruiting opportunity, while other powerful fandoms quickly stepped in and pointed out the worst opportunities. According to one Taylor Swift fan account, Minaj is “a couple of tweets away from turning Barbz into an alt-right organization.”
This is nowhere near the first time a fandom has gotten involved in a political struggle. Last summer, for example, groups of pop music fans – led by BTS’s massive fan base – became media darlings and police and white racists because of their enthusiasm for pranks on Donald Trump and during the Black Lives Matter protests. (They were also briefly keen to team up with the famous hacktivist collective Anonymous.) These fans were hailed by the left for using tactics largely developed by internet trolls – spamming their enemies, promoting trending hashtags to coordinate privately in order to manipulate something public.
But these tactics can be used to get essentially any message out there. And now we’re beginning to see signs that the right has realized how valuable Stans could be. Just days before the Met Gala controversy, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education – a nonprofit focused on freedom of expression issues on college campuses and funded by right-wing heavyweights like the Charles Koch Institute – released an open letter to Harvard in defense of a Nicki Minaj fan. The fan had tweeted a screenshot of an email from the university asking him to remove a flag hanging in the common room window of his dormitory that featured Minaj in a blue bikini, greeting the Stars and Stripes. “While everyone at Harvard may not be a Barb, everyone at Harvard has the right to freedom of expression,” wrote a foundation official.
Anyone who would try to harness the Barbz’s power probably doesn’t know what they’re really getting into. The Barbz have a reputation for being one of the biggest, and sometimes meanest, online fandoms. In 2018, they molested a music blogger so viciously – some fans sent death threats, including photos of the writer’s little daughter – that it was reported The New York Times. Like the personality-changing rapper, fandom has many faces. Its members can be ridiculous self-righteous, but they can also be playful and self-deprecating, and often make winking comments about the number of times Minaj calls them up to fight on their behalf. They mostly hated Trump, and many of them spent the 2020 Democratic primary tweeting #BarbzforBernie. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’re kidding – what should you think of that? Car that carries, a sticker on the rear window that reinterprets the “Back the Blue” logo in pink, with the inscription Back the Barbz?
The Barbz are certainly competitive and defensive, and perhaps some of them could become right-wing reactionaries. But her defense of Minaj’s rhetoric isn’t really about politics. It’s about their mutual affinities and their sense of self. “I think we’re now seeing more of a political agenda behind fan actions that may not be political in and of itself,” says Lori Morimoto, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia who studies fan culture. “When [a] Fame is attacked, it can feel personal in a very real way. ”Right-wing commentators can hope that the Barbz are in the midst of a lasting ideological change. But really, they’re still mainly here to stand.
It won’t be long before the Barbz move on to their next fight – which will almost certainly have little to do with vaccines and even less with Tucker Carlson.