Nicki Minaj’s hit song “Super Freaky Girl” was nominated for a GRAMMY in the category “Best Pop Solo Performance.” Minaj, seemingly unhappy with being put in the pop category, has let off a barrage of tweets about the decision.
Minaj is claiming to only care about the fairness of the song classification at the GRAMMYs, specifically citing “Big Energy” by Latto. In this regard, Minaj May have a point - it could be unfair if her record is the stand alone hip-hop record in the category.
Believe it or not, the category “best rap song” has been around for seven more years than “best pop song.” Meaning that “best rap song” is actually a more storied and established award than “best pop song.”
It’s been evident for quite some time that the Recording Academy is not the highest authority on hip-hop and if you look at the nominees for best pop song through the years, the nominations are all over the place.
Why Being Pop is Bad
There is nothing more annoying as an artist than having other people try to define your work. More annoying than that, is being at the top of your field and having critics tell you what your art is.
Nicki Minaj has every right to be mad at the Academy for imposing their ideals on her art. Hip-hop has become the largest genre on earth and now everyone from the fans to the Academy are attempting to define it.
It’d be completely unfair to Minaj if she was placed in this category to compete against the biggest pop artists in the world across all genres. This is the inherent problem with the “pop song” classification. No song is inherently a pop-song. All pop songs pull sounds and ideas from different genres.
“Truth Hurts” by Lizzo won the GRAMMY for Best Pop Solo Performance and that song borrows from hip-hop, classical music, and R&B. “Royals” by Lorde is a ballad over a slow trap beat, Ed Sheeran raps the first lines of “Shape Of You,” and both Doja Cat and Post Malone have made appearances in the pop category.
Is this the first time a true rap song by a rapper has broken into the pop category? Yes. Is this the first time that hip-hop has influenced the pop category? Absolutely not.
Why Being Pop Is Good
Minaj should see it as an honor that she’s the first rapper in GRAMMY history to break into the pop category. Although it is annoying to have other people define your work, you cannot deny the fact that “Super Freaky Girl” is a popular music sensation. It could be the best pop song of the year, but it is certainly not the best rap song of the year. If anything this gives Nicki a better shot at winning the GRAMMY.
“Super Freaky Girl” has all of the elements of a great pop song, but lacks the intangibles to make it a great rap song. It’s got a great sample and catchy chorus, but it’s made for radio and TikTok - which makes it popular.
The nomination of “Super Freaky Girl” into the pop category is an acknowledgement by the Academy that hip-hop is the most popular genre on Earth. It’s an acknowledgment that hip-hop is a part of the mainstream.
Nicki Minaj may not like this distinction, but opening the pop category to hip-hop music could be good for hip-hop as a whole. Imagine if in 2014 “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore was put into the pop category instead of the hip-hop category. That’s where Thrift Shop belonged, but in 2014 the Academy was not ready to accept that hip-hop music is popular music. The same argument could be made for “Hotline Bling” in 2017.
The line between hip-hop and pop music is blurry and thin. “Super Freaky Girl” is both a pop and rap song, so were “Super Bass” and “Starships.” Nicki has been making songs that are accessible to the mainstream for nearly a decade, in that way she’s broken ground and has led the charge in bringing rap to the forefront of American culture. This Pop nomination opens the door for rappers to crossover into pop moving forward.