How I became a reformed Barb (or: how TikTok made Nicki Minaj cool again)

With a host of talented female rappers following in her wake, some suggested the icon's time was up – but a certain social media app has changed all that

TikTok is notorious for its power over the music industry. Enabling random somebodies, industry plants and grafting artists to rise to fame through a series of trends, dances and memes, it’s an instant hitmaker. Whether you’re reminiscing on a nostalgic era or just sharing some of your favourite songs, TikTok’s become the platform to do so. And it’s been amazing what Nicki Minaj fans – aka Barbs – have done for their fave on there.

Nicki Minaj emerged back in 2010, when we saw her cosied up with Young Money bosses Lil Wayne and Birdman, ready to become the next worldwide superstar. With her iconic pink and blonde hair, as well as a hyper-real plastic appearance, she became the Barbie princess in a matter of months. Then 25, Nicki always lit up ours screens, and she was wildly refreshing in a world of guys talking about money and fame.

Having conquered the world, becoming one of the bestselling female artists in the world, Nicki embarked on a well-earned hiatus in 2014. Her 2018 comeback ‘Queen’ met with a cool reception – the NME review claimed ‘Queen’ “felt like a reach” due to its lack of cohesion – and the rap world’s relationship with Nicki Minaj became pretty lukewarm too. This was also around the time when her alleged beef between Cardi B made it easier to villainize Nicki, who was branded bitter due to her lack of congratulations to newcomers on the scene. When Cardi dropped the Grammy-winning album ‘Invasion Of Privacy’, which gave us hits such as ‘She Bad’ and ‘Drip’, as well as the viral, Diamond-selling ‘Bodak Yellow’, it was super-easy to jump on the Nicki hate train.

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There’s a theory among the Barbs that this train was purposefully set on the tracks by a dastardly music industry that wanted to make room for Nicki’s imitators. Either way, TikTok has now come to her rescue – just when it seemed natural to shove your past love for the head Barbie in the bin.

TikTok is currently stuffed with nostalgic Nicki tracks that resurface as viral sounds for trends and challenges. For example, and most recently, you can’t go two minutes without seeing someone using the new viral filter called Versailles Run: you run fast in a Georgian-style dress  to 2012’s ‘Roman Holiday’ in the background. Hearing tracks like ‘I’m Legit’ reminds us of times when we’d to play it on our Blackberry Curve on the back of the bus. Thanks to TikTok, you’ve surely added a few ol’ Nicki songs you still remember every word of, even you haven’t heard them in the last seven years.

On top of that, there’s much discourse discussing Nicki’s artistry in various forms. You are constantly reminded (if you manage to stay on Barb-Tok for that long) that Nicki Minaj was and still is a versatile artist whose ability to regenerate and create a new era every couple of years for herself is reminiscent of stars like David Bowie. One user, for example, mashed up her different sounds to prove what a diverse artist she is.

First, we met the personas Harajuku Barbie and Nicki Lewinsky from Nicki Minaj’s recently re-released 2009 mixtape ‘Beam Me Up Scotty’, where we saw Nicki’s innocence and sexiness battle it out. A year later, Nicki hit the big time in her breakout ‘Pink Friday’-era with her manic eccentricity as Roman, her most famous alter ego who is British, homosexual and says all the things Nicki can’t. Her ‘Queen’ era spawned the Street Fighter-inspired Chun-Li. TikTok has reminded me that throughout all the current remodelling of what hip hop is, Nicki has been able to adapt (mostly) without relying on gimmicks.

And without my degree in Barbism from TikTok University, I would have forgotten why the 12-year-old me was in love with the abnormal artform Minaj has delivered throughout the 2010s. Saying Nicki Minaj is the Queen of Rap used to be more controversial than it needs to be, but now some die-hard Barbs even claim it’s more trendy to be a Nicki stan than it was before, due to the contrived villain persona Nicki Minaj has adopted by being pretty quiet.

Whether you insist that she can’t be the Queen of Rap because Lil Kim adopted the title first, or that some other rapper is the current head honcho, you cannot deny that the queen from Queens has single-handedly refreshed the idea of what a rapping woman is. Comfortably running the rap game from 2009 to the present day, Nicki has enthralled a fanbase of Barbs and has enticed you to the pink side once or twice.

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David Bowie performs on stage on his Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane tour
What’s the difference between Nicki Minaj’s different personas and David Bowie’s? CREDIT: Michael Putland/Getty Images

Nicki has been largely absent from music since ‘Queen’, even as an influx of female talent she helped to pave the way for – from Cardi to Latto – has hit the world, taking over our airwaves since the SoundCloud era of 2016. Some may feel that Minaj has become a has-been, but the success of her peers only proves how vital and influential she really is. The huge selection of ladies to choose from means we no longer have to rely on Nicki for some feminine heat, but we all know who the Queen is.

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