Nicki Minaj accepts the award for best female video for “Starships” at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 6.
What sings in an accent, pounds the alarm and supports Mitt Romney for president of the United States? As of two days ago, the answer to that question could have been Onika Maraj — the Trinidadian-American pop-rap sensation better known to the world as Nicki Minaj.
But why did Minaj — a celebrity more famous for her dance moves than her economic positions — suddenly enter the Washington political spotlight? The answer to that question begins with an equally apolitical source: fellow rapper Lil Wayne.
In the new mixtape Dedication 4, released by Weezy last week, Minaj contributed a guest verse to a track entitled Mercy. Therein, Minaj dropped a rhyme that appeared to endorse Romney, the Republican presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts.
“I’m a Republican voting for Mitt Romney,” she rapped. Later in the verse, Minaj went on to seemingly accuse a “lazy” Democratic audience of damaging the economy.
As USA TODAY reported, the verse “caused a frisson of speculation to fire up the pop-music blogosphere and the political world.” Indeed, both gossip blogs and Washington politicos were eager to analyze the meaning of the lyrics.
Even Barack Obama weighed in, adding a skeptical voice to the conversation.
“[Minaj] likes to play different characters,” the president told a Florida radio station. “I don’t know what’s going on there.”
In a Tuesday tweet, Minaj clarified her stance when she thanked the president for understanding the “humor and sarcasm” weaved into her now-infamous lyrics.
Though Minaj’s political stance is no longer up for debate, the impact of celebrity endorsements like hers in the upcoming election is now more controversial than ever. Both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions featured performances and speeches by stars from television, film and music. In Charlotte, Eva Longoria addressed Obama supporters in a Thursday night speech, while Kal Penn — who famously left TV’s House for a job at the White House — spoke several days earlier. In Tampa, stars like Clint Eastwood, Gavin DeGraw and Taylor Hicks lent their fame to the event.
These kinds of celebrity endorsements aren’t new, though. Back in 2007, Oprah Winfrey famously commented in a CNN interview that her support of then-candidate Obama was “probably worth more than any check.”
Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said this trend speaks to a larger shift in the contemporary political climate of America.
“There used to be a pretty sharp distinction between Hollywood and Washington, but that line has almost completely disappeared,” he told CBS News.
Though Americans enjoy perceiving themselves as immune from the sway of celebrity political gossip, voters “pay attention to what’s in the news,” West said. He emphasized that measuring the impact of celebrity endorsements on election results isn’t easy.
What do college students — some of the most avid consumers of film, television and music out there — think about the intermingling of politics and pop stars? Opinions were mixed.
Nathaniel Rubin, a sophomore philosophy major at Yale University, said that celebrities faced an additional roadblock in connecting with potential youth voters: apathy.
“It’s hard to think that [celebrities] would do much when working with already-disengaged college students,” Rubin said.
Rubin said he believes political celebrities, like popular senators, might have more influence in a campaign, but that they can be “polarizing” and tend to excite members of a party rather than sway independent voters.
Lorelei Yang, a sophomore government major at Dartmouth College, said students should look to celebrities as individuals when trying to determine their political impact. She cited Eva Longoria as a particularly effective advocate, not only because of her celebrity status, but also her personal attributes.
Longoria’s “ties to the Latin American community and previous activism” make her influential, Yang said. “If you’re Lil Wayne, very few people think your political opinions carry significant weight.”
“Eva Longoria’s involvement in community issues seems to give her a significant amount of capital” and distinguish her from other celebrity talking heads, she added.
In a paper presented at a March meeting of the Western Political Science Association, Valerie R. O’Regan, an assistant professor at California State University – Fullerton, found that “young adults are more likely to listen to individuals other than celebrities for their own political information. However, they do believe that celebrities have an effect on the way people think.”
How do you react when Hollywood stars comment on Washington politics? Let us know in the comments below.
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