Crazy Bitch Aesthetics (Pt. 2): Nicki Minaj & The Death Drop of Voguing

by on Jul.28, 2011

To trace the mutation of bitchiness from a strategy of feminist disobedience to one of queer disorientation, I offer a line from Nicki Minaj’s “Did it On ‘Em”:

“All these bitches is my sons … if I had a dick, I would pull it out and piss on ’em.”

I like how, by channeling phallic swagger as well as detaching a rubber penis from herself in live performances, Minaj castrates, cums, and gives birth:  “You’re my seed–I’ll spray you with the germinator.”  If Minaj’s name-calling and dick-strutting verges on the misogyny of typical hip-hop, it also deforms the genre’s body language from within, going so far as to parade defecation:  “Shitted on ’em.”  A messy and exuberant derailing of the classical body, Minaj’s bitchiness disorients and thrills through a sensationalism that calls to mind the ‘death drop’ of contemporary voguing.

What kind of crazy bitchiness is this?  By accelerating collapse, the death drop pushes each vogue dancer’s sashay to its self-annihilating conclusion.  This is a defiant performance of death that resonates all too compellingly through disenfranchised bodies of color.  A sensation of death that, as in Jasbir Puar’s description of the suicide bomber’s queerness, “brings forth waves of the future into the present.”

If Notley’s Disobedience does the hard work of diagnosis without prescription, of survival through sheer antagonism, today’s voguing invites death as a disorientation of identity politics.  The vogue performer’s body takes on a ballistic charge that bypasses the politics of difference reiterated (and redefined) even by the 80’s drag ball culture of Paris is Burning.  Instead, the death drop tends to undifferentiate bodies.  Its backward descent creates an affect or echo that is sensed rather than signified:  we feel, rather than fully comprehend, the death drop’s intensity in our own mortal bodies.  In the series of clips above, the counterintuitive drop shocks us repeatedly regardless of identity or context, not to mention the tedium of our necropolitical times.

Such a sensation nevertheless carries with it voguing’s particular social circumstances.  The death drop, in this sense, passes on a kind of tactile knowledge:  the phenomenon’s emergence is contingent on the categories of race, class, and gender/sexuality that the image at once transmits and defies when it delimits itself, saturating our senses.  What the death drop thus challenges is the abstraction and circumscription of bodies that takes place in even our most well-intentioned gestures.  As Notley’s poetry suggests through its own obliterative tonal force, the horizon is sacred in that it resists linearity, prediction, and knowability:  “I have defined degradation:/Your valuing of present time/above sacred time and its site/in the world’s body.”  Instead of relying on the fixations of naming, identity, and representation, any politics to come must exalt the body’s utter porosity and instability as ground…

12 comments for this entry:
  1. Danielle Pafunda

    Oh my gosh, Lucas, those death drops are stunning. Thanks for writing about them.

  2. Sirama Bajo

    A keen sifting of the various limbs of identity, of movement(s) and queering/making strange in their narrative forms. In other words – brilliant!

    Drop that shit, bitch!

  3. Johannes

    Yes, this is one of the most incredible things I’ve seen in a long time. And it adds an interesting dimension to the whole art-as-dead-women discussion from a while back.


  4. Lucas de Lima

    Glad you liked this, Bajo and Danielle!

    One thing I meant to emphasize in my post is the importance of pleasure in crazy bitch aesthetics. I love how both Nicki Minaj and the vogue dancers let sensation guide if not overwhelm their expression… that’s what makes Nicki’s flow so great (even and especially when she slanders people)… So, though someone like her obviously risks criticism from the PC police, perhaps there is a lot to be gained in her queer reordering of bodies. A gain that is political because we enjoy it.


  5. Lucas de Lima

    Johannes, yes, now that I’ve actually watched all of Twin Peaks, I want to apply what I just wrote above to David Lynch’s oeuvre.

  6. Joyelle McSweeney

    Ok first of all, this really is awezome! And second of all, it’s interesting to wonder, per our conversation about art and crime last week– is this ‘real’ violence? I think it is. I think it is a media for ‘real’ violence– the ambient violence which surrounds everyone and the more direct violence visited up on kids who are considered expendable. It’s not ‘subversive’ of that violence, either– instead it counterfeits it– uses the ‘real’ violence as a template to make more violence which goes in new as yet unmappable, spasming directions. If it weren’t ‘real’ it wouldn’t be as instrumental as it is. Per Paris-is-Burning, this is a queer category– a realness which is identical the counterfeit, the amplified, the mind blowing.

  7. Joyelle McSweeney

    I mean identical ‘to’ the counterfeit etc.

  8. Lucas de Lima

    It is definitely violence-itself a sensation-but in its context I think the death drop is also the opposite of violence: exaltation, celebration, the conviviality of bodies that absorb and channel trauma for, through, and with each other.

  9. The Conviviality of Art (and the Death Drop) - Montevidayo

    […] Lucas de Lima on Aug.01, 2011, under Uncategorized Joyelle wrote an interesting response to my post on voguing, in which she considers the death drop (otherwise known as the ‘shablam’) an act that […]

  10. Lara Glenum

    “…any politics to come must exalt the body’s utter porosity and instability as ground.” I feel awl giddy + hot just thinking about it, Lucas! Thanks for this.

  11. “Reading” Voguing’s Violent Scripture - Montevidayo

    […] it’s more so the case that voguing is light years ahead of everything.  Last summer, I wrote a couple of posts about the death drop/shablam move, in which young queers of color collapse on dancefloors […]