Nicki Minaj’s Anti-Vax Tweets Are Even Worse Than You Think

Don’t be fooled—the rapper’s behaviour this week is less about vaccine hesitancy and more about distracting from her legal woes.


Stacy Lee Kong

Sep 17 2021

13 mins read


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Content warning: This newsletter contains references to sexual violence.

How many times did you see the words ‘Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend’s testicles’ this week? Like, 100? Because same, and let’s just be clear: that was 100 times too many. Not only because I don’t have the time or inclination to think about a stranger’s swollen testicles (sorry), but also because the more we laughed about these likely-made-up genitals, the less we were paying attention to Minaj’s actual reasons for behaving the way she did on Twitter this week. So… guess what we’re going to talk about today.


How did we get here?

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this entire performance—because yes, I do think Minaj’s actions were very deliberate—started on Sept. 9 with a now-deleted tweet about her rumoured VMAs performance. “I just pulled out,” she said in a Twitter conversation with a fan. “I’ll explain why another day. But I love those guys at MTV. thank you Bruce. I love you so much. Next year we there baby.”

But she wasn’t the only one to pull out of the VMAs (Lorde also dropped out over “a change in production elements,” according to the VMA Twitter account), so unless you were one of Minaj's Barbz, the nickname for her legion of famously chaotic fans, you probably didn’t pay that much attention. Or at least, I didn’t. But then came the tweets to end all tweets. On Monday, Minaj revealed she wouldn’t be at the Met Gala because of its vaccine requirements. “They want you to get vaccinated for the Met,” she wrote. “If I get vaccinated it won’t for the Met. It’ll be once I feel I’ve done enough research. I’m working on that now. In the meantime my loves, be safe. Wear the mask with 2 strings that grips your head & face. Not that loose one.”

She spent about 20 minutes quote tweeting supportive fans (and mocking the people who read a tweet about vaccine hesitancy from a mega celebrity with millions of Twitter followers as at least anti-vax adjacent, which is exactly what it was) before dropping… this: “My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision, not bullied.”


Twitter exploded, obviously.


Minaj spent Tuesday feuding with, well, everyone. She accused USA Today, The Daily Beast, and Yahoo! News of misquoting her, told Meghan McCain to “eat shit,” pulled out her best British accent to mock U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and argued with Piers Morgan about whether they’d ever met before. (As an aside, I resent the fact that she's made me agree with these people, even temporarily.) She also called CNN journalist Joy-Ann Reid an Uncle Tomiana (🧐) for criticizing her, before resurfacing homophobic blog posts that Reid published between 2007 and 2009.  

On Wednesday, Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Health, Terrence Deyalsingh, gave a press conference where he acknowledged Minaj’s claim—and bluntly debunked it, saying, “We unfortunately wasted so much time yesterday running down this false claim. As far as we know, at this point in time, there has been no such reported either side effect or adverse effect… As we stand now, there is absolutely no reported such side effect or adverse event of testicular swelling in Trinidad or anywhere. None that we know of anywhere else in the world.” Then another public health expert, George Washington University prof and emergency room physician Dr. Leana Wen, told People that while there’s no evidence of a link between any COVID vaccine and infertility, COVID itself has been linked to “scrotal discomfort and low sperm count.”


For those of us who are from Trinidad, this was all extremely embarrassing. But it was about to get much worse.


It didn't take long for the far-right pundits and QAnon followers to speak up

Also on Wednesday, noted white nationalist Tucker Carlson defended Minaj on Fox News, accusing Democrats of bullying the rapper and offering to go to Trinidad to interview the cousin’s friend, or the ex-fiancée for that matter. (Forever reminder, Fox News hosts might push an anti-vaccine agenda, but more than 90% of Fox staffers are vaccinated, and the few who aren’t must take daily COVID tests in order to go to work.) Minaj posted a clip of the show with a bull’s eye emoji. From there, it didn’t take long for QAnon followers to adopt her as their new celebrity fave.


Still, somehow, on Wednesday, she tweeted that she’d been invited to the White House. She said she was going, dressed in pink like Elle Woods, to “ask questions on behalf of the ppl who have been made fun of for simply being human.” (That's not what she was being criticized for, for the record.) The White House clarified that actually, they’d offered to connect her to a doctor who could answer her questions.  

Finally, she went Live on Instagram to… I’m not even sure. Defend herself? Yell into the void? Entertain her stans? Whatever her goal, she spent that time doubling down on her vaccine skepticism—all the while insisting that she’s just “asking questions,” a classic anti-vax rhetorical technique—not to mention claiming she was “suspended from Twitter” (this does not seem to be true) and insisting that Trinidad does not have Instagram, so she needs to be a voice for Trinis (this is definitely not true, and also condescending). Most disturbingly, though, she talked about being silenced, wondered if there was “something bigger” to the criticism she received and even implied she was rethinking her previous dismissal of conspiracy theories.

Sound familiar? As you might have guessed, there’s a strong link between anti-vaxxers and far-right politics and, even more relevant here, rappers and far-right politics. Kanye West famously supported Donald Trump until it no longer served him to do so, and a disappointing number of his peers threw their support behind Ye’s favourite megalomaniac just before last year’s U.S. presidential election—likely for purely mercenary reasons, which GQ’s senior associate editor Frazier Tharpe pointed out at the time. “As depressing as it might be to see a hero like [Lil Wayne] cozying up to Trump in the homestretch, it’s hardly a real shock. After all, as Trump himself is quick to point out, his name has often been invoked as a shorthand for wealth and success,” Tharpe wrote. “That the deciding factor for many rappers to voice or in some cases even lend their support to him comes down to money makes sense… despite their community ties and anti-establishment lyrics, most contemporary rappers are, at the end of the day, just wealthy entertainers.”

Minaj's motives have nothing to do with COVID

This is important to remember now, because Minaj’s reasons for ‘just asking questions’ aren’t as pure as she’d like to pretend.

ICYMI, Minaj's husband, Kenneth “Zoo” Petty was convicted of attempted rape in the first degree in 1995, which means for the rest of his life, he’ll be required to register as a sex offender whenever he moves to a new state. He did not do that when he moved to L.A. to be with Minaj, so last March, he was indicted. As we learned recently, he did not respond by apologizing for letting this task fall to the bottom of his to-do list and then immediately registering as a sex offender, which you’d think would be the logical response. Instead, Petty and Minaj began pressuring Petty’s victim, Jennifer Hough, to recant her testimony.


According to the New York Times, reporting on a lawsuit filed by Hough in August 2021, “Ms. Minaj called Ms. Hough [at one point last year], saying that she had heard Ms. Hough was willing to ‘help out’; days later… Ms. Hough and her family members received an ‘onslaught of harassing calls and unsolicited visits’ from people she believed to be associated with the couple.” The lawsuit also says an intermediary offered Hough a $20,000 bribe, and that she “has not worked since May of 2020 due to severe depression, paranoia, constant moving, harassment and threats from the defendants and their associates. She is currently living in isolation out of fear of retaliation.”

Now, the lawsuit was filed a month ago, but Petty and Minaj weren’t actually served with a summons until this week (their address is not public, so Hough’s lawyer had to find them first). This is 100% speculation, but it seems likely that if you were trying to avoid being served, you might avoid public places like awards shows and galas. But, if a lawyer did happen to track you down and you wanted to distract from your family’s legal issues—including the fact that your husband actually plead guilty to those charges of failing to register as a sex offender this month and now faces “a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a lifetime of supervised release,” according to People—perhaps you go off on social media for days at a time, ensuring that most of the news coverage you receive revolves around your cousin’s friend’s testicles, and not the fact that your husband raped a fellow teenager at knife point in 1994, then went home and took a nap.  


But even if she doesn’t believe what she’s saying, it’s still deeply irresponsible

So yeah, I don't know if I believe that she's actually an anti-vaxxer—but COVID was definitely not the primary reason for her behaviour this week. Not that her stance on vaccination matters, of course. Whether she believes the things she implied about vaccine safety or not, she exposed her massive platform of easily swayed stans to misinformation. The fact is, the vaccines that have been approved for use in Canada and the U.S. have been thoroughly tested—and even now that they're being used in the real world, serious side effects are rare. What's more, when people choose not to get vaccinated, it gives the virus a chance to mutate, and that's how we get variants. There are already serious barriers to vaccination that our governments need to dismantle; the last thing we need is an influential celebrity giving credence to conspiracy theories and stoking people's fears. And the fact that she did so for selfish reasons makes it even worse for me.

The thing is… none of us should even be surprised by this. As I wrote last March, Minaj became my feminist hero when she famously used pickle juice to explain why she shouldn’t be called a bitch for being assertive, saying, “I put quality in what I do... So, if I turn up to a photo shoot and you got a $50 clothes budget and some sliced pickles on a motherfuckin’ board, you know what? No. I am gonna leave. Is that wrong? Wanting more for myself? Wanting people to treat me with respect? You know what? Next time, they know better. But had I accepted the pickle juice, I would be drinking pickle juice right now.”


But in the years since then, she’s consistently shown that she’s far more concerned with protecting her own interests and those of her loved ones than working for the greater good. Sometimes that’s doing something professionally odious, like collaborating with 6ix9ine, a convicted sex offender. Sometimes it’s even more disturbing. When her brother, Jelani Maraj, was arrested for raping his then 11-year-old stepdaughter, Minaj didn’t publicly address the case, but she did post an emotional Instagram tribute that many took as a sign of support. When he went to jail, she paid his $100,000 bail, using two of her homes as collateral. And while she wasn’t in court in 2020 when he was sentenced to 25 years to life for his crimes, his lawyer did read a letter she wrote in 2016 that described him as “most patient, gentle, genuine, giving selfless man I know.”


Last year, I wrote that it was unfair to make Minaj responsible for Petty's actions, but that we can—and should—hold her accountable for her own. I think that's even more true now, and we can start by actually seeing what she's doing.


And Did You Hear About…

Hannah Giorgis’ brilliant Atlantic cover story on the history of Black American television… and how much hasn’t changed since the earliest days of TV.


This fascinating, disturbing feature on “Men’s Rights Asians.”


LuLaRich, Amazon’s documentary about leggings MLM LuLaRoe. Also: what got left out of LuLaRich. (A lot.)


The guy who stood up a Dallas radio host, then left her increasingly unhinged voicemails, which she’s been posting on TikTok. She’s up to 12 parts—and his mom got in on the game, too.


Vanity Fair’s deep dive into Dolce & Gabbana’s lawsuit against popular IG account Diet Prada.

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