Yesterday I came home to the news that Lily Allen had put out a video for her new single Hard Out Here, and that apparently the internet had a lot of feelings about it. Before I’d even made it to the chorus she’d mentioned the glass ceiling and something akin to grumble-grumble-not-in-the-kitchen, so I knew it was only a matter of time before the white feminist mafia began falling over themselves to out-liberal one another by talking about how incisive and right-on it was. There are lots of reasons why the song’s lyrical content and video qualifies Lily to become our latest Weekly Wanker; check it out for yourself above and get your (theoretically) weekly dose of floral malice below.
Can we start with the chorus? The ‘it’s hard out here for a bitch’ refrain will no doubt go unnoticed by the same white feminists who took Beyoncé to task over her use of the word ‘bitch’ on Bow Down. But something else about it bothers me, too. It’s surely a play on It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp, the Three 6 Mafia classic, no? Which, like, whatever, but consider the stills below:
In them, Lily very much adopts the pimp persona. She stands in front of a Rolls Royce in a fur coat and makes it rain on her dancers. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek, and we’re obviously supposed to marvel at the uninspired pastiche (what some have hailed as ‘scathing pop culture commentary‘). But appropriating the aesthetics that pimp rap was founded on while denigrating it with a wry holier-than-thou smile leaves me with nothing but a sour taste in my mouth.
Then there’s the line ‘I won’t be bragging about my cars, or talking about my chains/I don’t need to shake my arse for you cos I’ve got a brain’. Aside from the fact that implying that people who shake their arse for a living (or for fun) don’t have brains is on some high school shit, there’s an insidious racial aspect to it. Lily joins Macklemore and Lorde in the arena of white artists in 2013 who’ve written songs that denounce and/or parody materialism in hip-hop as though they have any right to. I touched on this before in a previous post:
“Anyone who flirts with communism is of course aware that owning more things and having more money doesn’t make you a better person. But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate a good ‘I’m rich as fuck’ bar in a rap song! If you’re white like me you also wanna consider the implications of condemning materialism in hip-hop. Our ancestors considered black people their property and denied them agency in all walks of life – socially, politically and economically. Boasts about Bugattis and Audemars are so common in rap because black folks accumulating mass wealth under white supremacist capitalism is a subversive act. That’s why it’s particularly dangerous when white rappers like Macklemore are lauded for having written a song that, even jokingly, criticises consumerism (nobody cares that you shop at Goodwill instead of Gucci bro).”
Like, there are legitimate historical reasons as to why lots of rap music (but not all, duh) revels in opulent wealth. Ignoring that so you can get on your soapbox about consumerism and conspicuous consumption is hella short-sighted and implies that people of colour haven’t had to overcome centuries of racial oppression just to enjoy the freedoms that white people have always had. Gimme goofy, endlessly loveable 2 Chainz snarling ‘BOUGHT A NEW CRIB JUST TO FUCK YOU IN‘ over Hard Out Here’s bratty puritanical shite any day.
“But it’s a parody!” I hear you cry. With the video’s silver LILY ALLEN HAS A BAGGY PUSSY balloons and the ‘have you thought about your butt, who’s gonna tear it in two’ lyric (a reference to a line in T.I.’s guest verse), Hard Out Here is obviously firing more than a few shots at Blurred Lines, the Robin Thicke behemoth that made number 1 in the US 12 weeks straight and caught a whole lot of flack for its questionable framing of consent and for its even more questionable video. There’s also a couple of subtler digs at Miley Cyrus – a dancer suggestively licks a Beats Pill speaker (á la Wrecking Ball) and there’s the use of her (mostly black) back-up dancers as accessories, reminiscent of Miley’s similar transgressions at this year’s VMAs and in her We Can’t Stop video.
But here’s the thing: if the only way you can parody music videos where black women are used as props is by using black women as props, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Citing metatextuality or irony does not mean Lily can disregard the power dynamics that allow white women to throw black women under the bus in the name of feminism. As @Jodelka summarised on twitter: “hiring half naked black dancers bc you foolishly think you’re celebrating that culture = 1 thing… hiring half naked black dancers to illustrate your contempt for that culture = another”.
And finally, it feels like a lot of the choreography explicitly mirrors (and thus derides) Rihanna’s Pour It Up video. Just like Rihanna, Lily acts as ringleader amongst her troupe of dancers, who bend and writhe in startlingly familiar positions. But where Lily’s dancers are filmed through a malevolent lens, Rihanna’s were filmed through a benevolent one. In The Hairpin’s recent roundtable on the Pour It Up video, Sarah Nicole Prickett wrote: “I feel like Rihanna has solidarity. I felt like she had a basic respect for bitches who get their own. It wasn’t look at them; it was look at us.” Susan Elizabeth Shepherd agreed, adding: “Rihanna aligning herself with the strippers instead of the customers is a pretty powerful image.” Lily offers her dancers no such solidarity – as viewers we are invited to leer and sneer along with Lily as she casts a judgemental eye over the women she’s showering with cash.
So on the one hand we have Pour It Up, where the dancers were able to exhibit their athleticism without catering to or titillating the male gaze and came out looking like boss bitches (seriously, read this Fader interview and watch the ‘Making Of’ video). And on the other hand we have Hard Out Here, filled with voyeuristic shots of the dancers twerking (did someone say #zeitgeist?) while a Generic Old White Dude gives pointers. If Lily wanted to do satire correctly, she could have made him the object of ridicule – the archetypal sleazy director eager to exploit young women – but she didn’t. It’s instead the black women in the video who are made a mockery of.
Lily’s Hard Out Here video comes just months after she told Hello! magazine that her new album would be “empowering – there’s some feminist vibes going on“. It feels a lot like when Kate Nash decided her new marketing ploy was to be totes all about feminism, which would be an admirable feat if she hadn’t been simultaneously writing songs like ‘I’m a Feminist, You’re Still a Whore’ and trotting about in a bindi. Lily and Kate’s feminisms are one and the same – self-centred and white-centric. On Hard Out Here, Lily can’t resist engaging in I’m Not Like Other Girls fuckery and disguising misogynoir as wink-wink satire. Hardly surprising though, when following a Twitter argument with Azealia Banks, she tweeted a photo of her husband’s cock blacked up to look like a golliwog. I wish I was fucking kidding. Is it any surprise that women of colour are turning their backs on feminism when this is the best we have to offer them?
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OK, maybe it wasn’t funny enough or she didn’t slam it all on its head by having twenty Japanese businessmen in bikinis slut dropping in the video but overall well done to Lily Allen for sending out the right message. This article suggests that white musicians can’t critique hip hop’s materialism because of slavery. So is it OK for a white musician to critique hip hop for its inherent sexism and homophobia? I’m not sure. The first paragraph states that the feminists will be falling over themselves to out liberal each other which I found ironic given Allen’s song is later criticed for not being sensitive enough to slavery. I haven’t watched the Rhianna video cited but being the mega stripper out of a bunch of other strippers doesn’t sound very empowering. After all Allen didn’t create the culture, she is just commenting on it.
I’m going to reply to this comment not because it makes a valid point that warrants engaging with, but because people should see the extent of the “women are stupid for listening to rap music” accusations that white fuckboys will go to. The message Lily’s video sends out is that black women are not a priority in her feminism, and the fact that men like you thought it “sent out the right message” is enough of an indictment against it. If that’s the conclusion you draw from watching that video, then you and men like you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near feminism.
Nope, white people aren’t allowed to critique materialism in hip-hop because we are the ones responsible for black people’s CONTINUED (racism didn’t end with slavery, pal) oppression. PSA for all anti-capitalists who sneer at other people’s attachment to material goods: your critique of capitalism has failed if you can’t empathise with the people who it ensnares most. Verónica Bayetti Flores put it well in her Feministing article on Lorde’s Royals: “While I love a good critique of wealth accumulation and inequity, this song is not one; in fact, it is deeply racist. Because we all know who she’s thinking when we’re talking gold teeth, Cristal and Maybachs. So why shit on black folks? Why shit on rappers? Why aren’t we critiquing wealth by taking hits at golf or polo or Central Park East? Why not take to task the bankers and old-money folks who actually have a hand in perpetuating and increasing wealth inequality? I’m gonna take a guess: racism. I don’t have to explain why wealth operates differently among folks who’ve grown up struggling because this shit has been explained already: If you grew up with holes in your zapatos you’d celebrate the minute you was having dough.” In an article for Noisey on Lily’s video, Ayesha A. Siddiqi further elaborates on the double standard that’s at play when people disproportionately criticise hip-hop: “it’s the myopia of latent racism that’s more anxious about gold chains on a rapper than an Armani tie on a hedge fund analyst.”
Rap music is not “inherently” sexist and homophobic, but you know what is? Heteronormative patriarchy, which we live in and which trickles down into every aspect of society. Only a racist would try to scapegoat rap as the source and cause of sexism and homophobia.
No, I said white feminists – the assorted white women on the liberal left who, as predicted, fell over themselves to praise Lily for her uninspired and racist pastiche. I’d say you should have bothered reading my post correctly, but you’re A Man With A Point To Prove so why would you have?
Frankly, the disdainful way you say ‘being the mega stripper out of a bunch of strippers’ only illustrates your contempt for sex workers, and that’s not very feminist either. As a white man who clearly likes the sound of his own voice, I very much doubt you’d find the Pour It Up video empowering, because the video is explicitly not made for you. That’s why it’s so special to me and to so many women, particularly to WOC exotic dancers who are rarely afforded such a positive portrayal in music videos. The type of women featured in Rihanna’s video receive the brunt of the classim, racism and sexism ingrained in the bullshit that is respectability politics, and that comes through when people use words like “trashy” and “ratchet” pejoratively towards black women who strip to rap music. But in Pour It Up, the dancers are nether patronised nor judged. They aren’t made out to be vulnerable, defenceless victims who need to be saved or protected, but nor are they made out to be two-dimensional bit-players who’re only there to cater to and titillate the male gaze
Look at the way the camera observes the dancers in either video. Where Hard Out Here leers and sneers at its dancers (talk about having your cake and eating it too, Lily), Pour It Up celebrates its dancers. And though there’s nothing wrong with ~just~ shaking your arse (even if Lily seems to think so), they go beyond that – their gravity-defying moves show off their strength and agility, skills that people often take for granted in exotic dancers. Floor work and pole work like that is hard and takes intense focus, stamina and muscle.
Also, the video features NO MEN, which is probably why you’re having a tantrum over your inability to grasp why it’s empowering. When women are hired to dance in music videos they are nearly always subjected to a male gaze – on and off-screen. So the removal of men from the video (even the money has Rihanna’s face on it instead of some old white dude’s) and from behind the camera (it was directed solely by Rihanna after a disagreement with her male co-director) is pretty alien and revolutionary. From shooting her abuser in Man Down to refusing to acknowledge men’s existence at all in Pour It Up, Rihanna stays checking for women – a solidarity that Lily has never extended to those less privileged than her. As the Pour It Up video proves, there is a way to utilise the skills of black dancers without it being appropriative, exploitative or a downright minstrel show. Lily failed to achieve that.
‘I Man With A Point to Prove’
‘Likes the sound of his own voice’
I hope you extend your courtesies to all of your readers like this but there’re not very many so let’s not worry about it.
The reason for your response was, to show the extent of “you are a stupid woman for listening to rap music” accusations that white fuckboys will go to. I’m not sure how you came to that conclusion from my previous post but akin to the majority of your thought process it takes 1 + 1 and comes up with Z. Your baseless assumptions about my background, race and points of view are also quite amusing – similar to what I expect from a serious writer.
The word racism has been bandied about by you and your, I’m sure, reliable sources but Allen using black dancers is not racist. It just isn’t. When the NWA use black dancers in their videos is it racist? Exploitative, yes. Racist, no. Why? Because they are black so race cannot possibly be an issue, right? If another black artist were to highlight the objectification of women in those same rap videos I just mentioned in an ironic way would it be racist? Nope. So when a white artist does it it automatically becomes racist? I just don’t buy that. As they say, ‘don’t hate the player, hate the game’.
She used those dancers because they are used in rap videos. She was parodying rap videos. The point is she doesn’t agree with it. She didn’t pick black dancers to denigrate a race. The dancers were in on the whole thing. This video was clearly a light-hearted satirical take of the objectification of women. The emphasis on the women’s dancing was done for a purpose – it highlights how preposterous it all really is.
If a white person punches a black person is it racist? Possibly but it might just be that black person was being a dick.
The point of white people not being able to critique materialism in hip-hop is ridiculous. When I make it big on the hip-hop scene and start making it rain from my Lamborghini Mercy whilst in chinchilla attire I expect people to call me a dick regardless of my age, privileges, sex or skin colour.
As an aside, I love rap music. Rap music is great as long as you get the joke. It can be violent, sexist homophobic and just damn wrong but sometimes those beats are just too good.
Having now watched the Rihanna video, I went for the explicit version by the way, it’s hard to believe we were watching the same thing. I’m no prude but it was plain to see that materialism and the use of women as sexual objects were prevalent. There was also booty bouncing. This time in water – so this time the booty bounce made splashes. Also, when Rhianna sang “All I see is dollar signs” she was thrusting her you know what right at me. In that video there was so sign of empowerment or feminist enlightenment. At least Allen was trying to have a joke.
Regardless of our differences, thank you for your history lessons on slavery and the evolution of modern day hip-hop.
1) I didn’t make “baseless assumptions” about your gender or race. Try not leaving an email with your full name ;)
2) “I hope you extend your courtesies to all of your readers like this but there’re not very many so let’s not worry about it” – nah, only to the roasters who think that masquerading their racism as “I’m just trying to be your feminist ally” is some grand revolutionary POV. and as for the dig about our readers: LOL! count those mf-ing numbers. but yes, if our readership is made up of obnoxious white men like you, then alienating them with articles like this isn’t such a bad thing
3) “Allen using black dancers is not racist. It just isn’t. When the NWA use black dancers in their videos is it racist? Exploitative, yes. Racist, no. Why? Because they are black so race cannot possibly be an issue, right? If another black artist were to highlight the objectification of women in those same rap videos I just mentioned in an ironic way would it be racist?”
the NWA comparison shows you have literally no understanding of power dynamics, or about how, yes, whether it’s a black person or a white person doing something (for example saying the n-word or making a parody of hip-hop videos) is very significant in how it reinforces those power dynamics. you seem to think my issue with the video is Lily using black dancers at all, which just isn’t the case. like I said in my previous comment, there are ways to utilise the skills of black dancers without reducing them to objects of ridicule, and neither Lily or Miley have accomplished that. Lily, as an outsider to the hip-hop world she’s trying to critique (a white outsider at that), has no right to waltz in and decide she’s going to wave her magic white girl wand and fix all the problems with rap music (which, just to clarify, are by no means no more insidious than those found in any other genre of music). black women (who are the primary recipients of sexism in rap music, so their opinions are paramount) have been talking about those problems for years, dealing with them in ways that are far superior to your conservative-dad-on-the-PTA-board shtick
4) “When I make it big on the hip-hop scene and start making it rain from my Lamborghini Mercy whilst in chinchilla attire I expect people to call me a dick” – again, the assumption that rap music which revels in material objects is inherently a bad thing??? when I listen to rap songs about getting money I smile, because I can identify with it (though obviously not to the same extent since I am a person who has benefited from white privilege). anyone who is working-class or who grew up poorer than their peers knows how it feels to have sharp pangs of longing for things your parents could never afford, or how it feels to be ashamed because you have to go to school in a uniform that visibly doesn’t fit you any more. owning things DOES make you feel better about yourself, which is obviously a flawed method of self-care, but it works. to echo your own ‘don’t hate the player, hate the game’: blame capitalism for instilling that mentality in people and not the people who use it to survive. yours is the same warped logic as that of feminists who think you can’t be one of them if you want to get cosmetic surgery – it completely ignores the material conditions of those who suffer most under white supremacist capitalism or patriarchal beauty standards
5) “As an aside, I love rap music. Rap music is great as long as you get the joke. It can be violent, sexist homophobic and just damn wrong but sometimes those beats are just too good.”
You could literally replace the word ‘rap’ in that sentence with any of the following: rock, indie, techno, pop, metal, country. Try dealing with the oppressive nature of those genres before you shit all over those that belong to black people, as if Actual Racists haven’t been running that tired point into the ground for 40 years. think about what and who you’re legitimising when you make rap out to be more of an issue than any other genre.
6) “Having now watched the Rihanna video, I went for the explicit version by the way, it’s hard to believe we were watching the same thing.”
again, maybe as a white man it’s a shock to the system when something isn’t made with you in mind? you don’t have to be so indignant about the fact that you just don’t get it. when I have hundreds of women of colour and sex workers saying the video is empowering and one white guy telling me it isn’t, who do you think I’m going to believe?
I’m disappointed that what could have been an interesting discussion has been ruined. There are many women who would agree with the comment that you are replying to and I don’t think that you would have responded to them in such a rude and condescending way, “clearly likes the sound of his own voice,” “tantrum,” “white fuckboys” etc. are not really in keeping with the tone of the first message. It is also unfortunate that you felt your own argument couldn’t stand up on its own without deriding the author you are responding to. I also found it unfortunate that you have essentially called the original author racist, they most certainly did not scapegoat rap nor deny the pressure of heteronormative patriarchy. It’s hard to deny that some rap music doesn’t put female listeners (whether they’re black or white) in a difficult position. It’s all very well listening to this kind of music with an informed or intellectual point of view and seeing the fun of it but I’m concerned about what young people think when they listen and how this effects their view of the world.
The Lorde article to which you refer has caused it’s own batch of controversy, of which I’m sure you are aware, it’s divisive to say the least. Personally, the argument’s not entirely convincing. The music that the younger generation is listening to is important and it’s essential that they know there is an alternative to the messages they receive from the media and in school everyday. The children listening to these songs are not as fortunate as us and are not aware of the layers of discussion and debate surrounding these songs. It would be nice if they were, but it’s just not the case for the majority, so anything that says cheaper, non-brand clothes are nothing to be ashamed of is not the anti-christ.
“Men like you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near feminism” is the line I find most distasteful in your entire diatribe. What on earth are you talking about? Men should be openly invited to discuss and join the feminist dialogue and not excluded. It’s comments like this that make men and, more importantly, other women feel like feminism is exclusive and about ‘hating men,’ which it most certainly isn’t for me, but if that’s your bag I guess that’s cool.
P.s cool GIF, bro.
I’m disappointed that you think tone-policing me is going to make me feel like I’m in the wrong or like it devalues the arguments I’ve made. I 100% defend my right to get mouthy with white guys who expect me to spoon-fed them through the nuances of intersectional feminism, all the while parroting the exact same racist rhetoric that intersectionality is supposed to be about combating.
“It’s all very well listening to this kind of music with an informed or intellectual point of view and seeing the fun of it but I’m concerned about what young people think when they listen and how this effects their view of the world.” Newsflash: there are sexist undertones in all genres of music, because all music is created within a patriarchy! You can’t complain that I’m falsely accusing you of scapegoating rap music when you use damning sentences like that without acknowledging that misogyny is not unique to or exceptionally worse in rap music. If you’re gonna educate young people about sexism in rap music but not about, for instance, the cult of the misunderstood genius (rough translation: abusive man) in rock music? Then all you’re teaching them is racism.
“The music that the younger generation is listening to is important and it’s essential that they know there is an alternative to the messages they receive from the media and in school everyday.” Hmm, think about the messages black people receive from the media and in school every day about their self-worth: slang gets banned in South London schools, which is a direct attack on the way BME youth choose to express themselves (AAVE is similarly demonised in the US). Jordan Davis was shot by an old white man because he hated the “thug music” he was playing. You’re playing directly into the hands of racist murderers like Michael Dunn when you insist rap music is indefensible and morally reprehensible.
“cheaper, non-brand clothes are nothing to be ashamed of” is easier to swallow when you haven’t been made to wear cheap, non-brand clothes because of poverty. Which, guess what, lots of the black rappers you’re currently putting on blast had to do growing up, because their families were economically disadvantaged by institutional racism. Macklemore can rap about thrift shops if he likes, but to frame himself as a positive alternative to ~product-obsessed~ ~hyper-consuemrist~ rap is racist. You can quit freaking out about me calling you and your pal racist if youse are gonna go to these lengths to defend music that implicitly facilitates white supremacy. You know what’s worse than being called a racist? Being somebody on the receiving end of racism (this is really basic stuff btw I can’t believe I’m having to bring it up just to counter your pish)
As for refusing to believe that the Lorde song is racist, imma break it down for you, and for all the other white people who’ve got in touch with me over the last few days because they can’t handle the fact that a song they think is catchy has dodgy connotations. she’s a 16 year old girl, I get it. I don’t think she’s the “antichrist” but I also don’t think that because she’s young or because she meant well that she should be absolved of taking responsibility for what is a racially insensitive song. I’ve seen people reference the interview where she insist its a takedown of Hollywood culture and not hip-hop, but her word choice implies otherwise, and as anyone who’s sat Oppressive Behaviour 101 knows: impact trumps intent. sure, any old rich bastard has “jet planes” and “islands”, but lots of the things she calls out are unmistakably and intrinsically part of hip-hop culture. after all, what’s some “gold teeth” and a “tiger on a gold leash” if not time-honoured rap tropes?
You might find my “diatribe” (taking that as a compliment btw) “distasteful”, but you know what I find distasteful? privileged white men propping up oppressive strains of feminism (in this case white feminism) and thinking they’re being super progressive – they are dangerous to the movement. The only thing worse than the shameless white feminism of the Hard Out Here video? Men who lend voices of support to said shameless white feminism. A feminism where Lily Allen’s video can go unscrutinised is not a positive alternative to patriarchy. I don’t water down my feminism to appeal to the sensibilities of misogynists and racists, but if that’s your bag I guess that’s cool.
ps if you think I hate men because I was mean to someone who enables racist anti-rap rhetoric, then you’re the one giving feminism a bad look.
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I think there probably is a valid critique of materialism in hip-hop, which is a relatively new phenomenon as far as I can tell and one that seems to correspond with hip hop culture becoming more mainstream, gaining greater appeal with white audiences, etc. I think it may be valid to ask if the contemporary fixation on wealth in rap music is genuinely representative of black culture, or whether it represents a *caricature* of black culture that’s useful for lining the pockets of A&R men and white music execs and appeals to negative stereotypes of black people held by their white listeners. I don’t know if that’s the case (I’m basically making this up as I go along) and I accept the point that making money and openly flaunting it is (or can be) for black artists a subversive act in a society which systematically oppresses people of colour. But hip hop didn’t start out doing that and I think it’s fair to ask whether it’s really a progressive development.
ON THE OTHER HAND, I think it’s extremely important to ask *whose* place is it to ask those questions? *Whose* place is it to make that critique? It’s one thing for Gift of Gab to bemoan the preponderance of six-four impala references in hip hop, it’s quite another thing for me – a white middle-class fucknut from the Western Isles – to do so, (please ignore the fact that I’ve just contradicted myself by suggesting said critique above, btw. um…). For a white, middle-class (shit) singer-songwriter from a privileged upbringing like Lily Allen (or the other fucker – never heard of him) to do so publicly is even worse. I think a lot of white people have a kind of white-blind spot (spurious colour-blindness?) on issues like this – they think that if a point’s valid (and stressing the “if” here) it shouldn’t matter who makes it. And in a certain respect they’re right: it *shouldn’t* matter. But when it comes to critiquing black culture within a society so strongly sculpted by white-supremacist ideology and systems of white skin privilege, the fact remains: it DOES matter who makes it. Those critiques have to come from within the culture. Sanctimonious hectoring by members of the “master race” just won’t do.
Also I appreciate your analysis of the Rihanna video, btw, which rather challenged my assumptions about it. I have to admit to seeing it for the first time and thinking it was pretty crass and exploitative (“basically soft porn, probably to make up for the mediocrity of the track” was my initial reaction). Your take on it has forced me to view it differently and I’m grateful for that. I suspect that it’s probably indicative of my own male blindspot/privilege/eye-view that when I see a group of female dancers on screen, in revealing dress, I automatically assume it’s for all my benefit. So i appreciate having the bubble burst.
Still thought it was a shit track though.
Hi. I wonder if you could point me to which previous post contains the quote RE white artists condemning materialism in Hip-Hop. I couldn’t find a link to it above and looking through the archives it isn’t immediately obvious where this post is. I have been writing rap verses on and off for a few months now as a natural extension of my poetry writing. Up to now one of my motivations in my writing has been an anti-materialist bent. But events in the music industry this year and this post have made it abundantly clear that I need to rethink my entire approach to that issue. I would be very grateful if you could direct me to that post as it sounds fascinating and important.
It was my previous post before this one, about Nicki Minaj.