A “big ass” is a subjective thing. In 2001, Beyoncé suggested that America may not be “ready for [her] jelly,” a declaration that made those of us with double-digit pant sizes rejoice and laugh (Bey, girl, you tiny). “Bootylicious” is a phrase I’ve used in my own life when in need of a playful reference to my own size, but it’s been 13 years since the Destiny’s Child hit and J.Lo’s ass were reference points for the “curvy” euphemism. Now we’re living in a world where sex symbols are regularly accused of getting butt implants. It’s time for a new big-booty anthem, preferably another from a woman. Enter Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda.”
For the last few weeks, Minaj has been teasing the single with its cover art: stone-cold glare over her shoulder, perfect squat pose, little pink G-string, and most importantly, dat ass. People lost their shit over the photo, a point Minaj effectively dismantled on her Instagram account by posting photo after photo of thin white swimsuit models wearing thongs with the caption “ACCEPTABLE.” Another day, another controversy over Nicki’s ass.
“Anaconda” is out now, and it’s a song truly worthy of its moment in the zeitgeist. Atop a generous “Baby Got Back” sample, Minaj details her love story with a boy-toy named Troy from Detroit, who “likes something he can grab” and the fact that she “don’t miss meals.” This ‘no bony chicks for his bone’ business sounds like typical Sir Mix-a-Lot fare, until Nicki builds into a rant of sorts. Laughing like she’s high on her own greatness, Minaj starts searching for answers: “Where my fat-ass big bitches in the club?” Variations on that theme follow, but the idea is clear: Nicki loves herself enough for the haters, but she also has a duty to her big-booty ladies. Show yourself, she demands.
Like the “Bootylicious” crew, Nicki has no dog in this fight, sexually speaking. She’s never hidden her appetite for men, so “Anaconda” is ostensibly song for the ample-assed sisterhood, not a song about her own sexual preferences. Minaj details Troy’s love of dat ass, so the male gaze does play a role in the song, but unlike the bulk of other big-butt anthems, the male suitor’s attraction is not necessarily the point here — Nicki’s call to arms ass is. There’s a reason why this is an important distinction, and it has to do with my earlier point: a “big ass” is subjective.
Many plus-size women have identified with “Baby Got Back,” or Major Lazer’s “Bubble Butt,” or LL Cool J’s “Big Ole Butt.” And Sir-Mix-a-Lot still feels the need to point out that he’s not talking about big girls — he’s referring to “Shakira or J.Lo at her peak… a 22-inch waist with 35-inch, 38-inch ass.” “I’ve seen girls that look like me and been like, ‘Ohhhhh, I’m Baby’s got Back!'” he told the Village Voice in 2011. “And I’m like, ‘No, no, no, no.’ It wasn’t ‘Baby Got Back and Center, and Middle, and Front.'”
I was an overweight 14-year-old when “Bootylicious” hit the school-dance circuit, and I can tell you that it’s far less mortifying to hear than “Baby Got Back” in that particular atmosphere. Far fewer couples grind to it, for one. That’s mostly because “Bootylicious” is a song about body acceptance, whereas “Baby Got Back” is just another song about what gets a man’s penis hard, even if it does publicize a preference for “curvy” women that was stereotypically reserved for black men when the single was released in 1992. I like to think of Sir-Mix-a-Lot’s sole hit as a shot of tequila: it may boost a lady’s confidence in the club, but its effects will wear off by the next morning.
“Bootylicious” is a mantra, much like the second half of “Anaconda.” I’ve heard women of all sizes refer to their butts as big — a side effect of our culture’s rigorous beauty standards — so the shot of self-love is somewhat universally empowering. The male gaze still factors in, but there’s something to love about women saluting their asses, big or otherwise, on their own terms.