Banned By BET? What The Alleged Censorship Of Nicki Minaj’s “Stupid Hoe” Video Means


This week the Internet lit up with the news that Nicki Minaj’s eye-popping new video for her Lil Kim dis track “Stupid Hoe” had been “banned by BET,” a logical follow-up to the “too hot for TV” narrative kicked off by her tweeting that the Hype WIlliams-directed clip would premiere on the streaming-video site Vevo because “it’s important that my art is not tampered with, or compromised prior to you viewing it for the 1st time.” But in the age of music videos being not all that great for ratings and Minaj’s clip raking in 4.8 million views in its first 24 hours online, what does “banning” a video from a channel that maybe shows videos for a couple of hours a day really mean? I asked Steven J. Gottlieb, who runs the music-video news site Video Static and consults with record labels on their video needs, for his take.

I’m going to assume you’ve seen the clip for “Stupid Hoe.”

Steven J. Gottlieb: Yes, I’ve seen the video. Wrote about it back on January 24 and it’s interesting (to me) that I actually noted how not explicit I found it: “PS: The video is billed as explicit, but it seems to just apply to the lyrics. And if you’re prone to flashing light seizues, this ain’t for you.”

What does “banning” mean in a practical sense? Sent back to the label for edits? Refused outright, never to be seen again? Or does it just mean “we want to get PR for this clip to prolong the single’s shelf life”?

Every video that airs on a major video channel gets screened for Standards & Practices issues. Nudity and curse words are the two most obvious potential infractions, but there’s other stuff that could be argued one way or another.

Usually if there’s a violation, the label or promoter would receive a list of edits to make in order to pass standards. But, it is possible for a video to just generally not be appropriate for the channel and be rejected outright.

A label or artist could choose to not make the requested edits, which would leave the video in a permanent limbo, and allow them to say the video was banned. Is it semantics? Maybe.

At the risk of sounding like a cynic, saying a video has been banned is usually just a press strategy.

The news that this video got “banned” got picked up (despite no official confirmation) by a bunch of outlets, reputable and not, because the “banning” narrative is a sexy one; since “hoe” is in the title of Nicki’s video people are assuming that the whole thing’s about sex.

“Hoe” is usually a no-no word for video channels, unless it’s clearly in reference to a gardening tool. (“Bitch” is similar, which is why it’s usually replaced by “trick.”)

An isolated body shot is an old-school standards violation, meaning that the video is showing body parts that have been disembodied from a woman’s head, which is taken to be extra objectifying to women. This video is full of those. So, there’s plenty of valid reasons for a channel to raise some standards concerns. I don’t think it’s particularly explicit, though.

This clip is pretty jittery—do US music-video channels put their videos to the Harding Test which tests videos’ ability to induce seizures in epileptics?

No, US channels don’t require the Harding Test. I’ve never seen a video be rejected here for flashing imagery.

Beyond the headlines, does it even matter that BET won’t show a video in the Vevo age? Obviously broadcast TV has its advantages over on-demand watching as far as catching the eyes of people who might not be looking for an eye-popping clip with Nicki dancing in a cage, but the clip racked up an insane amount of views on day one, BET’s real estate for music video is pretty slim, and the music-centric spinoff channel BET Hip-Hop doesn’t seem to have much pickup from cable systems.

Again, call me a cynic, but if BET had added the video then nobody would be talking about this right now. It also obscures the previous media angle of this video having the most online views in the shortest amount of time. So, it’s a win-win situation for both Nicki and BET.

BET matters. Their support matters. BET can get behind a music video for weeks and place it within a context, which is different from a one-off, on-demand, online click. But, saying this video has been banned might also have some beneficial effect for Nicki’s artistic cred and notoriety. Either way: This is just a teaser song and video for Nicki, so it’s probably already overperformed expectations.