Nicki Minaj was not one of the many megastars attending the 2021 Met Gala, but she dominated the evening’s discourse with a series of tweets related to the COVID-19 vaccine.
“They want you to get vaccinated for the Met. 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,” Minaj wrote in a 5:21pm tweet timed perfectly to capture attention just before the Gala got underway. “In the meantime my loves, be safe. Wear the mask with 2 strings that grips your head [and] face. Not that loose one.”
Minaj quickly followed this with an anecdote about her “cousin’s friend in Trinidad,” who she claimed received the vaccine and “became impotent”:
“His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding,” she wrote. “So just pray on it [and] make sure you’re comfortable with [your] decision, not bullied.”
That one set off the type of Twitter explosion that’s rarely been seen since Trump got banned, as seemingly every major account felt compelled to respond, quote, or meme Minaj’s story. But why was Minaj talking about the Met Gala on Twitter in the first place?
The Met Gala issued a requirement that attendees both be vaccinated and wear masks indoors unless they were eating or drinking. As some social media users pointed out, this could lead to the inference that those who showed up were vaccinated, while those who did not attend were more likely to not have been vaccinated. (Gawker ran a few blind items along these lines.) Minaj perhaps wanted to clarify that this was not why she didn’t attend.
At 4:11pm, she began her spree by responding to a tweet about her lack of public appearances in the last year, saying that having “an infant with no nannies during COVID” made her hesitant to go out. Minaj has been private about her child, who was born on September 30, 2020. (In January, she shared photos of her baby on Instagram and wrote that motherhood has been “the most fulfilling job I’ve ever taken on.”) The vaccines have not yet been approved for children under 12, which is why many parents with young children are being encouraged to get the shot. Minaj later called out news organizations who wrote stories claiming she refused to get vaccinated for the Met Gala, saying she “cited my young child as why I didn’t want to travel.”
A January 2021 piece from NPR features an interview with a mother who recently left the anti-vaccination movement after more than a decade. The woman explains that time spent reading on forums intended for new mothers made her fearful, and that people who are opposed to vaccines can find ways to use them as a scapegoat for all kinds of issues.
“Like, video games have cheat codes. Like, it’s almost, like, thinking like you have this cheat code to keep your kids healthy, to keep your kids from getting autism and allergies and whatever else they – they blame vaccines for everything. I mean, everything is a vaccine’s fault to them,” the mother told NPR.
Still, the concept of “doing your own research” has become something of a flashpoint in the ongoing conversations between people who are vaccinated vs. those who are skeptical. This summer, ex-Utah Jazz basketball player John Stockton unexpectedly popped up in an anti-vaccine documentary touting the “significant amount of research” he’s put into proving that covid restrictions are unnecessary. Of course, Stockton does not have the breadth of knowledge and scientific expertise that those making public health recommendations in organizations like the CDC or major hospitals do, nor has he conducted massive trials of vaccine safety, as pharmaceutical companies and the FDA have.
Minaj eventually shared a poll asking people on Twitter whether they had taken the vaccine. As of this piece’s publication, more than 340,000 people have voted, with nearly two thirds saying they took Pfizer, while a little over 10 percent voted “Other,” possibly implying they have not been vaccinated.
After her initial tweets went viral, Minaj continued to respond to people online and explain her stance. In one post, she wrote of people in places where vaccination is required to work, “I’d def recommend they get the vaccine.” “I’m sure I’ll [be] vaccinated as well cuz I have to go on tour, etc.” she said. When one fan replied that she hasn’t gotten the virus since receiving the vaccine, Minaj wrote, “That’s amazing babe. This is the norm.”
Minaj also claimed that Drake, who has been vaccinated, had a “breakthrough” case of the Coronavirus. (Drake previously, casually, shared that he had contracted Covid when responding to a fan roasting his haircut on Instagram.)
But much of the ire drawn by Minaj came from the anecdote about her cousin’s friend in Trinidad. One of the biggest conspiracy theories spread around the COVID-19 vaccine is that it impacts fertility, an assertion that the CDC has made clear lacks any proof. The strange and particular nature of the story inspired memes that incorporated other viral moments around the Met Gala, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s dress or the meme about a man who was not actually Jason Derulo falling down the event’s stairs.
Minaj is far from the first celebrity to express hesitancy around getting vaccinated for COVID-19, despite the significant amount of research into both its effectiveness and the low risk of side effects. Migos members Offset and Takeoff revealed in a June 2021 interview on The Breakfast Club that they had not taken the vaccine (in the same conversation, Quavo announced that he had). “I’m not trying to be a lab rat. I’ll wait. I’m probably gon’ get it,” Offset said.
Since the evening of the Met Gala, Minaj has engaged in back-and-forths with several people online, including conservative media personality Piers Morgan, who called Minaj “one of the rudest little madams I’ve ever met” (she promptly made that part of her Twitter bio). Morgan has been a vocal proponent of the vaccine, though he’s done so largely through his own inflammatory brand of rhetoric.
MSNBC commentator Joy-Ann Reid criticized Minaj’s tweets on air, saying, “For you to use your platform to encourage our community to not protect themselves and save their lives–my god, sister, you could do better than that.”
This is not the only controversy related to the superstar rapper and singer, who is currently working on her fifth studio LP. Earlier this month, Minaj’s husband Kenneth Petty pled guilty for failing to register as a sex offender when he moved from New York to California, per Rolling Stone. Petty was convicted of attempted rape in 1995 when he was 16.
Minaj stoked the flames of the world’s ongoing conversation around the COVID-19 vaccines and continues to be bullish about the backlash her comments inspired. As she mentioned though, the eventual prospect of a tour for her fifth album means she likely will end up getting a shot.