Vanessa Mdee Subverts Gender Norms Through Color in Her 2016 Hit, “Cash Madame”.

2016 was the year of Beyonce’s Lemonade, Rihanna’s ANTI, and the maturation of girl groups like Little Mix and Fifth Harmony. Black women dominated the charts, producing music and music videos that allowed them to express a range of emotions, from angry to heartbroken, while exuding a sense of power, confidence, and sex appeal. In the same year that black American female artists embraced these powerhouse roles, across the globe another black female artist took note. 

Vanessa Mdee, who goes by the stage name “VeeMoney”, released her hit song, “Cash Madame”. The accompanying music video follows the trend seen in America, where female artists are able to bend gender norms and power dynamics, without losing distinctly feminine qualities to their work. Vanessa Mdee is no stranger to international influence. With nearly 2 million hits on the “Cash Madame” music video and almost 350 thousand twitter followers, she is even followed by former president, Barack Obama, Vanessa Mdee’s universal appeal is hard to ignore. She widens her audience even further by rapping “Cash Madame” primarily in English and filling it with American slang, referring to money as “paper”, and referencing a “sugar daddy”.

The influence of American-Trinidadian female rapper, Nicki Minaj, is felt heavily throughout the music video’s production. At 1:28 there is almost a deliberate shout-out to Minaj and her distinct teeth-baring snarl. The parallels between Minaj and Mdee runs deeper than just facial expressions, though. Colors matter in music videos, and Mdee and Minaj reclaim and rebrand the colors pink and black to flip the power structures of hyper-masculinity in hip-hop. Pink, which has long been the stamp of women and femininity, has been weaponized by both artists to reimagine what female power looks like. The intro to Cash Madame creates a staunch juxtaposition between the women, rolling up in their pink convertible, to the men, dressed in black and white. Even the tones shift between the vibrant day scene of the women and the dimly lit garage the men are in, counting their cash. The two sexes even get their own soundtrack to further emphasize the point.

When the song truly begins, though, the mood of the video changes. Immediately the audience is shown images of VeeMoney dressed in black, with matte black nails, and black eyeshadow. Her girl crew also reps the blackout look. While this represents a blurring of gender lines in terms of color-choice, VeeMoney still embraces the feminine touches of pink, only now there is an edge to it. Pink appears again in the bag she throws down on the table for the men to fill with money. What was a color associated with docility is now attached to a power shift as she commands the men to line her purse with the money she is taking back, or stealing.

The image of rough masculinity is one based on physical and financial independence, dark colors and flashy materialism, is also applied in this video. When VeeMoney is showcased in her solo shots, she again dons all black and shows off her money, although she replaces rugged masculinity with sensual feminism.

As a female rapper, Vanessa Mdee has chosen to enter a fiercely guarded masculine space, and has adjusted her visual storytelling to cope in such an environment. She adopts masculine archetypes and reimagines them with a feminine touch, in a way that allows her to be a powerful female presence in what has historically been a man’s world.

Listen to Cash Madame here.

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