The highly-anticipated release of Megan Thee Stallion’s debut album Fever (May 17) doubled as a national holiday for her sultry and confident fanbase. Though hip-hop heavyweight Juicy J and fellow newcomer DaBaby make appearances, the Houston-bred “hot girl” remains the center of the show. And that’s the way we like it.
Megan’s rise has been one for the books. In early 2017, she catapulted herself into fame after participating in a hip-hop cipher at Texas A&M University. People all over the country quickly began to take notice of her deliberate, deep-voiced flow and thus her fans, called “hotties,” were born. Fast forward to 2019, and Thee Stallion has hosted her own Spotify event, found fans in Rihanna, Kehlani, and SZA, and continues to release hard-hitting freestyles and other replayable bodies of work.
She’s also the first rapping woman to be signed to 300 Entertainment, home of Young Thug, and formerly, Migos. But with every ascent comes a bumbling crew of haters. One of the first sightings of this sad collective, properly referred to as “notties,” came in March when she shared a photo of her half-white, half-bright red hair.
The caption was “TODOROKI TINA,” a reference to the My Hero Academia character, Shoto Todoroki. Though a significant number of people celebrated Megan’s love for anime, there were also those who questioned her affinity, namely men. For instance, Twitter user @CourtneeHendrix user wrote, “No way Meghan the stallion watch anime. Her PR team fire.”
@TrippyTrxv also shared, “n*gga yea I wanna know what anime megan thee stallion watches. why? bc i love that sh*t and I like her. if she doesn’t really watch it, but dresses up in anime halfway cosplay i would be hurt. i’d still fw her music maybe tho.” Ultimately, these reactions beg the question: what would Thee Stallion gain by showing people that she enjoys anime?
The targeted criticism of naysayers is frustrating, to say the least. After all, she’s certainly not the only woman rapper to share her love for anime (check out southern rap goddesses Bbymutha and Purp Goddess), nor is she the first rapper, male or female, to ever do it. Emcees including Lupe Fiasco, Robb Bank$, and Takeoff of Migos are also anime fans, but haven’t been critiqued to the same degree. If blatant racialized sexism isn’t the culprit, then what is?
According to The Global History of Anime, the first anime was likely released during World War I and created by Shimokawa Oten. The brief, colorless reels of film were either “dismantled”, ‘disintegrated” or “destroyed”, so not much is known about the early days of this art form. Over the next several decades, anime evolved into longer animations, with sound and color to boot. An account by Marwah Zagzoug says that by the second World War, the Japanese government had seized control of the art by threatening the artists who had also been critiquing the government. Those who disagreed with the new orders were banned from writing and pushed to the outskirts of society. But those who remained were provided with artists’ firms, militarized and tasked with creating anti-enemy propaganda.
After the war, anime eventually returned its original purpose: providing an outlet for pleasure and honest expression. One of the first visuals to achieve widespread success was the 1958 full-length feature Hakujaden (The Tale of the White Serpent), which also birthed a 1961 American adaptation. Though The Global History notes this wasn’t the first crossover, it was evidence that anime could be a lucrative industry. Eventually, television expanded its reach and consumption ballooned in the 1980s with the release of Dragon Ball, the third-best selling manga of all time. The introduction of Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon in the 1990s soon followed and by then, anime had become the monolithic global phenomenon that continues to generate revenue and inspire people of all ages today. The Black community is a proud and important part of its loyal fanbase, and women have always been just as invested as men.
The ‘I liked it before it was mainstream’ statement is still a pretty juvenile, 2011 Tumblr era sentiment.
Though easy-to-find literature and the Internet have undoubtedly elevated the profile of this art form, the “I liked it before it was mainstream” statement is still a pretty juvenile, 2011 Tumblr era sentiment. Sadly, there are people who continue to operate out of that logic and in the case of anime, the guilty party is mostly made up of men. When it comes to Megan Thee Stallion and her hairstyles specifically, they’ve either wanted her to prove that she is genuinely interested in it or simply wouldn’t believe that she was interested at all. How dare an attractive, popular, talented Black woman be invested in this?
It’s yet another reminder that people continue to police the hobbies of Black women, no matter what they are. So much so, that Thee Stallion herself addressed the controversy in an interview with XXL saying, “Y’all need to stop thinking like that. Bad b*tches can like anime, too.” Thankfully a slew of supporters, namely Black women, haven’t been afraid to defend Megan and speak their peace as well.
“It made me feel really good [because people] have this misconception..that Black girls weren’t watching anime like Black boys were, when most of us had the same channels and caught the same Miguzi or Toonami block after school lol.”, says Taylor, who goes by @sheisresting on Twitter. “We were definitely apart of the American anime wave back then. It was fulfilling to see a Black female rapper with such..mainstream potential not only acknowledge anime but call herself a fan as well, while loosely cosplaying her favorite characters. I felt like it also validated a lot of Black cosplayers [who are] constantly [being] told that they can’t dress up as Japanese characters because they’re the wrong skin color.”
Taylor was not alone. In fact, over 100 responded when I sent a tweet asking for Black women who were fans of anime and Megan Thee Stallion. User @dualityofmans wrote, “..I thought her hair was cool! I’m from Texas and used to live in Houston so I already relate [to her] a lot. Her liking anime was just one more thing we had in common….I feel like a lot of men just hate to see women happy and enjoying stuff tbh. It’s like they can’t call her ugly because she obviously ISN’T. Can’t say she’s untalented because out-rapping damn near all of the [men]out right now. Cannot insult her intelligence [because] she’s in school furthering her education. So, let’s sh*t on her for liking anime. Just looking for a reason to be mad at a Black woman.”
Misogynoir is a term created by Black feminist Moya Bailey and is meant to highlight the ways Black men negatively interact with Black women. It’s also part of the root issue Black men have with Megan Thee Stallion’s music, looks, interests, and behavior. What confuses them the most is her conviction about it all. They can’t believe that she’s interested in anime, and they hate her for it.
Japan’s fraught relationship with the Black community, as outlined by Cecilia D’Anastasio for Vice, is another factor worth noting too. It has included the mistreatment of mixed-raced (Japanese and Black) people and in the context of anime, a minuscule number of non-stereotypical depictions of Black people. Japan is also infamous for its pervasive use of Blackface, which made headlines as recently as last year. D’Anastasio notes that regardless of all these racial offenses, Black folks continue to cherish anime and honor it through cosplay and songs.
Rare moments that acknowledge the lasting power of Japanese animation and an underappreciated part of its fanbase should happen more often.
In 2016, writer Amber Dixon also talked about the hurtful disconnects she’s seen and experienced as a Black anime fan living stateside. They include observing brown skin being used as a metaphor for dark energy in Sailor Moon, the minstrel-like visage of Mr. Popo in Dragon Ball Z, and Blackface being used to cosplay Black characters. Like D’Anastasio, Dixon continues on in adoration of anime, noting the early and emotional connection she felt with Sailor Moon specifically.
Twitter user @imniinm adds, “I know more black girls who watch anime more than any race or gender. I personally have been watching anime since I could remember, from Pokémon, Yu Gi Oh, Sailor Moon, Hamtaro, Dragon Ball Z. I never felt as if it’s a ‘boy’ show or anything. I just liked what I saw and I still do.” In other words, anime will always have a special place in the heart of female viewers, including high-profile rappers like Megan Thee Stallion.
In November 2018, and again this past April, she emphasized her dedication with another hairstyle inspired by Bulma, a prevalent character in Dragon Ball (the first is Goku). This time, instead of an overwhelming amount of criticism, Megan’s cascading, seafoam green locks prompted a tender co-sign from FUNimation, a dubbing and distribution company. “Love the style!”, the company wrote, with a cutesy gif of Bulma attached. Rare moments that acknowledge the lasting power of Japanese animation and an underappreciated part of its fanbase should happen more often.
Men should be proud that a woman as prominent as Thee Stallion shares common ground with them, as it heightens solidarity and creates space for even more people to become fans. It might also force certain men to accept that women didn’t want to interact with or date them because they were nerds, but because they were insufferable. Mandatory accountability, happy Black, female fans, and good music? Thank you, Megan. Stream Fever now.