Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
It all started out so innocently, with superstar rapper Nicki Minaj tweeting about her cousin’s friend’s swollen balls.
But “Ballgate,” as Minaj dubbed it Wednesday, has now become a full-blown crisis, with the White House accusing the singer of lying—and vice versa, Twitter refuting claims she has been banned, and right wing figures leveraging the situation to make it the latest flashpoint in the increasingly toxic culture war raging between the left and right in the U.S.
For the uninitiated, this all began when Minaj claimed she wasn’t getting the vaccine until she had done more research. To make her point, she relayed a story about her cousin’s friend in Trinidad who she claimed had taken the vaccine and become impotent—as well as suffering from swollen testicles.
Impotence and swollen testicles are not known side effects of any vaccine—though people who contract COVID-19 are at increased risk of erectile dysfunction.
The post was widely derided and ultimately it led to Terrence Deyalsingh, Trinidad and Tobago’s health minister, having to tell a press conference that there have been no reported ball-related side effects or adverse events among the vaccinated.
Some would think that would be the end of the drama, but it was only the beginning.
Minaj on Wednesday told her followers that the White House had been in touch and invited her to visit. She told her 22 million Twitter followers that she would be “dressed in all pink like Legally Blonde so they know I mean business. I’ll ask questions on behalf of the ppl who have been made fun of for simply being human.”
But soon afterwards, the White House said that it had not in fact invited Minaj to visit the White House, but “as we have with others, we offered a call with Nicki Minaj and one of our doctors to answer questions she has about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine,” a White House spokesperson told the Daily Beast.
Hours later Minaj hit back in an Instagram video, asking her 157 million followers: “Do y'all think that I would lie about being invited to the fucking White House.”
Minaj said a representative from the White House had spoken to her, her manager, and her publicist about a possible visit on Wednesday afternoon. Minaj said she didn’t want to travel to Washington DC so asked about doing the meeting virtually via a live video call.
She said the White House agreed, and said she would be speaking to infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci and the surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy. Minaj said the White House even agreed to allow her to do the call publicly.
“I said it would not feel genuine if it was something that I discussed with them only privately, because then it will come off as disingenuous to my fans because it would sound like I was selling them the vaccine, and everyone agreed,” Minaj said in the Instagram video.
Minaj didn’t say why she tweeted about travelling to the White House if she had agreed to a virtual meeting but she claimed the White House changed their story because of the backlash it received after Minaj announced she had been invited.
At the same time as the back-and-forth between the White House and Minaj, the rapper also claimed in an Instagram she had been put in “Twitter jail.” In an Instagram Live video Minaj also said she would “never use Twitter again.”
But a spokesperson for Twitter told VICE News that the company “did not take any enforcement action on the account referenced.”
While the initial tweet about swollen testicles may have been seen as a joke, the fallout has turned nasty, with right-wing figures accusing liberals of trying to silence a Black woman just because she is voicing an opinion.
Minaj, in her late night Instagram video on Wednesday, claimed that people were trying to “assassinate my character and make me look crazy or stupid.”
She also suggested that there was some sort of orchestrated campaign against her by an unnamed group, and key to this was the fact that one of the first people to “attack” her about this, MSNBC host Joy Reid, was a Black woman.
“They had to make sure it came from a Black person first, because if it came from a white person, the Black people would be like, you're racist,” Minaj said.
Many conservative figures jumped to Minaj’s defence including Fox News Host Tucker Carlson and journalist Glenn Greenwald, who painted the situation as another example of the left “dictating” to anyone who doesn’t agree with them.
“[They] are trying to dictate to Nicki Minaj what she can and can't say, who she is and isn't permitted to cite, what partisan box she must stay in,” Greenwald tweeted.
When it was pointed out to Greenwald that Minaj had not in fact been censored by Twitter, he claimed: “If she wasn't banned, it's only because of who she is, not because anyone else would be allowed to say this.”
Carlson has covered the story for two nights on his show and on Wednesday, said that the controversy is not about a singer talking about a man’s swollen testicles, but “it’s the last part of Nicki Minaj’s tweet that enrages them, the part where she says you should ‘pray on it, make the decision yourself like a free human being and ‘don’t be bullied.’ So our media and public health officials didn’t like this because they make their livings bullying people, so they couldn’t let it stand.”
Minaj responded to the segment with a tweet consisting of a bullseye emoji, then echoed these sentiments in her Instagram video, claiming that most celebrities are afraid to speak out about these types of controversial subjects exactly because of the type of backlash she was facing. Minaj added that her hesitancy to get vaccinated as a widespread opinion among entertainers: “80% of the artists that y’all following right now feel like I feel about the vaccine, and are too afraid to speak on it.”