Khadijah Nicolas, the model featured on the cover of Pharrell Williams’ latest single, ‘Marilyn Monroe‘, has spoken to Ebony magazine about the song. (For what it’s worth, I think her photo has a classic, vibrant glamour akin to Marilyn’s, even if that’s not what it’s really about.)
“EBONY: Aside from yourself, the video for Marilyn Monroe has female dancers across many different racial backgrounds. How does the video portrayal connect with the song?
KN: It was a ‘power to women’ video. All statures, colors, ethnicities, types, sizes, etc. It’s to bring light to a different woman – ‘Not even Marilyn Monroe, not Cleopatra, not Joan of Arc.’ And I think he did an exceptional job of portraying many different types of women in this video.
EBONY: What was your role in the video, as far as combating those ever pervasive beauty standards?
KN: Well.I can say it wasn’t some sort of comeback for the backlash he received about the album cover. It was more so ‘This is the different girl I would like to represent. I like what she stands for, her presence, the difference in her features, her skin tone, the way that she moves.’ And I was honored to have the chance to be that representation of that different girl.
EBONY: What’s interesting, too is that some people were also mad because Marilyn Monroe is this white icon, so why would you have a Black woman stand in for her? It seems their logic is ‘Well, if it were a Black icon and someone changed the race to White, there would be plenty of people mad as well.’
KN: Here’s the thing. I understand the criticism in that sense. But again, it goes back to saying, the song has nothing to do with reinventing Marilyn. People have to look past the song title. If it didn’t have the song title, and it just had “Pharrell Williams,” would you have the same type of reaction to the picture? At the end of the day, this is the music industry. Artists do things to challenge the mind, to form new creativity in peoples mind. It’s 2014. He wanted us to look at the picture and ask what’s behind it, how does it challenge the way I think about things? How does it shed light on women of color? That’s how I took it. Now, I could be wrong, but I still feel like critics should take the time to listen to the song and see the meaning of representing a different woman, who just happened to be a dark-skinned dancer.
EBONY: And if you look at it from a different standpoint, Marilyn Monroe challenged beauty standards of the time. Her body type, the way she carried herself, how she owned her sexuality, and the conceptions of….
KN: Who she was! You can’t compare me, anything I’m doing, or any other woman that could be in my position to what Marilyn Monroe stood for. She is an icon, I couldn’t take her place. People even commented on the picture saying I was the new representation of the modern day home-wrecker. You can’t use that. But what are we going to take from it? The fact the she challenged sensuality Americans were allowed to display in the public eye at the time. She changed the public’s mind about being okay with your body and your sense of sexuality. That’s what I got from Marilyn, and that has nothing to do with her race. But if you look at what’s on TV today, are your really going to criticize me or her? As far the portrayal we have of Black woman, are you going to take Pharrell’s high road, or the reality show road? And that’s no disrespect to any of those women, but at the same time, try to see the bigger picture. That’s all Pharrell was trying to do, and it’s a huge move forward for anyone, despite her color. You can be beautiful without being an icon or being compared to one.”