By Kyrie Blackman, Getty Marrow Undergraduate Intern for the Autry’s Collecting Community History Initiative
The Autry is preparing for a new exhibit, slated to open in 2021, called Imagined Wests. What does that even mean? How does one imagine the American West? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions; your answers may vary based on how old you are or where you live. We are all connected to the West in more ways than one may think. There is an interconnectedness that reaches far past American soil, and many artists use their platforms to showcase those connections uniquely. The Autry and I chose to highlight an artist who bridges multiple worlds into one. Houston rapper and anime enthusiast Megan Thee Stallion uses her platform to merge hip-hop, Japanese animation, and Western culture. From dropping multiple gold records to cosplaying your favorite My Hero Academia character, she continues to inspire the next generation of female rappers and black cosplayers in ways that challenge societal norms and normalize women excelling in many realms.
Megan Thee Stallion, born Megan Pete, has taken the rap game by storm and leads a new wave of female MCs. As a Texan, she often wears cowgirl attire alongside the internet movement known as the “yeehaw agenda,” in which African American people have reclaimed Western wear. Megan also has a fixation for all things anime. Through lyrical references, merch collaborations, outfits, and even hairstyles, she continues to find ways to integrate her love for anime within her rap career. Her multipotentiality—her ability to excel in two or more different fields—gains her fans who may come from the other side of the earth. As a Black female rapper, she faces unique challenges, examples of the term “intersectionality,” or the combination of multiple forms of discrimination. She has weathered consistent unfair critiques, threats, and harassment stemming from working in a predominately male industry that is rooted in misogyny and oversexualization of women. Similar to the struggles of many Black female artists who came before her, she continues to inspire and hone her sound despite the struggles of the music industry.
Megan grew up in Bexar County, Texas, and with her mother already being a rapper herself, she gained interest fast. She would sneak a listen to her mom rapping in the studio as well as listen to other artists without her mother’s permission. Rap became normal to her as she became committed to following her mother’s footsteps as a female MC. She credits her musical inspiration to 2000s Houston hip-hop artist Pimp C of UGK, as she was awestruck by his smooth delivery of lyrics. She began to use the internet as a tool to listen and wrote her own first bars at 14 years old. Fast-forward to the present day, and Megan has exceeded expectations. While working with this generation’s emerging talent in the industry, she has also collaborated with fellow Houston native and entertainer Beyoncé on their chart-topping song “Savage Remix.” One of her biggest opportunities—and a Western one—came when she performed at this year’s BET awards (see the video embedded below). In the middle of a desert near Las Vegas, she adopted an aesthetic similar to the popular movie Mad Max. She performed “Savage” as well as a new single, “Girls in the Hood,” which paid homage to NWA’s “Boyz-n-the Hood” (1987). As she continues to build her legacy in hip-hop history, she continues to help shape the American West as a Texan.
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As her rap career took off, Megan eagerly and unapologetically shared her love of anime with the world. Her introduction to anime came through Cartoon Network’s nighttime programming Adult Swim. She watched the show Inuyasha, which came on late at night, and became fascinated by its storyline. It is the uniqueness of storylines within shows that captures the attention of fans. Stories of the rise to honor as well as strong character development, unique ideologies, and character portrayal draw many fans to the anime genre—just as Western fans find meaning in frontier-based narratives past and present. She was asked in an interview “What is it about anime that resonates with you?” She responded,
I like how it looks. I don’t know what it is about Japanese culture but the way that they portray their women. She’s super strong or she’s like a super loving motherly wife type. But like the men in anime, their main mission is going out and fighting because they’re trying to hold it down for a woman. That’s really what it be like and I really love that. Like there’s always a reason why these people are going so hard and nine times out of ten it’s all because of a lady. I also like to see the struggle from beginning to end. Like what did this character have to go through to grow into what they became? Maybe they getting ass-whooped in one episode but by the end of it they’ve defeated everybody and now they’ve leveled up so much. And I feel like I can relate to that in real life.
That relatability is what connects anime fans and may sound familiar to fans of the Western genre as well. Megan joins a growing legion of Black anime fans—akin to the challenging of Western-style expectations shown by those who participate in the “yeehaw agenda.” Artists like Megan continue to create a platform for creatives to express themselves through anime, Western wear, and hip-hop.
Last year she graced the cover of Paper magazine portraying her favorite anime character Shoto Todoroki, and her alter ego Todoroki Tina was born. Shoto Todoroki, from the hit show My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi, was born with powers to emit fire and ice from separate sections of his body. The development of Todoroki as he battled internal struggles is what intrigued Megan the most and ultimately inspired her to portray him. In an interview with anime streaming company Crunchyroll, she explained, “Being an adult and watching anime, I really like the storylines. You see a character who might not be the strongest. You grow with that character. You meet new people along the way as they try to be the hero and become the person they need to be.” That opportunity provided many more for her as the company’s artists animated her character in the aesthetic of the show, as well as through a collection of merchandise with an anime rendering of her.
Megan Thee Stallion’s current position is special, and many cosplayers have credited her for inspiration to be open with their fandom. While interning at the Autry, I was blessed with the chance to connect with Black cosplayer and creative Taylor Hobbs, who goes by YourFavoriteSenpaii. Like Megan, we both have a love for anime and Hobbs shared with me how she got into cosplaying. When she was in high school, there was a convention called PersaCon which took place in different cities throughout Alabama. One of her favorite anime is Sailor Moon, created by Naoko Takeuchi, and Hobbs chose that as the character to cosplay. She admitted that she was nervous and anxious to cosplay in a convention setting, but to her surprise, she was embraced with support and shares. Since then she continued to create a platform for herself as well as connect with other cosplayers who also may have had insecurities with cosplaying. She now resides in Houston and expressed her appreciation to Megan’s craft. She stated, “When I moved to Houston, Megan was starting to pop. It was cool she was from Texas, and I just moved to Texas. When I found out Megan was into anime I was like ‘bet’ I'm really about to listen to her.” Artists like Megan Thee Stallion give new meaning to how we perceive and define “the West” as it intersects with other artforms and styles of performance. As the Autry gets ready for its new exhibition, we recognize artists similar to Megan and their impact on the American West.
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