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MEAGHAN GARVEY: Can I be honest? “Anaconda” is obnoxious. It’s not even in the same arena as Nicki’s best singles; the beat is grating, the sample flip is obvious. And it doesn’t matter: nobody’s asking you to consider it some kind of grand artistic statement (Nicki has made it clear she’s “on some dumb shit” here). This is a silly song for girls to have fun listening to with their friends, and the show-stopping video delivers the message loud and clear: even if she feels like showing some skin on the album art, there are NO BOYS ALLOWED. If the glut of huffy thinkpieces about Nicki’s status as a role model are any indication, it’s apparently pretty hard for many listeners to grasp that not all rap songs are explicitly packaged for male enjoyment, proving just how desperately her message was needed. To say that Nicki’s 2014 output has been mixed is putting it mildly (in retrospect, her hints at going back to her straight-spitting roots were a genius troll, a cunning set-up for full-fledged misandry). But even when the music is just okay, her voice remains essential: more than anyone else in mainstream rap, Nicki makes it safe and special to be a woman, and that's enough for "Anaconda" to deserve a place here. My Vote: “Anaconda”
CHRIS PAYNE: It’s kind of perfect how these two songs came together — Nicki is trying to see how R-rated a song she can turn into a hit and Sheeran, though still pretty wholesome, is singing about S-E-X and naming it by name. The level of what Nicki is pulling off here impresses me more, though. It sounds like she’s just fucking around with this wacky-ass song, but knowing what she’s about, she knows there’s more to it, which we get from the music video. My Vote: “Anaconda”
ERIN STRECKER: This isn’t a contest for best video (which MInaj’s ass-tactular Anaconda would have handily won), so the edge has to go to what has more plays on my iPod. And in that case, it’s the redhead all the way. “Don’t” is a perfect mix of catchy, sexy, and a little bit edgy. My Vote: "Don't"
STEVEN J. HOROWITZ: The self-aware humor of “Anaconda” squashes its competition easily. By now, Sheeran’s singsong-meets-rap style is wearing thin, and not only does he sound like he’s parroting Justin Timberlake mashed with Jason Mraz, but it veers on banal. Nicki sounds like she’s having fun, and she definitely says “tossed my salad like his name Romaine,” which Sheeran definitely didn’t. My Vote: “Anaconda”
MYLES TANZER: By rapping about getting her salad tossed by a cocaine dealer over a sample from one of hip hop's most commercial songs of all time, Nicki Minaj gives her most convincing answer on the question that has plagued her career from the very start. Yes, of course Nicki can please her rap fan base while making top 10 songs that suburban moms can sing along to. This is Nicki mastering the form. "Don't" is an okay song that has a better hook than "Anaconda." It still hasn't convinced me that Sheeran's new sound is anything worth getting truly excited about. My Vote: “Anaconda”OVERALL WINNER: “Anaconda”