Much has been said about the video to Taylor Swift’s excellent new single, Shake It Off. Internet people be MAD.
Why? It seems Miss Swift has attended at least one lecture at the Perry/Cyrus Academy of Cultural Appropriation. For the sake of argument, I’ll use Wikipedia’s definition of ‘absorption of elements of minority culture into the predominant culture’. Example: Coachella drones in Native American headdress.
See I’m not sure Swift has. The offending section is the ‘Hip Hop’ segment in which Swift is surrounded by twerking dancers while, allegedly, dressed as a black woman. Now perhaps Swift had no business spoofing hip hop, however goofy she clearly intended it. Would it be less offensive, if, like Eminem and Iggy Azealea, she ‘meant it?’
Is it the costume? Now. What does a black woman dress like? Seriously, I’m asking. Does she dress like the twerking women (some of whom are white) or does she dress like the black cheerleader or the black gymnast or the black contemporary dancer? Suggesting that Swift is ‘dressing black’ is astoundingly racist in its own right, I’d argue.
So if it’s not strictly appropriation is it about misrepresentation? Earlier this year, Lily Allen fucked up spectacularly by trying to present a commentary on the exploitation of black women by exploiting black women. Bad. I feel steps were taken on Shake It Off to represent WOC in a variety of ways (and also body shapes and sizes).
I’m not a POC (and I’ll probably get shit for writing this post at all, but fuck it, I’m a music journalist) but as a gay man, portrayals of gay men as hissing gossips, a la ITV’s Vicious, are frustrating. They do not accurately represent me or my community. Queer as Folk, however, did present Anthony Cotton’s somewhat stereotypical character but *alongside* a range of other gay male characters. The Shake It Off video does the same for me. It’s about breadth and balance.
If the Shake It Off video makes you uncomfortable that’s valid, but I wonder what we’re asking of pop culture. No black dancers? No hoop earrings (which does seem to be Swift’s cardinal sin here)? Eminem, Madonna, Cheryl Cole, Elvis, Fergie, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Selina Gomez all guilty of the same crimes. If we’re not careful we’ll be stuck with Gary Barlow. The Internet is vanishing in on itself - often more about being seen to be angry about the right thing at the right time. God it’s pop video. One, ironically, about being carefree and shrugging off criticism.
There is real racism out there, there is misappropriation, there is misrepresentation but I’m not sure Shake It Off deserves a witchhunt, it feels very knee-jerk, and they never end well. In forty years when the first of the Internet generation starts to die off, will we lie on our deathbeds and think, ‘man I’m sure glad I spent those hours being angry about pop videos on Twitter.’