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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Royals by Lorde is NOT Racist

by Kari Tervo

Some chick (who I'm not going to name-check) wrote this utter piece of crap, "Wow, That Lorde Song Royals Is Racist" (link redacted because, in her follow-up, she seems to equate page hits with agreement). In her opinion, a song dashed out in 20 minutes by a 16-year old working class girl from New Zealand is inherently racist because--get this--she's "shitting on rappers."

Why does she think this? Because in the song's lyrics, Lorde discusses the culture of excess she hears in popular music and says she's not "caught up in [that] love affair." According to this person who definitely should not be allowed to say things on the internet, "I don’t have to explain why wealth operates differently among folks who’ve grown up struggling because this shit has been explained already: If you grew up with holes in your zapatos you’d celebrate the minute you was having dough."

There are just so many things wrong with what she has published. I am tired of entertaining this woman's pseudo-intellectual identity politics, so I'll just cover a few of them.


First of all, bling rap is itself oppressive. You can say all you want that every poor person would write obnoxious shit about consumer items, but that itself is bullshit identity politics. I grew up in a trailer (yep, had some holes in my blue KMart zapatos--wait, was I not poor enough? Or was I too white to really suffer?). I rap, and I write rap. I know for a fact that if I ever hit it big in rap, I most certainly would not be writing about expensive consumer crap, because I have more important things to say. I'm sure that chick would say, "Well, then, the brown people would be shouting it from the rooftops," but that itself is also racist, bullshit identity politics. Okay, so you have to admit you can't speak for every poor person. What, so now you speak for every brown person?

So there's that, but let's get to the point of how bling rap is oppressive: Rappers can--and do in the diversity of the wonderful world of hip-hop--write about anything. Anything. They can write about life, love, hot time, summer in the city, relationships, family, community, education, travel, a douchebag they hated in 8th grade, racism, sexism, the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, that waitress who is late with Kanye's damn croissant. Anything!

But bling rappers choose to write about consumer excess. That's it. Why? Because expensive stuff means money, and money means power. That is, in the minds of the ruling class. Ruling class ideals demand a ton of money to be able to wield any power, so, in the way the story goes, bling rappers write about having all that stupid shit because it shows they finally "made it." Sure, by the ideals of the ruling class. In the minds of bling rappers, you're only successful if you have a ton of money and a ton of stuff to show for it. They literally buy into the ruling class way.

Bling rappers oppress their non-wealthy listeners. They could say, "screw it, there are more important things to communicate about my life and talent than my ownership of seventeen 10-inch emerald Jesus medallions," but they don't. They choose to adhere to and ascribe to the ideals of the ruling class, thumbing their noses at those "below" them who have chosen different paths and have different perspectives and priorities. They subscribe to the immature, rather pathetic idea that the kid who dies with the most toys wins.

And where do you get that idea? The ruling class, who wants you to strive to unattainable ideals regarding money and power to keep you and the things that really matter--love, peace, community--in check. Can't make much money with love, peace, and community. So, whether bling rappers want to show they "made it," all they're really doing is showing their lack of agency. Bling rappers are pawns of ruling class ideals. They're using the new power they have attained (via money) to rap more about more stuff, therefore further underscoring those ruling class ideals! They are not talking back. They're coddling their oppressors: Look! I can be just like you! Why don't they use their new power to forge another way?

And normal kids who are listening to this music, who have no realistic means of attaining that kind of money and power, they're feeling like, hey, I should have that stuff too! To show I'm good too! And instead of focusing on love, peace, community, they're out there dropping money on diamond stud earrings and cars (these are random "luxe" items that popped into my head--we could do anything fancy here that people are going to want because of the free advertising offered by bling songs). I fully admit, when it came time for me to get a new car, I really wanted a push-to-start feature because of that Wiz Khalifa song "Black and Yellow." No keys. . .push to start. And I am a full-grown woman. I wound up with a key, because I guess I haven't sufficiently overcome my marginalization yet.

Hey, yo. You love diamond stud earrings and fancy cars, that's great. You do you. But don't fool yourself into thinking ownership of those kinds of items at any level makes you in any way a more quality person than anybody else. Cuz you know what? A lot of us are simply not interested in diamond stud earrings and fancy cars.


Which brings me to my second point: Besides the fact that this chick is saying utterly moronic things, like a 16-year-old girl who goes to the clubs and listens to hip-hop should write about polo, her inherent point is that Lorde is unable to critique any of these things because she is white. If a black girl wrote this, would that writer be so up in arms? Probably not. Which I have a pretty good idea of, because when people pointed out that a 16-year-old New Zealand teenager is probably not penning  pop songs relating to American racial politics, she doubled down and tweeted this:

"Don't expect a Kiwi teen to know American race history, but then maybe she should step back from hip hop culture."

What? Step back? How can she step back? It's in her face! Hip-hop is everywhere! The author is saying that critiquing hip-hop, which has been mainstream at least since the advent of Yo, MTV Raps! in the late 80s, is solely the purview of what, hip-hop scholars and American race specialists? A white teenage girl in New Zealand can't have an opinion? Bullshit. Lorde's perspective on rap and its excesses is valid, because she experiences hip-hop. She's allowed to talk about how the standards presented in hip-hop make her feel. She's not saying, "Black people suck." She's saying, "The culture of excess in hip-hop makes me feel less because I have less." How is that racist?

Racist. You drop that word so casually, like a Snickers wrapper into the trash. You do it a disservice.

It is so freaking ironic to me that the author doesn't even recognize the context of the song: I mean, it's clear Lorde is not only talking about hip-hop (tigers on a gold leash?), but even if she was: She feels oppressed by it! She feels pressured by an unattainable standard! Yes, the white teenage girl is the one who is being oppressed by bling hip-hop. She's singing about how it makes her feel, to the point that, even though she says she "craves a different kind of buzz," she's dreaming about Cadillacs and fantasizing about being queen! This is a person who feels disempowered by the pressure to obtain status items because she doesn't "come from money." I mean, have you seen the video? It looks like freaking Trainspotting!

I'm sure that author would be like, "She's white. Check your privilege" (the new lazy phrase, rife with the same kinds of assumptions those who use it are supposedly fighting against). Check reality, okay? Not every white person is speaking from a position of power. Clearly, she doesn't feel powerful. Nobody is wishing they lived in her neighborhood ("in the torn-up town. . .no post-code envy").

Lorde is speaking truth to power!

What, hip-hop artists don't have power? Okay baby, why don't you tell Jay-Z that. Just don't tell Kanye that, because we'll never hear the end of it.

And besides, in any critique of bling rap, she's actually critiquing the white, wealthy ruling class by extension. So how 'bout that?


Finally, the song is called Royals. How many rappers you know are royalty? Lorde has a coterie of ladies-in-waiting singing sonic flower petals to support her queenly fantasy. This is not a song about hip-hop! This is a song by a young woman who experiences Western culture and lives in the British Commonwealth! Maybe that author should learn about British imperial history before she goes around so confidently critiquing songs by members of that demographic? By her logic, right?

Royals is a song about struggling through expectations while finding your own preferences and identity. Anyone who would think it's "shitting on rappers" is looking for something to be offended by, something pretty common in the identity politics crowd. I think they sit around and google offensive words so they can get mad and write blog posts about what they find. Honestly.

Identity politics is a way of approaching discussion in which the only "valid" perspective on a demographic issue can come from a person of that demographic (close to an argument from authority). It is a convenient way of shutting down discourse and never analyzing things from another perspective. "You can't talk about hip-hop. You're white. Shut up."

You know what that is? That's racism.

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