Irony is many things. It’s when a psychic’s performance is cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. It’s when someone tags ‘I hate graffiti’ on the back of a toilet door. It’s when someone who appropriates black culture to be ‘edgy’, condescends to tone-police a black woman for calling out racism in the music industry. Yep, you guessed it. We’re looking at you Miley.
Let’s back it up to where the thick of it began. Back in July, Nicki tweeted her disappointment that despite ‘Anaconda’ breaking streaming records worldwide in 2014, the video wasn’t up for Best Choreography or Video of the Year for the MTV VMAs. And Queen Bey and Nicki’s collab of ‘Feeling Myself’ didn’t even make the cut. What gives?
If I was a different “kind” of artist, Anaconda would be nominated for best choreo and vid of the year as well. ???
— NICKI MINAJ (@NICKIMINAJ) July 21, 2015
Now, regardless of whether you think the whole MTV music industry is a load of bollocks, or what your personal opinion on the song that made reptile euphemisms popular is, these are irrelevant to the fact that Nicki is killing it without any of the recognition that people who are doing similar things are receiving. If we’re boiling the nominees down to stats, then there’s no reason Nicki shouldn’t have had her name up with Taylor, considering ‘Anaconda’ has more views than ‘Bad Blood’. I’m not pitting these two women against each other; I’m pointing out the ludicrousy of the fact she wasn’t nominated, despite ticking all the boxes. I’d be pretty pissed off too if I was ahead of the game yet didn’t make the cut.
It’s clearly not a popularity contest if we’re going by views. It’s not a contest about who the most popular artist is. If it was a contest about which music video was actually the most meaningful and culturally significant, Kendrick would’ve won hands down with ‘Alright’, a video about police brutality and the inversion of power roles between races. (And yes, I suppose Lamar still came out a winner in a small way with his contribution to ‘Bad Blood’, but that’s beside the point.)
When Nicki expressed her frustration of being omitted for Video of the Year Award, she was met with an onslaught of criticism from people telling her she was a sore loser, but an equal amount of support, especially from the black community, giving her kudos for speaking out. Taylor Swift chimed in when she thought Nicki was specifically calling her out, and this is where the media tried to turn a misunderstanding into a celebrity scandal.
The Twitter argument can be summed up like this:
Nicki: Racism is prevalent in the music industry
Taylor: I’m personally offended. Are you sure it’s not sexism?
Nicki: I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about racism.
Taylor: Oh. My bad. You can join me up on stage if I win though 🙂
Siiiigh. Tay, you beautiful, naïve, sophisticated newborn baby (Thanks Leslie Knope for the eloquent phrase), you’re great, but also not helping the issue. Held up as the idyllic feminist role model alongside her sidekick Emma Watson, to take gender equality into the 21st century and beyond.
The issue is, neither of these beauty queens speak out on anything other than white feminism. A type of female equality that doesn’t include women of colour in the equation. Nope, not all oppression is created equal, unfortunately. Black women still have it tougher in the music industry than white women.
Nicki’s tweets are significant because too often women of colour who call out discrimination have their very real concerns dismissed by others who completely miss the point. Swift was doing the best she could to rectify her mistake – bless her cotton socks – but she still doesn’t get it. Her generous, though slightly condescending gesture of inviting Nicki up on stage is not getting the point across that Nicki should already be up there. She’s not your sidekick; you should be fighting for her right to be there too. The reason she wasn’t is because the white media benefit from keeping what they see as ‘angry and oversexualised’ black voices out on the sidelines, while white women are glorified for appropriating parts of black culture they think are cool (Looking at you and your dreadlocks, Miley), without addressing any of the social and institutional injustices of being black. An obvious example of this is Iggy Azalea.
A white musician whose success stems from ripping off a black musician’s beats without crediting him, adopting an American ‘blaccent’ (black accent), and stripping an inherently political genre of music from its roots: a counter-cultural way to express feelings of oppression and marginalisation. Iggy makes rap music palatable for the general mainstream, devoid of all politics, accreditation, and authenticity. The problem here isn’t that white people shouldn’t partake in rap music; it’s that there’s a difference between appreciating and contributing to an art form, and down right mimicking the content – over-identification with ‘ghetto’-ness: the look, the sound, the struggle (Prior to what ‘Work’ described, she did not have to work, work, work, work, work hard for her shit) – without having the real lived experience or understanding of the struggles of racial discrimination.
Iggy and Miley’s use of black culture comes from a kind of rebellion to enter into a club they’re not born into. It’s an attempt to prove to society they’re breaking the norm by surrounding themselves with a culture which contrasts what people expect of them. However, this is done at the detriment of the women of colour who are used as props to be caricature-ised by people who don’t know how to check their privilege or understand the current oppression being faced by those women. Macklemore nailed it in his song ‘White Privilege’ saying:
Where’s my place in a music that’s been taken by my race
Cultural appropriated by the white face
And we don’t want to admit that this is existing
So scared to acknowledge the benefits of our white privilege
Cause it’s human nature to want to be part of something different
The fact that Miley Cyrus, a white artist who actively appropriates black culture for her own benefit: twerking, wearing dreadlocks, using the offensive and racially-charged term “mammy” (historically used to refer to black female slaves who cared for their white masters), without acknowledging the racist double-standards (when black women twerk it’s considered lewd and degrading, but when a white woman does it it’s ‘edgy’), and still has the audacity to criticise Nicki for how she spoke up about racism, that’s when we should all be celebrating Miley’s live smackdown *cough cough* I mean, ‘confrontation’, on stage.
When an artist who started from the bottom and has worked her way up the male-dominated hip hop industry and come out on top still isn’t receiving the accolades she clearly deserves, we have NO right to silence her, label her as ‘aggressive’, or in Miley’s words, say she’s “not polite”. By doing this, we silence the discussion about what can be done to close the gap of racial oppression. Get angry, Nicki. You fucking deserve to.