The video (watch here) features Swift and a crew of backup dancers channeling cheerleaders and prima ballerinas. Thrown into the mix are '80s-era break-dancers, dudes trying to teach Tay how to "finger tut", and cutoff-clad girls twerking while Swift rocks the contents of Mr. T's jewelry box.
Understandably, that last bit has stirred up a fair amount of controversy. Though Earl Sweatshirt, of the hip-hop collective Odd Future, admitted he hadn't seen the video in full, he took to Twitter to lash out against the pop star for promoting "inherently offensive" stereotypes.
haven't watched the taylor swift video and I don't need to watch it to tell you that it's inherently offensive and ultimately harmful— EARL (@earlxsweat) August 19, 2014
perpetuating black stereotypes to the same demographic of white girls who hide their prejudice by proclaiming their love of the culture— EARL (@earlxsweat) August 19, 2014
for instance, those of you who are afraid of black people but love that in 2014 it's ok for you to be trill or twerk or say nigga— EARL (@earlxsweat) August 19, 2014
Many have compared the video to Lily Allen's "Hard Out Here," which also met criticism for its use of black backup dancers in twerking mode. Miley Cyrus, Sky Ferreira, and Katy Perry have also found themselves defending their videos and performance styles against accusations of racism. Whether they mean to or not, white female musicians are increasingly turning to sexually loaded black stereotypes when they want to cast a more provocative image.
This is problematic for many reasons. First, it can be read as offensive. Second, it's hard to complain about Robin Thicke and the representation of women in hip-hop videos when you're pulling out the same tricks, even as satire. Third, isn't it better to create your own identity than simply riff off others?
Is Taylor Swift racist? Probably not. Should someone have pulled her aside and warned her about how the video might be construed? Absolutely. It's likely that Swift meant no harm and simply wanted to celebrate her idea of hip-hop culture, but guess what? Hip-hop doesn't need Taylor Swift to celebrate it.
So, here we are again. At this point you have to wonder, are these pop stars clueless, or do they truly just not care that some of their videos offend people? T-Swift’s modern jazz moves were the most memorable and hilarious of the bunch — maybe if she had stuck to that, she wouldn’t have to “Shake It Off.” (NME)