Taylor Swift's new "Shake It Off" single is intended to be a sassy response to her haters, but it might end up earning her more. Like Katy, Miley, Lily, and many other white-lady pop stars, she’s been accused of appropriating black culture to her own ends.
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.
According to Consequence of Sound, several commenters have also complained that the ballerinas featured in the video are white, while the booty-shaking girls are predominantly black. That seems to convey the message that "white" dancing is pretty and elegant, while "black" dancing is hard and overtly sexy.
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)