I love a social justice throwdown as much as the next lefty feminist. I love discussing how lyrics of popular songs are problematic and I love being challenged in my own thinking. But holy shit, even I realise not everything in this world is an instrument of oppression.
And not everything in this world should be viewed through the lens of Americans, particularly when it comes to race and cultures of other countries. To insist otherwise is ignorant at best and imperialistic at worst.
Case in point: Wow, that Lorde song Royals is racist by Verónica Bayetti Flores. The writer asserts Lorde’s song is not, actually, about a rejection of conspicuous consumption – the type sold to us in American and European cultural exports depicting excessive wealth and behaviour – but in fact, it’s racist. Because in the chorus Lorde mentions gold teeth, Cristal, and Maybachs.
Because we all know who she’s thinking when we’re talking gold teeth, Cristal and Maybachs. So why shit on black folks? Why shit on rappers? Why aren’t we critiquing wealth by taking hits at golf or polo or Central Park East? Why not take to task the bankers and old-money folks who actually have a hand in perpetuating and increasing wealth inequality?
Actually, no I don’t know who she’s thinking of when you mention gold teeth, Cristal or Maybachs. They’re generic elements of excessive wealth and American cultural exports. And even if you can make the argument those specific items reference only black rappers (and not, say, Ke$ha or Katy Perry, for example) it’s an argument that cherry picks a few items from a whole song to make the point.
The relevant part of the song is here:
But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom.
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your time piece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair
If Lorde has chosen some aspects of conspicuous consumption that overwhelmingly refer to black hip hop culture, she has also included other aspects that refer to conspicuous consumption predominantly associated with other cultures. Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash? I’m thinking Richard Branson and maybe Russian oligarchs there. Blood stains and ball gowns? Celeb socialites with a hint of My Super Sweet 16. Cadillacs? Rich old people. Trashin’ the hotel room? Rock stars.
The theme of the song is a the dissonance between that life (ironically one that Lorde is probably now set to live) and the one she lives in New Zealand, but it is not at all about race.
Flores says if Lorde really wanted to critique the excesses of wealth, she should have focused on the golf course or bankers on wall street. Ignoring for the minute that enforcing accurate and comprehensive critical analysis of social and political issues in a 3-minute pop song is ridiculous; those things aren’t tubefed to us en masse through the American cultural exports of popular entertainment so why would she mention them in a song about pop culture?
Look Feministing, I know page views are great and everything but there’s really nothing to see here and it would be great if you could move along. I hear there are real issues of racism and class and womens’ fight for equality that need our attention.
edit: In Lorde’s own words
“I was just sort of reeling off some of the things which are commonly mentioned in hip-hop and the Top 40. I did get a little ridiculous on it, but the sentiment’s there,” O’Connor says. “I’ve always loved hip-hop, but as a fan of hip-hop, I’ve always had to kind of suspend disbelief because, obviously, I don’t have a Bentley. There’s a distance between that and the life I have with my friends going to parties and getting public transport and doing the things that every other teenager does.”
edit 2: Apparently I didn’t have discussion/comments open on this post. But I fixed it and you may express your opinion below.
edit 3 (Oct 9): If you have a dissenting opinion and don’t feel comfortable posting here, please see my new post and feel welcome to share those opinions. I will be happy to share and discuss them. You’re still welcome to post disagreeing opinions on this post too, though!