On Taylor Swift and her cringeworthy obsession with blackness
At her concert a few weeks ago, Taylor Swift, a Horcrux for white mediocrity, invited new hip-hop sensation Fetty Wap on stage to perform his hit record “Trap Queen” with her. This just added another item to the long list of things Taylor Swift has done to annoy me.
Unfortunately, because of Twitter, Vine and Instagram, sites that thrive off of exposing the bizarre happenings of the celebrity world, I bore witness to this performance. Despite Swift singing loudly and off-key and dancing awkwardly (as she does at every awards show), my main concern was Fetty Wap’s presence at her concert in the first place.
Hip-hop and the blackness associated with it is tokenized in white pop culture by artists who otherwise ignore the complexities and challenges embedded in black culture. Swift is an obvious example of this harmful trend.
She wants a peek inside of the fun of hip-hop and rap, but shies away from the social, economic and political realities expressed within the music. Swift uses her veil of “I’m-just-an-innocent-white-girl-with-a-guitar-and-a-basic-singing-voice” to shield herself against conflict and controversy with the creators of the same black music she uses as a prop at her concerts. Last year, she took pictures of Jay-Z and Beyoncé at her birthday party, seemingly in an effort to ratchet up her cool points. Yet in 2009 Swift played victim to Kanye’s epic interruption speech at the VMAs, where he hinted at the racism that allowed Swift to beat Beyoncé for the Video of the Year award. Swift wants Beyoncé as a “friend,” but would never publicly acknowledge how her own privileges, afforded to her through whiteness and white femininity, hurt black female artists such as Beyoncé. In fact, Swift is clearly still preoccupied with the “Imma let you finish…but” moment, as she whined about it again at this year’s VMAs when she presented Kanye with the Video Vanguard award. It’s like the girl can’t let anything not be about her.
Leading up to the award show, we all saw how Swift incompetently handled Nicki Minaj’s criticism of MTV for not nominating her viral video “Anaconda” for Video of the Year. On Twitter, Minaj asserted that black women are often under-recognized for their art, particularly when compared to white women who get famous from mocking our culture. Instead of using Minaj’s expression of her concerns as a teaching moment, Swift became defensive and called for some sort of shared sisterhood — a tactic white feminists often use to undermine black women when we bring attention our oppression.
Again, the annoyance I find with all of this is that Swift lives for the culture and music that black people create, yet couldn’t give a damn about our problems. Swift bobs her head to Kendrick Lamar’s albums, publicly proclaims her affinity for his music and even invites him to give a guest verse on one of her songs, but does not utter a word about the tragedies and hardships outlined in his lyrics.
Greg Tate, an African-American academic who writes about traditionally black music and the patterns of appropriation calls this phenomenon “everything but the burden.” Essentially, white people love to take on the rebellious and enjoyable aspects of black culture but leave the struggle and pain that created those feelings behind.
The Fetty Wap incident took this to an entirely new level. This time, Swift was not just rejecting the burden, she was mocking it. Dancing and singing with Wap on stage to “Trap Queen” deftly underscored her fetishization of hip-hop culture and the blackness that undergirds it. Swift has probably never been to the trap and likely did not even know what the term meant until the popular song brought the phrase to the mainstream. Could Swift define any of the lyrics and references in “Trap Queen?” Does she know what “cooking pies” is and what Wap means when he says he introduced his girl to the “stove?”
I cringe even picturing her saying “bando” out loud.
A song like “Trap Queen” includes almost no aspects of a world that Swift can likely identify with or understand. So when she performs it on stage with its curator, the whole thing looks like a weird attempt to get Wap’s magical blackness to somehow rub off on her and permeate her vast whiteness. She uses Wap as a tool to appear hip — but still innocent. Still innocent enough to play the potential victim (both figuratively and literally) of a black man like Fetty Wap, if he were to ever interrupt her on an awards show stage or, heaven forbid, did not want to be her friend.
And therein lies the problem. Blackness is not a costume or a prop. It is not an elixir for lameness that white people can take in doses when they want to have fun. Being black has real consequences and comes with challenging lived experiences. So, if a person like Swift wants to interact with it, she better respect and try to understand it instead of treating the music and culture like a play thing.
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