11 Mayo 2017 14:42
Nobody's too sure what's happened: is she just trying to be provocative again? Or has Miley's dalliance with hip-hop come to an end? Whatever the truth is, her Billboard interview, in which the singer introduces the world to her latest makeover – has provoked quite a backlash.
It turns out that one of the artists who has most benefited from cultural appropriation of black music – even commodifying black women in her video for We Can’t Stop (they whip her ass while she twerks) – is now turning her back on that whole scene because she doesn't identify with it as much anymore.
Talking to Billboard about her alienation from some rap music, Miley said 'I also love that new Kendrick [Lamar] song ['Humble']: "Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks." I love that because it’s not "Come sit on my dick, suck on my cock." I can’t listen to that anymore. That’s what pushed me out of the hip-hop scene a little. It was too much "Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my cock" – I am so not that.'
Miley has also taken to Instagram to talk about going through a period of change:
'At this point in my life I am expanding personally/musically and gravitating more towards uplifting, conscious rap! As I get older I understand the effect music has on the world & seeing where we are today I feel the younger generation needs to hear positive powerful lyrics! I am proud to be an artist with out [sic] borders and thankful for the opportunity to explore so many different styles/sounds! I hope my words (sung or spoken) always encourage others to LOVE.... Laugh.... Live fully.... to be there for one another... to unify, and to fight for what's right (human, animal, or environmental)... Look forward to sharing my new tunes with you soon!'
OK, so let's analyse her words a moment: 'uplifting, conscious rap'? 'Positive lyrics'? 'Too much Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my cock'? Not only are Miley's arguments for switching up her style reductionist, they perpetuate many of the racial stereotypes that the black community has been fighting against for a very long time. They also highlight something more important: a lot of white artists 'play' at cultural appropriation as a bit of fun, a phase (often a highly lucrative one), without any real commitment to understanding, respecting or honouring the culture from which they are stealing.
'For me, when a celebrity appropriates a culture before just shrugging it off, it's the height of banalization. It is also tremendously dangerous, because these people are highly visible. They have twice as many privileges because they're famous and white. It's a highly racist act and it's damaging for the many young people who are inspired by them, as it further reinforces all those stereotypes about people of African descent,' says Antoinette Torres Soler, director and founder of Afrofeminas.
Almost overnight, Miley went from being a wholesome child actress to a highly-sexualised, twerking pop star. She repeatedly courted the hip-hop aesthetic, like in this video published by Billboard in 2013 in which she dances to a song by rapper J Dash. Now it seems like none of that was real – that 'ratchet' Miley was just another phase she was going through.
'Behind cultural appropriation there's an absence of acknowledgment that there's such a thing as white person privilege. If people are ignorant of this, they won't understand what they're appropriating. That's the problem of privilege,' adds Torres Soler.
If white passing (black people pretending to be white) was justified in highly specific social and political contexts of racial discrimination and segregation in the pre-civil rights or colonial eras; black passing (whites pretending to be black) is an exercise in pure cynicism.
'There has to be some reflection, some analysis, because when they engage in black passing, white people are allowed to do things I wouldn't be allowed to. As black people we have to be aware that some clothes or hairstyles might cause us to suffer discrimination at work; and yet, when a white person sports the same look it can be considered beautiful, exotic, interesting, even glamorous. That happens all the time with celebrities. What comes out of all this is that black culture is OK, but it's always better with some whiteness in there. In the end, what they're saying is that being white is better and more glamorous. That's what TV is constantly telling us,' says Torres.
But is it possible to integrate elements of black culture without appropriating it? 'This is interesting because cultural appropriation is often misunderstood. Cultural appropriation doesn't mean you can't use some item or incorporate it into your wardrobe. It's not about that'. What they call for in Afrofeminas – you can read their argument here – is that 'if you're wearing African braids you should say they're black braids and not Kardashian braids.'
For Torres Soler, this is a positive way for a white person to use his or her position of privilege. 'You should use this privilege to place value on black culture, never to appropriate it.'