Normally, Taylor Swift can do no wrong in the eyes of the both the fans and fellow musicians (with the exception of Kanye, maybe). And this is why I was so surprised to see the whole freaking Internet turn on her after yesterday's release of the music video for Taylor's new single "Shake It Off." Well some of the Internet, anyway.
The most outspoken critic has to be rapper Earl Sweatshirt, who went on Twitter ranting about the "inherently offensive" and "ultimately harmful" video. Then there was the review written by journalist Hillary Crosley titled, "Taylor Swift's New Video Is a Cringe-Worthy Mess," in which Crosley analyzes the video scene by scene, reads way too deeply into the most innocent nuances of it, and ultimately deems it to be both boring and shockingly offensive at the same time. By the time I finished the piece, I was left with an uncomfortable feeling of embarrassment for its writer. She basically proved herself to be a grown woman that not only really sweats the small stuff, but also goes out of her way to find small stuff to sweat.
For the sake of transparency, it should be noted that both Sweatshirt and Hillary are black and their criticism of "Shake It Off" has to do with what they perceive as elements of cultural appropriation in the video.
I get that, as Hillary pointed out, this isn't the best week for race relations in America given the situation in Ferguson, MO. I get that people are on edge, especially in the African-American community"”and rightfully so. But to attack Taylor Swift's harmless pop video is kind of grasping at straws.
First and foremost"”the video is satirical from beginning to end and it blatantly spoofs music video clichés. While this isn't the most original concept, it certainly isn't racist, derogatory, or even remotely offensive.
Yes, there are some black people in the video. Yes, Taylor tries twerking in a couple of the scenes. But those scenes are intended to parody chicks like Miley and Gaga who've released videos full of real, un-ironic cultural appropriation. Taylor's poking fun at how stupid they look doing it!
In "Shake It Off," Taylor fumbles her way through hip-hop finger-tutting, unable to keep up with the black hip-hop dancer trying to teach her. She clumsily tries booty shaking, but fails"”choosing instead to crawl between the legs of real twerkers while looking up at their gyrating bums in astonishment and admiration. Is that not the exact opposite of appropriation? If anything, Taylor is saying, "Hey, look, this is NOT a culture I or any other white girl will ever be able to claim as my own"”nor should I even try."
Sweatshirt, however, didn't get the joke possibly because he admittedly didn't bother to even watch the video before overreacting to it. Here's his ill-informed tweet: "I don't need to watch it to tell you that it's ultimately harmful. Perpetuating black stereotypes to the same demographic of white girls who hide their prejudice by proclaiming their love of the culture. For instance, those of you are afraid of black people but love that in 2014 it's okay for you to be trill or twerk ... "
But if Sweatshirt had actually seen "Shake It Off" rather than basing his unwarranted rant on a couple of screenshots, he would have realized that hip-hop moves are just a few of the dance genres sampled in the video. Break, ballet, interpretive, rhythmic gymnastics and jazz are all featured in it as well"”and are all executed comically poorly by Taylor alongside professionals actually trained in each. Come on, people, she's laughing at herself for being a bad dancer"”that's all! I guess she didn't realize that all schools of movement are fair game for satire as a white woman, but she's not allowed to acknowledge the existence of hip-hop, let alone have some fun with it. Frankly, that's news to me as well.
One of the most bizarre reactions was that of Gawker writer and, ahem, Caucasian dude Sam "White Guilt" Biddle. He took to Twitter as well and tweeted a still from one of the video's breakdancing scenes featuring Taylor wearing a baseball cap and Letterman jacket while holding an old school boom box on her shoulder. The accompanying caption read: "This will not help America begin the healing."
Um, okay. I guess that's an accurate statement. Which could also be made about a photo of a coffee cup, or Grumpy Cat, or a houseplant. They're all things that will not help America begin the healing"”but only because they're all things which won't have any affect on the healing process, period. Because, just like Taylor's Letterman jacket and boom box, these things have nothing to do with race whatsoever. Her album is called 1989 for crying out loud; she's appropriating the decade in which she was born, and trying to spin her attire any other way is ridiculous.
For the record, I'm not a Taylor Swift fan. I find her boring and her music childish. But both she and her video are completely harmless no matter how much racial tension the recent tragedy in Ferguson has caused. Taylor's video won't help this country begin to heal, as Sam Biddle so astutely pointed out. The one thing that will? If we all stop fueling the fire and wasting time looking for racism where it doesn't exist. Instead, let's focus on eradicating it where it does.