Pop and its appropriation of black culture have been a huge talking point lately as former Disney star Miley Cyrus decided to go back to her roots with her new single, Malibu.
Her decision to suddenly change her image and music raises the question about why white pop stars wear blackness to reinvent themselves and then abandon it when it stops working.
In the early 2000s we had Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. Then Justin Bieber went through his bad-boy phase and clung to any rapper from Atlanta he could get his hands on.
Cyrus then used blackness to eradicate her former Hannah Montana image, and now Katy Perry is parading around with the Bad and Boujee rappers, Migos, in an attempt to be relevant.
The Bon Appetit singer recently performed on Saturday Night Live in one of the most cringeworthy performances to date. Her moves during the Migos verse in the song can be described as someone googling “cool moves to do when a hip hop beat is playing”. It was awkward and a clear indication of how forced Perry’s new incarnation is.
Pop music and cultural appropriation in nothing new. Back in the Motown era white producers and singers wore blackness as a costume and stole songs, giving no credit to the black creator.
This has been watered down but remains problematic.
Take a look at Bieber and his venture into blackness. He also went through a reinvention stage in 2013 and jumped on any rapper’s track as a feature he could get his hands on.
Bieber didn’t stop there. He lived the rapper lifestyle, constantly being spotted in strip clubs with a gaggle of black rappers around him as accessories. His supposed best friend, Lil Twist, was jailed after a drug bust at his Calabasas home in Los Angeles.
This was three years ago and Bieber has since cleaned up his image and abandoned his black costume. Why? His music hadn’t done well because it was inauthentic - hip hop culture does not take well to fakers and users.
The same can be said about Cyrus. She was twerking on the MTV Video Music Awards stage in 2013 and parading black women on stage while slapping their derrières. She linked up with hip hop producers for her album Bangerz. Yet, the singles that did well on the charts were ballads such as Wrecking Ball and Adore You.
Fast forward to this year and Cyrus has abandoned her shock-jock persona and gone back to her roots.
It must be nice to wear blackness to reinvent yourself without experiencing any of the negative associations or prejudices that comes with being a person of colour. Cyrus was praised for her edgy looks and “groundbreaking” sound.
Yet black people are labelled as being hood or ghetto for something they invented. It is a clear example of the double standards in pop culture. Hell, the Kardashians have made a whole empire from taking black features and hairstyles. This is the biggest problem with cultural appropriation and it stems from white privilege.
White pop stars can parade around with blackness as a costume and receive applause and are seen as style innovators. Yet, the people who created all these “cool things” are not viewed or treated in the same way. Perry is on a slippery slope with her singles, Chained to the Rhythm and Bon Appetit doing badly on the charts. Her venture into blackness isn’t panning out well for her.
This should be a signal to all future pop stars to remain in their lanes and realise that black culture is not a costume to take off when you’re done using it.