Wow, that Lorde song Royals is racist

Have you heard this young lady, Lorde, on the radio? Yesterday the New York Times posted a review of her recent performance at Webster Hall, and I’m kind of at a loss about the way that her big hit, Royals, is being talked about there and elsewhere. Now I’m a music lover, but since the only radio stations I listen to are the local hip hop station and NPR, I hadn’t heard this one – which I hear has been making the rounds on pop stations for a minute –  until somewhat recently:

(Full transcript of lyrics at the end of post)

Folks who have spent some time with me know that I deeply love music videos, so when I saw this posted on social media, I went straight to the video. Holy. Shit. What did this white girl just say?

My friends and I – we’ve cracked the code.
We count our dollars on the train to the party.
And everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this,
We didn’t come from money.

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

While I love a good critique of wealth accumulation and inequity, this song is not one; in fact, it is deeply racist. 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? I’m gonna take a guess: racism. I don’t have to explain why wealth operates differently among folks who’ve grown up struggling because this shit has been explained already: If you grew up with holes in your zapatos you’d celebrate the minute you was having dough.

The New York Times, however, thinks it’s just so fresh and insightful:

Ms. Perry and Ms. Cyrus sing about something teenage girls are presumed to have on their minds: what’s left of self-esteem after a breakup. (Dr. Luke, the architect of dozens of hit singles, collaborated on both songs.) Lorde, meanwhile, is singing about class consciousness and conspicuous consumption: the gap between pop-culture fantasies of Cadillacs and diamonds and the reality of being someone who “didn’t come from money.” It’s a thoughtful, calmly insubordinate song; it’s also written by an actual teenager.

While I am all about youth writing music that is targeted for youth, let’s not pretend that there is anything new about this particular kind of racism.

Yes, Lorde is only sixteen, but this is no viral video she put out outta her basement on her own; mad people signed off on this. Record execs have been working with her since she was 12; several, no, many people listened to this track, and saw no problem with it at all. And while I’m less mad at Lorde (who’s from New Zealand) than I am at the New York Times – and more generally white liberal critics that have been so captivated by Royals‘ call-out of consumption that they didn’t bother to take the time to think critically about the racial implications of the lyrics – this isn’t to say that there should be no accountability for her. I’m thinking of fierce youth activists who get it, are doing the work, and from whom Lorde could learn quite a bit. She apparently calls herself a feminist – let’s just hope her feminism gets a lot less racist as she develops as an artist.

Lyrics: Royals, by Lorde:

I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh
I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies
And I’m not proud of my address,
In a torn-up town, no post code envy

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.

And we’ll never be royals.
It don’t run in our blood,
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
Let me be your ruler,
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

My friends and I – we’ve cracked the code.
We count our dollars on the train to the party.
And everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this,
We didn’t come from money.

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

And we’ll never be royals.
It don’t run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
Let me be your ruler,
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

We’re bigger than we ever dreamed,
And I’m in love with being queen.
Life is great without a care
We aren’t caught up in your love affair.

And we’ll never be royals.
It don’t run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz
Let me be your ruler,
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

New York, NY

Verónica Bayetti Flores has spent the last years of her life living and breathing reproductive justice. She has led national policy and movement building work on the intersections of immigrants' rights, health care access, young parenthood, and LGBTQ liberation, and has worked to increase access to contraception and abortion, fought for paid sick leave, and demanded access to safe public space for queer youth of color. In 2008 Verónica obtained her Master’s degree in the Sexuality and Health program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She loves cooking, making art, listening to music, and thinking about the ways art forms traditionally seen as feminine are valued and devalued. In addition to writing for Feministing, she is currently spending most of her time doing policy work to reduce the harms of LGBTQ youth of color's interactions with the police and making sure abortion care is accessible to all regardless of their income.

Verónica is a queer immigrant writer, activist, and rabble-rouser.

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