A little more on Lorde, Royals, and Racism

So, my piece last week about Lorde’s song “Royals” being racist? BLEW. UP. Mostly I’ve received a barrage of personal attacks, but a few folks have asked genuine questions that are important to address.

First, it feels important (if obvious) to state that Feministing is a U.S.-based site and has a predominantly U.S.-based readership. Because that is the audience of this blog, it is the audience I believed would be reading my initial post. Clearly it has reached a much wider audience now, one that does not necessarily have a full understanding of the context from which I am writing. To be completely clear: my critique focuses on how the song lands in the United States.

Lorde’s Royals is being hailed in the United States as a rejection of the excess and consumerism we see in pop culture today, but I’m still not buying it. Though many genres mention champagne and fancy cars, Cristal, Maybachs, and Cadillacs have specific associations with hip hop. Sure, she includes ball gowns and some other more neutral artifacts, but the lyrics read pretty clearly like a rap video. You don’t have to take my word for it though. Lorde herself has noted in multiple interviews that she is reacting to and commenting on top 40 hip hop, and has said that she is a fan of the genre, naming hip hop specifically as what she is calling out in the song:

People seem excited by the criticism of conspicuous consumption in “Royals.” What were you thinking about when you wrote it?

I’ve always listened to a lot of rap. It’s all, look at this car that cost me so much money, look at this Champagne. It’s super fun. It’s also some bullshit. When I was going out with my friends, we would raid someone’s freezer at her parents’ house because we didn’t have enough money to get dinner. So it seems really strange that we’re playing A$AP Rocky. I experienced this disconnect. Everyone knows it’s B.S., but someone has to write about it. There’s typically been a lot of interest in that aspect of the song, but my all my friends are kinda like, “yeah.” They thought it was less profound.

This is where a lot of folks have questions: is commenting on hip hop racist? Is pointing out things that rappers say or do racist? Of course not. But to pretend that when someone is spotlighting hip hop (in the song, in interviews, etc.) that she is not referring indirectly to black Americans – whether she means to or not – is to ignore the ways that race and racism play out today. She’s not saying she’s above black people, but she is saying she’s above the things that mainstream hip hop often does (“We don’t care / We’re not caught up in your love affair”). It’s irrelevant that mainstream hip hop is not necessarily representative of all or even most black folks in the United States – as many people have correctly pointed out, wealthy white record execs have a big say in deciding what comes out of their labels and what doesn’t, and much does not get through. It doesn’t matter that Miley Cyrus also has worn gold teeth. It’s irrelevant that Macklemore also raps. (By the way, these folks have been consistently called out for their cultural appropriation, for disrespectfully emulating and profiting off of black cultural traditions.) The fact remains that, as a genre dominated by black folks, critique of this genre is inherently raced.

My critique of the song – and, particularly, how the U.S. media is reacting to it – is not to suggest that the consumerism in current mainstream hip hop is above critique, nor that it is unethical to critique a form of art created by people who have been historically oppressed. In fact, as a critic of pop culture, I think that doing so is incredibly important. What I do find problematic, however, is to focus a critique of excessive consumption to a genre both created and currently dominated by black Americans, particularly when the vast majority of excess consumption is done by white people – not to mention the fact that black people bear the brunt of the ill effects of wealth inequality, both in the United States and globally.

As stated in my piece earlier, I reserve most of my scorn for the record companies and the U.S. media. I don’t expect a teen from New Zealand to have an understanding of U.S. race history and relations. That said, I don’t think that she’s free of responsibility: artists must consider the ways in which the art that they create will be received, the effect their art will have on the world. Furthermore, if she is seeking to critique hip hop in its entirety – a complex culture outside of her own, and one with a long history – it is her responsibility as an artist to know its history and background. I know nothing about her intent, nor her personal views on race, but the song and the narratives created by the U.S. media in response fit into a well-worn critique of hip hop consumerism. This familiar critique ignores the reality that the distribution of wealth (here and worldwide) is heavily tilted towards white people, and people of color are disproportionately hurt by the growing income gap. The fact is her intent matters little in the face of what is actually happening: the reinforcement of longstanding racist narratives that blame people of color for problems of which we are not the major perpetrators – and of which, often, we are actually victims.

We see this happening not only in critiques of wealth accumulation that focus on hip hop, but in many arenas. Women of color who reproduce in the global south are blamed for environmental degradation largely created by multinational corporations based out of the global north (which disproportionately hurts women in the global south). White folks use marijuana at higher rates but marijuana arrests target black and Latin@ youth. The general discourse of social relief programs like food stamps are linked to people of color even though the vast majority of program enrollees are white. I could go on.

These long-standing, pervasive racist narrative are not confined to critiques of consumption: hip hop has long received huge amounts of criticism from mainstream white feminists due to misogyny, while the misogyny of artists in genres dominated by white people has garnered much less critique – another example of racism. Again, this is not to say that hip hop is above critique, but rather that it must be critiqued in a way that contextualizes it within a larger system of race and power. To do so without this context reinforces racist narratives that feed into a larger system of racism that consistently dehumanizes people of color, and serve to uphold and excuse much larger oppressive systems. In short, the national conversation on race – even if it’s just in a pop song from a teen in New Zealand – affects the ways bodies of color are seen and legislated. This is racism; not just a casual encounter, or a specific instance of interpersonal prejudice. It is an entire system that requires the consistent reinforcement and dehumanization of people of color to uphold. The ways that the U.S. media is reacting to this song – largely as a brave critique of consumer culture – is part of reinforcing that system.

That a young woman from New Zealand could not have predicted this is not surprising, and I get that she is reacting to the decontextualized slice of U.S. consumer culture exported around the world. I’m no stranger to U.S. imperialism: I’m an immigrant woman whose home country’s economy has been decimated by it. As a person living in the U.S. now, I can’t say that I know much about youth culture in New Zealand nor that I’m qualified to talk about that. What I am qualified to talk about is how it is being received here, and the ways that her critique of a distinctly American subculture fits into a larger racist narrative in the U.S. And though I’m not familiar with race relations in New Zealand – other than the fact that it was colonized by white people at the great expense and suffering of the Maori – I do know that white supremacy is a global phenomenon, and anti-black racism is worldwide. Taking stabs at hip hop that ignore context is dangerous and ignorant at best, and the record execs Lorde has been working with for the last four years should have known that. For them, and the U.S. media who’s eating this song up, there is no excuse.



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.

Read more about Verónica

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  • http://feministing.com/members/jeya/ Jeya

    “artists must consider the ways in which the art that they create will be received, the effect their art will have on the world.”
    They should?

  • honeybee

    I’m sorry but I simply can’t behind this type of attitude:
    “The fact remains that, as a genre dominated by black folks, critique of this genre is inherently raced.”

    If that’s true then why does feministing critique other cultures outside of the US? Why are we critiquing the middle east and elsewhere? For that matter, is it inherently sexist for women to critique men? I simply don’t agree that one must be part of a particular sub-group to comment on it. In fact I think we only reinforce our differences and further segregate ourselves when we think like this.

    Also how can her intent not matter? Intent is the most important thing IMO.

    • http://feministing.com/members/rebeleeous/ Rebe Lee

      To add to your very well-made point, I would also ask the blogger why is it even being assumed that hip hop is dominated by blacks? Hip hop, and hip hop culture, has far surpassed good ol’ rock n roll in this country, as far as fans go who are influenced by the music industry. And rap may be still performed primarily by blacks, but rap is not the only form of hip hop, and you see plenty of it’s influence in pop and even rock, which are still predominantly performed by white musicians. Also, while, perhaps, in the 80’s and 90’s the most visable show of overindulgence came from white society, today, this display that we see and hear everywhere comes from hip hop, namely the rappers. While the over-indulgent white society hasn’t disappeared, by any means, it also doesn’t dominate our daily lives. It isn’t loud and constantly in our face everywhere we turn, or present every time we turn on a radio. So why would her song be about them? It’s logic that she would be writing about the source that is currently, actively, having an influence on her and her peers, not some other group that has virtually disappeared from the limelight.

      • http://feministing.com/members/biddyaddy/ Bridget

        As an actual New Zealander, I find it ridiculous that you find these lyrics racist? You’ve taken a bunch of lyrics from different parts of the song and shoved them together claiming that they are racist. She is a New Zealander. Singing about her life in New Zealand. Not the USA, not somewhere in Europe. New Zealand. And here our Hip Hop scene has a wide selection of races that aren’t just ‘black’. I found your comments about the stereotypes of Hip Hop quite racist to be honest, and at the end of the day, she is a sixteen year old who is writing about her experiences and how she views the world.

  • http://feministing.com/members/goliath/ T.Scott

    Give me an effing break. If a tree falls in the woods and no liberal is around to hear it, is it still racist?

    The girl even admits in the interview snippit you posted she is actually calling out poor white kids who are listening to that, when the truth is they’re poor.

    She is talking about a culture, which isn’t exclusive to black people. The fact that you say she is, shows your own inability to believe black culture is anything but the described content.

    By your own measure, the real racist is you.

    • http://feministing.com/members/ruthieoo/ Ruth Osorio

      I don’t have anything to add, but since the Lorde fan club is blowing up the comments to launch ad hominem attacks, I just wanted to give STAND UP OVATION to Verónica for once again writing a kick ass piece of feminist cultural criticism.

      Lemme tell the readers what I do when I find a smartly written post I don’t agree with. I read it, process it, and try to reconcile the views with my own. I understand that I am fallible, and I am happy that so many brilliant writers online challenge me and help me grow as a feminist and as a human. I never once called any of the writers who I disagreed with sexists/racists or ordered them to issue a public apology. Why would I? Art is put out into the world for dissection and discussion. This wrestling with pop culture is how we are able to envision a more just future with inclusive and accurate representation.

      When you come across a well-researched, well-written and intelligent piece of criticism that states a view you disagree with, grapple with it for a minute or two, then respond with a well-researched, well-written, and intelligent reply. Or, you know, don’t. But it would be a lot cooler if you did.

      • http://feministing.com/members/shanewalker/ Shane Walker

        It’s nice that you try to digest a well written and well thought out piece before commenting on it, but this article is only well written in the sense that the author has a nice eloquent way with words. There are too many glaring contradictions in this article to count however. The author stumbles over her points and backtracks so many times it is ridiculous. She says that the genre deserves critiquing, but then suggests that it can only be critiqued by black people? I find that racist. And then she uses Miley Cyrus and Maclemore swimming around the fringes of the genre to go “Look! White people do it too!”? You can seriously get behind this? I didn’t know who Lorde was before seeing this on CNN (so as not to be labeled as a Lorde fan club member) but I found the song to be a simple way of saying the pervasive nature of flaunting wealth in hip hop and rap was a drastic disconnect from reality. To suggest it was racism on behalf of the artist is not only grandstanding by this author, but it is also incredibly irresponsible and exactly the type of attitude that keeps racial lines as divided as they actual are. It’s a straw man, and it is shameful.

      • http://feministing.com/members/biddyaddy/ Bridget

        I hardly found her piece well researched.

  • http://feministing.com/members/eaking41/ Elizabeth King

    Yeah, I see where you’re going with this follow up, but I don’t think you can back out of this one. Had Lorde been a young white girl a la Taylor Swift who’d written this song to much popular acclaim, then yes, you’d have a pretty valid argument. But she’s not. Within the first 4 lines of her song, you can tell she’s not from the US (post code, term generally used by Brits or the “colonies” among English speakers).

    I’m not going to make assumptions about your past and where you’ve lived as an adult besides the US, but for myself, having lived in a country with much the same very specific proliferation of US pop music as New Zealand seems to have (I’m basing this on the commenters from your previous post who have made statements about US music in their country), I can say that the impression you get of music and pop culture in the US, based solely on the music you hear, is pretty ridiculous. And her song is quite simply an expression of that.

    She’s commenting on what is mainstream; she’s commenting on the cultural appropriation of mainstream radio that caters to a middle class white population that likes its music boiled down to a happy stew of cliches and whatever happens to be trending on YouTube this week; she’s commenting on how stupid and ridiculous the average consumer of culture is in the US, and the fact that her song suddenly became big with just those people is simply further critique of us, the dumb white people who eat this crap up and pretend we know something about anything for just a few minutes.

    The love affair Lorde is talking about is, unfortunately for you, the one you’re buying into–that of the poor black people who only know how to put out music that other people critique and ridicule, and who haven’t the agency to protest or speak for themselves. We, the US, are not the center of the world, not by a long shot. A lot of people from other countries, when they look at our issues with race, poverty, feminism, don’t see and don’t care about our petty prejudices that keep us from helping the people who actually need it. They look at us askance, wonder how we can manage to be so stupid so consistently.

  • http://feministing.com/members/captaincanada/ Sean Curley

    What I do find problematic, however, is to focus a critique of excessive consumption to a genre both created and currently dominated by black Americans, particularly when the vast majority of excess consumption is done by white people – not to mention the fact that black people bear the brunt of the ill effects of wealth inequality, both in the United States and globally.

    That begins with the false assumption that she started from the point of wanting to critique ‘excessive consumption’ in general. She was specifically inspired by the music that she listens to, so she wrote a song critiquing that.

  • http://feministing.com/members/disappointment/ Yousuck

    I agree, your not getting out of it this easy. You owe that girl a public apology. You put your foot in your mouth with your ignorance and assumptions. Any credibility you did have, you’ve lost. But on the other hand your famous now!

  • http://feministing.com/members/davidweller/ David Weller

    From this response to the many insightful, intelligent criticisms of your original post, I gather you are not really interested in music as an art or in the perspective of the artist, but only in large American cultural phenomena that have nothing to do with the art itself.

    You have a lot of legitimate criticisms of American culture and specifically of race in American culture. That’s completely fine and appropriate, but to put weight of all that history onto the back of one song by one teenage singer/songwriter simply because it refers the elements of hip hop culture that have effected her so many miles away is just plain wrong.

    You say you’re not qualified to consider the experience or the background of a New Zealand artist. Well then de facto you’re not qualified to criticize her song in public. She’s giving you her perspective–that’s what art is.

    She is not at all responsible for how the New York Times or how any other part of the American intelligencia chooses to interpret her song. And she has done nothing wrong by referring to those couple of items that the rap artists themselves have turned into world wide cliches for over-weaning consumption.

    If you want to attack the New York Times for dissing black culture, that’s fine. But the fact is that hip hop culture and hip hop values have permeated world culture everywhere and have a much bigger impact on the developing perspectives of young people than do all the rich white bankers in the world.

    You may respond that rich white bankers have a bigger impact on keeping poor people poor than do rich conspicuously consuming rappers, and you would be right. But young artists write about their experiences and their perceptions. To expect then to give up their own experiences and to suggest they should be writing about people they don’t see is to expect them to begin doing really bad art.

    A lot of the things you say about American culture and wealth inequality are true. But the headline for your originally post is still a blatant lie. There is nothing racist about that song and it presents a completely legitimate perspective.

    Using Jay Z in a feminist publication as an example of an intelligent person who has already sufficiently explained how income inequality and racism function in American society because he managed to come up with ” I got 99 problems but a bitch aint one ” is baffling to me, unless you’re just trying to get attention. He is intelligent, if he’s ever been poor, it’s a long time ago. If he’s ever been stuck in the hood, it’s been a long time ago, and he’s one of the most sexist artists around.

    You question Lorde’s credentials as a feminist. Are you sure you’re one? Listen to “Girls Girls Girls,” watch the video. There is no cultural background that can possibly excuse such sexism and such disrespect and hatred of women.

    • http://feministing.com/members/robind/ Robin D

      UM, Jay-Z was born in a Bed-Stuy housing project. He grew up poor.

      • http://feministing.com/members/davidweller/ David Weller

        Thanks for the clarification, Robin. I don’t know his distant past, and I do know he says some valid things, but he’s been rich a long time, and that means a lot in American culture. Plus, and more to my point, he’s still a woman hater.

    • http://feministing.com/members/feminesque/ Lisa

      Thank you for saying everything my head was too encased in flames to express.

      • http://feministing.com/members/davidweller/ David Weller

        Thank you, Lisa, what a kind thing to say.

    • http://feministing.com/members/davidweller/ David Weller

      gotta correct myself. I just read the New York Times editorial. There’s also nothing racist in that.

  • http://feministing.com/members/shermerner/ Sherm

    wow you sure are getting a lot of hate for both of these articles. just wanted to comment that there are people out there who agree with your critique. So keep doing ya thang!

  • http://feministing.com/members/kimujnr/ caleb

    I’m black, I love hip-hop, and I love Lorde’s song because her words in regards to the ridiculousness of hip-hop opulence is real and sincere. I was listening to a NY based hip-hop radio station(Hot97) this morning and they had caught wind of your article. And here’s the irony, they spent a good amount of time disagreeing with your sentiments.

    Black people shouldn’t be coddled an told by non-blacks just what is and what isn’t racist. Saying it on our behalf and with so much vim an vigor is just as bad, and oozes of that special kind of liberal condescension. No music is above criticism, especially if its calling out something very legitimate.

    • http://feministing.com/members/littlemorepork/ Jasmine Hunter

      Caleb I couldn’t agree more.
      Lorde is the best role model in pop music I have seen in decades. I am disappointed in a fellow how this writer is tearing her down instead of lifting her up.

  • http://feministing.com/members/swan1/ Peta Schwann

    Hi Veronica. I am sorry you have been subjected to personal attacks. When we go public as Lorde has, we open outselves up to observations from others. It is also great that you have started this discussion which are lot of people are picking up on. I am following Lorde being a New Zealander myself. She has made controversial statements in the song as you have in commenting on it. We speak straight in New Zealand, and accept legitimate criticism.

    I can well imagine that various nasty people could use Royals as a platform to bash black people. Unfortunately, all genuine statements that Lorde has made can be pervert, as can any bold statement that anyone makes on any issue. I am also sure that Lorde has carefully selected the words, and had them checked over. I would say she is attacking the values of some values within songs by black people and others by write people. There are plenty of black people and white ones also that don’t like these values either.

    You statements have sparked a debate, which I believe is very helpful. I’m sure that Lorde also wants to write music that conveys a hard hitting message, but is in no way racist. I hope she doesn’t tone down due to fears of criticism. I feel sure that she won’t. As they say, publish and be damned, huh?

  • http://feministing.com/members/airos/ Alex

    In my opinion, The song is a simple song critiquing excesses currently promoted in every pop/ hip hop song. Something that is very true. I am still not sure why you called it “racist.” Is Miley racists for twerking on rap artists? Is Kesha racist for wearing a gold tooth? I’ve listened to this song so many times and never once thought this… All I can think of is that it’s a song criticizing silly pop/rock/rap antics and the funny thing is that it has dethroned the current queen of those antics: Miley Cyrus. And she did this without having to resort to provocative behavior. Oh well we can all find hidden meanings in everything… Maybe we just need to take things at face value. Too much thinking can lead to paranoia. Jk, I honestly respect your opinion. I like thought provoking writing.

  • http://feministing.com/members/bioszoe/ Ricky

    It is disappointing that the follow-up post does not acknowledge some of the biggest problems with the original post.

    First, the original post does not adequately deal with the proposition that one can criticize rap/hip hop without criticizing other manifestations of the same forms of consumerism and not be racist.* As you’ve defended your piece, I take it that you believe that Lorde is being racist through her omission of criticizing other forms of consumerism that are more commonly associated with other races beside blacks. Your original post and this followup post fail to address at how Lorde could be criticizing rap/hip hop and not black people* (similar to how someone can criticize anti-abortion policies without criticizing Catholicism). It also failed to address why a song that seeks to criticize rap/hip hop’s form of consumerism address the complexity of American consumerism to avoid a charge of being racist. It is a pop song, not a master’s thesis. Requiring the song to do so would completely change the nature and meaning Lorde was expressing in her song. In sum, your posts fail to explain how there are “race-neutral” (as in not motivated by conscious of subconscious bigotry) explanations for Lorde’s choice of symbolism. As with most individual incidents of racism, there is substantial difficulty in determining whether someone is acting racist or if there is a innocent explanation for what occurred. As most have disagreed rather than agreed with your opinion (judging by the comments), it is disappointing to see that you have not taken a fresh look at the song to see whether this song is “deeply racist.”

    Second, this post spends a significant amount of time discussing Lorde’s responsibility to do something or read up on black/hip hop culture, but there is no discussion of your responsibility. As someone who has been given a platform to speak from you have a responsibility to give fair criticism of items worthy of criticism in the first place. You practically admit you did not consider Lorde’s perspective, and write it off as not matter because of (1) the general nationality of the readership of this blog, (2) her intent is irrelevant because she is strictly liable for her actions. It is rather rich to see in one piece that only one side has to be informed as the nature before writing about it. One would think this “lost in translation” moment would make you more likely to back off of the comments of your first post.

    But I am also lost at how something can be “deeply racist” and yet the intent of the speaker is not relevant to the analysis. The larger problem with your first post was not necessarily the conclusion you reached (though to be sure, your conclusion had its share of problems), but the severity of the racism you thought existed in the song. Had you merely suggested the song had racial undertones, I would have thought you were wrong, rather than completely off base as you are here.

    *You appear to disagree with this statement by stating “[t]he fact remains that, as a genre dominated by black folks, critique of this genre is inherently raced.” As a challenge, I would appreciate it if you could explain how the following is racist: “The violence in popular rap music (defined as Billboard Top 40) negatively influences those who listen to it.” I am curious to hear how the foregoing was “inherently raced.”

  • http://feministing.com/members/patrickjt/ Patrick

    Firstly I want to say that I’m deeply disappointed this is not an acknowledgement that you may have gone too far in the last Lorde piece, on the basis of a lack of understanding of the person being critiqued. That assumes you understand that by extension you were calling Lorde out as racist.

    Overall I find this piece (let’s be honest here, it’s a defense) to be quite condescending. To quote “I don’t expect a teen from New Zealand to have an understanding of U.S. race history and relations”, and “That a young woman from New Zealand could not have predicted this is not surprising”. That’s hardly the sort of positive writing I would expect to read on a truly feminist blog.

    But primarily I would like to point to the following:

    “…Feministing is a U.S.-based site and has a predominantly U.S.-based readership … the audience I believed would be reading my initial post.”

    Verónica, can I ask whether you see the irony here?

    And there’s also this:

    “Taking stabs at hip hop [Lorde’s intentions] that ignore context is dangerous and ignorant at best”

    This is why you were deservedly called out on your American imperialism viewpoint (and sorry, the immigrant statement doesn’t remove you from this criticism).

    Nothing in this new piece serves to change this reader’s view that you were misguided last time.

    I won’t even start on your view that critiques of culture are only ‘qualified’ if they come from individuals within it – reinforced by a variety of your comments, including that hip hop is “a complex culture outside of [Lorde’s] own”. Should I draw you some Venn diagrams here about culture not remaining static and singular?

    For someone who laudably is attached to a blog that discusses inequity and who appears to have a concern for exposing it, you fail to recognize that Lorde is not dissimilar from you. Yet you have demonized her publically. Perhaps this is what you should reflect on, rather than digging in your heels and trying to appear to be on the side of the angels here.

  • http://feministing.com/members/jainey/ Jaine

    You make some excellent points regarding race in this blog, they do little however, to undo the damage of your prior post regarding Lorde and Royals. No matter how much back pedaling you do and how hard you try and connect your analysis on race with her song it doesn’t work.

    Your first blog was poorly thought out and an imperialistic (oh the irony) attack on a 16 year old artist from another country. There was no analysis on it being ‘how it lands here’, (American’s decide whether her song does well in the States, not Lorde), now your stating your qualified to discuss that. How disingenuous, qualified you may be, but that’s not what you did.

    I won’t go on about the actual lyrics of Lorde’s song and how you take two lines, and ignore the rest of her song because it doesn’t fit your argument. As for the polo, golf and Central Park East comment, seriously, get a clue.

    You made a rash judgment and blogged a nasty blog about a talented young woman and are now trying to hide behind a myriad of other issues. By claiming racism where there isn’t any (in her song) you undermine valid points you might be trying to make.

  • http://feministing.com/members/tkalenb/ Kalen T

    I’m torn on this and my thoughts are jumbled, because this is such a huge, HUGE topic. I don’t agree with assumption that the mentions of Cristal, Maybach, and Cadillacs automatically make it racist, but I feel like I am also be missing something vital, because, well, I am a stupid white girl at times.

    On the one hand, I profess to be no expert listener of hip hop and the hip hop I do listen to tends to be of the Indie variety – Blue Scholars, Dessa, P.O.S., and so on – which is not the type of hip hop under discussion here, but rather mainstream representations, stereotypes and understandings of rap and/or hip-hop. The hip hop I’m familiar with is of the sort that doesn’t speak about bling or being gangsta, but rather just struggling against social injustice, struggling against poverty/conflict/opposition/addiction, and the like which I think qualifies it as being under that genre.

    “What I do find problematic, however, is to focus a critique of excessive consumption to a genre both created and currently dominated by black Americans, particularly when the vast majority of excess consumption is done by white people…”

    In this regard, I associate only the mainstream with this obsession on status (which to my untrained eye could be a critique of white culture itself for all I know — I need to educate myself further), wealth, and luxury. Reading the Wikipedia pages on hip-hop, I couldn’t help but notice how brand saturated it was compared to other genres of music; then again, that leads me to ask the question of whether urban themes in hip-hop are inherently going to be super consumerist and brand-saturated because they originate in the city-scape. Is it a form of consumerist culture that just happens to be populated in by black bodies and faces because that’s the only place where white culture allows this kind of consumerism by African Americans?

    It becomes a bit chicken and egg in my mind, of the nature and characteristics of the genre/the art itself in terms of media representation vs. the specific culture that has grown under it, at times a subset and cross-over into black culture as one of many manifestations.

    Interestingly enough, I did find an article about Jay-z boycotting Cristal in 2006 because of the racist comments of its makers (Implying that Cristal had lost status as a luxury item because it was popular among rappers and hip-hop artists and that the makers couldn’t just ‘keep anyone from buying it’). What happens when a cultural artifact is picked up and then tossed to the side? Is it ok to use it again or is never ok to use it until it has been imbued with fresh meaning in the present day culture?

    On the other hand, this sort of conversation makes me think of cultural appropriation/mis-appropriation of items, symbols (i.e. Cristal), and such in the sense that these luxury items and certain themes have been appropriated, in part, by black urban culture. I was reading an article on how 90s gangsta themes looked to the 1930s/1940s gangsters of primarily Italian or Irish descent. And there was some pretty fierce racism against Irish and Italians by folks of Anglo-Saxon descent. There’s no comparison to it nowadays because Irish and Italians don’t suffer near the same social or economic disadvantages as PoC do at a structural level.

    It makes me wonder — at what point does something become tied as part and parcel, becoming essentially off-limits to outsiders, within a particular culture? At what point is it opened up like a can of worms for everyone to dip in? What happens when a colonized or oppressed group (historically or otherwise) has some part of their cultural trappings appropriated and used by another colonized/oppressed group? Or what happens when two racial/cultural groups mistakenly assume the other appropriates their symbols and culture?

    One such example I was reading about the other day was from a Native American woman who had married a very Scottish man whose family was into the Gaelic ancestry and as such were involved in face-painting. Those not in the know about this basically took offense and accused said Gaelic family members of mocking and appropriating and being out and out racist against Native peoples.

    To finish, if anyone could direct me to further readings on any of the above subjects, that would be lovely. I’m always looking to expand my understanding because this is a Gordian Knot of a subject and I’ve only just started scratching the surface.

  • http://feministing.com/members/dfinma/ Skippy


    Racism is rampant. I’m racist, you’re racist, everyone is racist. Countless other “-isms” are rampant too. They’re all easily explained by primitive biology but we can save that for another time.

    Inventing (or claiming) racism where none exists however is, well, kinda [redacted for ablesism].

  • http://feministing.com/members/normative/ Julian Sanchez

    This looks an awful lot like an instance of the critic’s classic “but they didn’t make the movie/book/song I would have made…” syndrome. If this were a song about wealth inequality generally, or “excessive consumption” as such, maybe it would be weird to focus primarily on hip-hop tropes. But it’s not about those things. It’s a song about the disconnect between the *celebration of material excess in popular music* and the lives of the audience (or the singer’s local subset of the audience, anyway).

    So yes, of course those are the examples she picks (among others from other genres)—they’re the one’s that would naturally be most familiar to someone who listens to contemporary popular music, and at any rate, were evidently the examples familiar to the singer given her own listening habits. To insist that a personal statement about an artist’s reaction to a pervasive theme in other popular art be either embedded in a treatise on global political economy or left entirely unarticulated seems excessively, stiflingly demanding. That reaction may “ignore the reality” of other tangentially relevant social facts—many of which are doubtless more important in the grand scheme of things—but again, that’s just faulting the singer for not choosing to sing about the critic’s hobbyhorses.

  • http://feministing.com/members/ritafantastic/ Rita Carlin

    You make an interesting argument, Veronica. I personally don’t agree, though I am sorry that you’ve been getting flames. That’s uncalled for.

    I’m not entirely sold on the idea that Lorde made a racist statement. I do live in America and listen to hip-hop, but I did not realize that Cadillacs were “black”, and I had never heard of a Maybach before. The image conjured by the lyrics could be a hip hop video, but it could also be a Gaga video, or a Vogue photo shoot, or a James Bond movie (specifically the villain’s lair). Before reading your first piece, it did not occur to me that “Royals” could be construed as a racist critique of hip hop.

    I have read some deeply raced criticism of hip hop. There was a young republican in my journalism class in high school who wrote an opinion piece that amounted to “rap is crap,” and hated broadly on a whole culture without pausing to try and understand it. By comparison, Lorde’s critique of hip hop is the least raced I can imagine. I like hip hop, but I am more satisfied by “Holy Grail” (another critique of celebrity hip hop culture) than “Look at me Now” (which fully embraces it).

  • http://feministing.com/members/travellingkiwi/ Travelling Kiwi

    I signed up specifically to comment. Veronica, while it is horrible and wrong that you have been on the receiving end of personal attacks, and many of the defences of Lorde have been racist you are still missing the point. You say “Lorde…must consider the way [her] art will be received”. Honestly? Her art was not written for an American audience. The vast, vast majority of New Zealand artists never make it even to Australia, much less to the US. Her song was written for Kiwi kids like her, who if it weren’t for the voluntary quota system the local radio stations maintain would likely hear ONLY music from the US. Until you have driven around New Zealand listening to the same five radio stations playing the same three songs (I am not kidding, in 6 hours in the car on Christmas Day 2011 I heard ‘Sex on Fire’ 8 times) you have no idea how pervasive the influence of US culture is in New Zealand.

    No, New Zealand is not a post-racist utopia; like everywhere outside Europe that there are white people (and even some places in Europe) we have a history of brutal colonization of indigenous or earlier-arriving people (as the Maori are). No, we are not free of White Supremacy. And no, there is no excuse for the US record execs and media can or should offer for not interrogating this aspect of the reception of the song in the US. But, we do not have local born African Americans or indigenous African American culture. If Lorde was critiquing some aspect of visible consumption in Pacific Island or Maori culture, you might have a point. She’s not, she’s critiquing what has been presented to her, by New Zealand media, as US culture. To claim in that context a teenager from New Zealand writing about her own experiences should be held responsible for the legislating of black bodies in the US? Is US imperialism at its most extreme.

    • http://feministing.com/members/sassigirl/ Sassi St Claire

      Well said. Negating a young woman’s experience and cultural expression on the grounds that it “plays out” differently in the USA is disturbing, and the original piece implied that Lorde’s feminism must be “racist” and she had to learn from (presumably American) “activists” in order to become a good feminist.

      The author saying that she has had experience of cultural imperialism yourself doesn’t excuse perpeutating it. That article comes from a place of privilege.

    • http://feministing.com/members/bearerofdiscomfort/ Erika Te Hiwi

      I agree that ‘we’ are not free of White Supremacy; because nothing says White Supremacy more than appointing oneself the arbiter of what ‘indigenous’ means (noting your differentiating between indigenous and earlier-arriving). I suggest you familiarise yourself with the United Nations definition of indigenous and reflect during your travels on how it serves you to not consider Maori indigenous. And further; on how that self-serving is reflected in how you perceive the commentary on Royals.

      To critique the impact of ‘American’ culture via media on a New Zealand audience (and Lorde) and yet deflect criticism on the basis that the song was not written for an American audience undermines the ability of ‘imperial outposts’ to speak back. Or the responsibility that might entail.

      • http://feministing.com/members/travellingkiwi/ Travelling Kiwi

        Honestly, thank you for this comment. In my travels I have been places where there have been people for 40,000 years, and places (like New Zealand) who have a history of being populated for less than 1000. That was the sole distinction I intended to make with ‘earlier-arriving’, to point out that NO history within NZ borders is very long–this makes a difference in terms of cultural stability and self reference. (Consider how much more stable and confident Maori culture is than Pakeha NZ culture–same thing. Maori culture is long and of course extends beyond Maori arrival in NZ; Pakeha culture such as it is is short and uncofident, seeking mainly to appropriate other cultures to claim as its own).

        In terms of legislation (which is what I perceive the UN definition to be for) there is no question in my mind that Maaori are the true and rightful indigenous people of New Zealand, and I consider it shameful that New Zealand is one of the four nations that opposed the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

        Of course, however, intent is not magic. I apologise for not making my distinction clearer, and for positing Maori as anything other than the rightful indigenous people of NZ. I was wrong, and I will try to do better.

        Finally, I am not sure what you mean about undermining the ability of imperial outposts to speak back–I’ve tried to wrap my head around it, and my interpretation is that you’re saying that we as New Zealanders have the ability and responsibility to offer some other kind of reflection on US culture that does not buy into racist stereotypes. If I am wrong, and you have the energy, I’d be happy to be corrected.

  • http://feministing.com/members/lakarune/ Karuna Venter

    This moment of life on the internet is so full of personal attacks disguised as critique… the comments section… jeeza louisa! This is a very smart piece. I hate that I still love the song after reading it, because this piece is so well-argued. While I like the song, I also don’t buy it “as a rejection of the excess and consumerism we see in pop culture today”. Like so many songs by teens, it strikes me as being a slouchy bravado reference to stuff she secretly aspires to. The whole album (yes I bought the whole album) is teenagery that way. I find the music addictive, and I think she’s a smart girl. Will be interested to see how/if she evolves once this crit hits her. Thank you Veronica.

    • http://feministing.com/members/vbayetti/ Verónica Bayetti Flores

      Karuna, don’t hate yourself! When you’re a person who’s aware of the multiple ways oppressions play out, it’s hard not to listen to stuff that you don’t agree with politically on every level. Folks who think I’m doing this on some sort of strange vendetta against a teen I’ve never met (as opposed to because I’m invested in racial justice) might be surprised by this, but actually I find the song really catchy, think Lorde seems pretty smart, and I wish her the very best in her development as an artist.

      • http://feministing.com/members/nicodetourn/ Nico Detourn

        But to say you “find the song really catchy” is to state the obvious. It’s hardly a concession on a point at issue.

        Perhaps less obvious is that when you start Phase 2 of Feministing’s promotional efforts on behalf of Lorde and her bank account with, “So, my piece last week about Lorde’s song “Royals” being racist? BLEW. UP.” is to state page-view feminism’s equivalent of “Mission Accomplished.”

        Well at least we’ve moved on from Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus.

        O feminism, where art thou? And where shall I send the ransom?

  • http://feministing.com/members/simplefish/ simplefish

    The first rule of holes is to stop digging.

    Your initial post was poorly-argued, ill-thought out, culturally imperialist, and frankly racist, although I have no doubt you didn’t mean it as such. After catching criticism from everyone from feminists, to African-American activists, to music critics, I can see the urge to defend yourself. It’s human! And you did get some vitriolic personal attacks, which were entirely unjustified, and no doubt upped the ante from your perspective.

    But the fact remains that your premise was wrong. Your argument is predicated on the idea that 1) a New Zealander, writing in New Zealand, should somehow have written a song based not on her culture but yours and 2) that criticising the glorification of consumerism is somehow racist. These points are wrong, for all the reasons that have been explained to you in such length by other commenters, and they remain wrong. Even in this post you remain unable or unwilling to either defend your ideas or admit they were wrong.

    No doubt the page views are welcome to your editors, but you would be a better advocate for the disadvantaged if you could find it in yourself to apply your critical skills to yourself, and recognise your own failings. Which in this particular instance are (sorry!) rather more real than Lorde’s.

  • http://feministing.com/members/jainey/ Jaine

    and some more from feminist’s in New Zealand


    Is the irony of Flores pointing out that this is an American site whilst she critiques a New Zealand song lost on anybody else. Admitting one is not qualified to comment on another culture etc doesn’t mean much when the same person proceeds to analyse the a product of somebody else’s culture in the context of their own.

  • http://feministing.com/members/vick/ Vick

    This whole controversy could easily be defused if Flores could just tell the difference between bad multinational corporate hip hop and good hip hop.

    Lorde’s is obviously making fun of the toxic corporate stuff, and from her interviews it sounds like she probably has an appreciation of the good stuff.

    Flores is falling into the trap of seeing any criticism of hip hop as racist, rather than acknowledging that yep, a lot of it is pretty stupid and trashy, while at the same time, a lot of it is pretty good.

    That she doesn’t make this kind of very, verrry simple differentiation suggests to me that she’s probably looking for a fight.

  • http://feministing.com/members/littlemorepork/ Jasmine Hunter
  • http://feministing.com/members/athenia/ athenia

    “The fact is her intent matters little in the face of what is actually happening: the reinforcement of longstanding racist narratives that blame people of color for problems of which we are not the major perpetrators – and of which, often, we are actually victims.”

    Posting for emphasis. Sing it!

  • http://feministing.com/members/feminismisnotaboutequality/ Brandon

    So, if I say, “I love fried chicken” in my song, does that mean I’m a racist? And that my song is racist, because it is similar to black culture? Oh wait, no. You completely missed the point of the song. It’s about the ridiculous things mentioned in pop culture. I am a huge hip-hop fan, and most songs are about gloating about personal items.

    Do you really think a 16 year old girl from New Zealand is going to write a racist song for her breakout? No.

  • http://feministing.com/members/netrunner9/ Steven Nelson

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    I was listening to a radio talk show this morning where your blog was mentioned further promoting this song. Wow, looking at the YouTube hits and sales increase, you have singularly promoted this song to its greatness. It is rare in history to witness a single people being responsible for anything. I hope you get the notoriety for promoting Lorde’s “Royals”.

    Again thanks Veronica Flores on your promotion of “Royals”.

  • http://feministing.com/members/lawngnome/ Vanessa

    As a non-American feminist who reads this blog religiously I have to say that I find this response disappointing. While any personal attacks you may have received are unjustified and sadly likely outnumbered the thoughtful and informed critiques that your original post received, I was hoping that this post would have at least acknowledged some of the thoughtful and informed critiques that were indeed offered by non-American feminists and American feminists of colour. While you raise many salient points about race in this piece that certainly require critical discussion in a broader context, this post does nothing to address the fact that your initial analysis was rash, abrasive, and incredibly imperialistic (I use this term because your argument is based on the premise that a fifteen year old girl from New Zealand should have written “Royals” with the American cultural perspective in mind). Young female artists like Lorde need support from feminist communities as they face the uphill sexist/racist/heteronormative battle that is the pop music industry, and when their work is deserving of critique, such feedback should be delivered with the intent of building up rather than tearing down.

  • http://feministing.com/members/lyndabrendish/ Lynda

    Hey Verónica, I wrote the blog that ended up getting quote as “the” rebuttal to your piece on CNN and elsewhere, which was also a surprise for me as mostly no one pays attention to my personal blog. I actually ended up posting an update asking for dissenting opinions because I was uncomfortable with how my opinion was positioned to yours and how it may have stifled opinions from people of colour.

    Anyhow, I wanna say it sucks that you got personal attacks as a result of of the coverage that I am in part responsible for stirring up. I saw people saying awful things on other forums and it made me sad. I also hated how some of the media cast their coverage in the light of “what are those crazy feminists saying now”- type bullshit. So yeah. I hope you know that even though I somehow got embroiled in this whole thing that I actually don’t subscribe to most of the shit being said about you for saying what you thought.

    Do I think you were wrong though? Yeah. I do.

    But this follow up is cool. I do think it’s important to talk about the ways in which society marginalises people of colour, in the US, NZ and globally. And the ways in which inequality disproportionately effects people of colour (negatively). I agree with almost everything you’ve said except for its relation to the song. Sure, the music industry is a rigged game, sure it perpetuates negative stereotypes and has a vested interest in continuing to do so. But I don’t think *this* song is the vehicle for that. It is a product of that world, yes. But that in and of itself doesn’t make it racist.

    What I do find problematic, however, is to focus a critique of excessive consumption to a genre both created and currently dominated by black Americans, particularly when the vast majority of excess consumption is done by white people

    You know, in large part I think the ‘critique’ is something the media has assigned to the song. In quotes you’ve mentioned but also in the quote I used on my blog: She’s not critiquing shit. She’s saying – that’s not the life we know. We’re here, counting dollars on the train, but listening to songs about cristal and maybachs and tigers on a gold leash. But she’s still dreaming about that life. I’ll note that she’s still from a middle to upper middle class family, so it’s not like she comes from a poor family by any stretch of the imagination. But here’s why I think you are wrong: She’s singing about her own experience, and nothing else. And you’re telling her that experience is invalid and shouldn’t be mentioned because she’s not African American? I don’t get that.

    I 100% agree we need to be talking about inequality and everyday racism and all the rest of the bullshit, but I just don’t think this is the song that typifies what’s wrong with everything. I think you picked the wrong battle.

    • http://feministing.com/members/vbayetti/ Verónica Bayetti Flores

      Hey Lynda! Thanks for responding respectfully, I really appreciate that. I guess I’m not sold on that she’s not critiquing (i.e., that she’s just saying that it’s a different experience than hers). I’m not sold because of both how I’m interpreting the lyrics (which I understand is subjective) and because of how she’s talked about it in the interviews I’ve read (like in the inverview quoted above: “it’s some bullshit”). I suppose it’s possible, but it sure doesn’t seem that way – neither to me, nor the folks in the media who are interpreting the song.

      Also, to be really clear, I actually don’t think you have to be black to critique hip hop in a way that’s valid. But you do have to account for race and power when doing so, which I don’t think is happening here. I do think that the dynamic would totally change if she were black though, because the power dynamics would change dramatically.

      Again, I really, really appreciate your respectful challenge, and your thoughtful critique.

  • http://feministing.com/members/dd822/ Dawn

    It’s art and she’s entitled to her expression…it’s just a song…I’ve listened to it 100 times and never felt it was implicating race. You are making it a race issue by your skewed perception and by your own generalizations.

  • http://feministing.com/members/bearerofdiscomfort/ Erika Te Hiwi

    Absolutely. The focus on intention of the writer/singer is disingenuous. When you contribute to a body of representation with your art (song) the contribution can and should be critiqued.

    Indeed. This reminds me of arguments that flare in Aotearoa/New Zealand around the wearing of hoodies. Shopping malls have moved toward banning them – a move which is also inherently raced; as the vast majority of hoodie wearers (in particular the hoodie wearers that are deemed ‘problematic’) are brown either Maori or Polynesian boys/young men. However the makers of rules, in malls and elsewhere, can deny the raced nature of their ban because they are targeting clothing, not brown people. Its disingenuous.

    At 16 Lorde is not likely to have thought through the impact of her lyrics; that does not however render her song above reproach. A focus on ‘intention’ has long been strategic in undermining efforts by black/brown people (people of colour? Not really a fan of that term) to highlight the racialised nature of much popular discourse. Critiquing the song is, from my viewpoint, respecting the artist enough to invite her to consider the effect of how she represents in her song. And how her art might play into, as you say – racist narratives. As well as the critique of the practice of representation within the music (and other entertainment) industries. This piece of writing, like the first, is a relevant and important piece of critical examination and I thank you for it. It may have provoked an hysterical response; but that only reinforces from my view, how important it was to say.

  • http://feministing.com/members/muffysimba711/ Kate

    Nope. Nope. Nope. Those lyrics apply to Rock, Pop, R&B and Hip-Hop. Trashing hotels is Rock. Ball gowns is Pop. Jets and Tigers on a gold leash is what people use to see on “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” and we still see today. Most top 40 songs and videos feature ridiculously, rich lifestyles. So rich lifestyles only = Hip Hop now? I don’t remember any Rappers being in “American Psycho,” “Wall Street” and “Scarface” which were all the rage back in the ’80s before Lorde was even born. Yeah, I know AP wasn’t made in the ’80s, but it takes place in the ’80s. Your Macklemore diss also is wrong.

  • http://feministing.com/members/laurajeanne/ laura

    You know you are challenging racist paradigms just the right amount when you get this much negative feedback. You are doing a great job Veronica. Any answer to the question of how responsible an artist needs to be for their arts interpretation does not exclude your original point. There is allot of trafficking in false dichotomies in these comments. It is not a coincidence that the most popular critique of excess in our top 40 at this moment does not actually critique the real wielders of immense, oppressive international excess.

  • http://feministing.com/members/shady/ shady

    I tell you what – New Zealand is one of the least racist countries you’ll ever come across. Everyone grows up mixing with everyone else and racism is a weird idea. You get all different Polynesian kids mixing with Maori, Pakeha (the Maori word everyone uses for white people) and kids from all the Asian countries. And then as we grow up, there’s no big cultural divide. There may be a growing economic divide, like everywhere else, but no cultural one.

    American culture sweeps in on the internet and tv and New Zealand kids don’t filter any of it through a black/white divide. It just wouldn’t occur to New Zealanders that by dissing any aspect of rap culture that it’s an attack on black people. Maybe they’d realise they’re dissing American culture, but the USA is such a strong force – it’s like doing a celebrity roast, they’re so strong and popular – giving the USA a hard time is funny. But this song to me seems like it’s dissing anybody who feels they are living at an “elevated level” and deserve to be treated as such – hardly a downtrodden set of individuals, regardless of culture or colour.

    I suppose if offence is taken, then it’s taken – but I’ll bet you a diamond grill none was meant.

  • http://feministing.com/members/franziakafka/ Franzia Kafka

    Great and thought-provoking critique. I can only surmise that some of your barrage of comments is from the same goggled-eyed group of teenagers who thought it was necessary to attack Lorde when her song bumped Miley Cyrus out of the top chart spot. Perhaps some Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” is in order.

    I’m surprised to hear that people are reading the song as a critique of consumerism – and that she’s selling it as such – because the aspiration to wealth, the desire for power (to “rule”) and to chase that “different kind of buzz,” is never relinquished in the song. She appeals to others in the refrain to call her “Queen Bee”. She asks others to please allow her to continue fantasizing about wealth and power. She and her friends “count their dollars on the train to the party” – they apparently aren’t so poor that they can’t spare cash to go out partying, much like the “royals” they claim they’ll never be. “That kind of life just ain’t for us … we’re not caught up in your love affair” … really, “Queen Bee”? It is just simply contradictory. It doesn’t work as a critique. Which is fine. Whatever.

    Also, wtf is up with the creepy-ass video with the suburban white kid with the shaved head who enjoys blood sports and has such ennui that he appears to fantasize about drowning himself in his pool?

    Not that Macklemore is much better re: race issues, but I thought “Thrift Shop” was a great critique of American consumerism.

  • http://feministing.com/members/honeheke/ Hone Heke

    When I was at university it seemed to me the that every 1st year student who had done a woman studies paper, or studied sociology was able to look at a situation and drag out a racist or sexist connotation. It seemed intellectually simplistic and lazy then and it still is now. This a a poorly reasoned, cheap shot. And you cant exactly call tell a 16 year old girl from New Zealand her song is inherently racist one week, and then the next week claim you are were ( of course! ) “focusing on how it lands in the US”.
    To critique the intent of a song, involves understanding the context of where and how it was written. So I dont really think you can make this weak, superficial, unsustainable claim, without understanding at least a bit about the New Zealand culture it comes from. Because to us ( in NZ) this looks like a spectacularly unoriginal observation, low on rigour but with a certain flip – shock value. and guess what? It’s worked for you. Lots of attention! So please write something with a little bit more going on, to take advantage of it and show us you another idea. hopefully an original smart one.

  • http://feministing.com/members/justeric/ JustEric

    “whether she means to or not”

    I’ve never before seen someone so spectacularly prove themselves wrong while trying to make their own argument.

    Racism requires intent. She can’t be racist “whether she means to or not.” If you didn’t intend to be racist, you weren’t being racist; you were being stupid. I don’t believe Lorde was being either.

    And here’s where I stopped reading:

    “She’s not saying she’s above black people, but she is saying she’s above the things that mainstream hip hop often does”

    Either you have a painful lack of understanding of this song, or you’re being intentionally obtuse (some might call this “trolling”).

    “We will never be royals. It don’t run in our blood.”

    This is not putting herself ABOVE that culture. She’s put the culture on a pedestal and is VERY CLEARLY saying that she (and her friends, family, significant other, whomever) will never be able to attain that. She’s putting herself BELOW it. She wants it, but she’ll never have it. She has resigned herself to the life she’s been dealt, and is now at peace with it.

    Kudos to you for sticking by your stance, even in the face of such backlash. You couldn’t be more wrong if you tried, but at least you’re standing by what you said. That takes courage (stupidity will suffice in the absence of course, but I don’t think that applies here), and I commend you for it. I hope one day you’ll be able to see how utterly and absurdly wrong you are.

  • http://feministing.com/members/quondam/ Tom

    Glad to see that you’re carrying on the tradition of Ivy Leaguers hazing the awkward new kid.

    I’ve been wanting to respond to this since the first time it came around almost 2 weeks ago, so this response is going to have a bunch of ideas. As you said on Twitter, a lot of people be “be hatin'” on this article, and your original one, so some of what I say here may be redundant.

    The song you have a problem with didn’t come out of nowhere, even if you haven’t heard it before. The single was released in March, it’s been top 10 for over a month and it’s currently the #1 song in America. Plenty of people have heard it and so far nobody save about 8 people on Tumblr have had a problem with it. Since your article appeared and got lots of press coverage for the “controversy” its generated, I haven’t seen that many people in the hip-hop community sign on to your critique.

    That’s what really bothers me about this argument – the way you’re presuming to speak for the people who you think should be offended by this song, namely black hip hop artists. You’re denying agency to the people she’s supposedly offending with this song, condescendingly assuming that they wouldn’t have the media access to be make critical statements about the song’s content or its performer if they had a problem with it.

    Did you know that Lorde performed on the same stage as Kanye West last month (“Later with Jools Holland”, Sept 17) and performed Royals, just a few days after performing a cover of Kanye’s “Hold My Liquor” at a major venue? It would be remarkable if he didn’t know who Lorde was, or hadn’t heard “Royals”. Kanyne’s not known for being low-key when he has a problem with somebody’s opinion, so I’d imagine that he, for one example, would have said something about appearing on a show with somebody performing a “deeply racist” song. Questlove also promoted her appearance on his show via his Twitter – again I’d think that if the song was as “deeply racist” as you claim, he might have not been so enthusiastic to have people tune in and watch? He might have had something to say afterwards?

    I know neither of these guys finished college, let alone got Ivy League masters degrees, so they would lack the proper theoretical understanding of their own subjective experiences of racism. You might actually know better what it means to be a victim of racism better than the guy who wrote this.

    (I don’t follow pop music obsessively either btw – all this stuff I found through a little bit of web searching).

    You said in your original article that you don’t follow pop music, and your academic background is in public health policy, so I also think it’s problematic that you didn’t seek out the opinions of any other cultural critics or musicians on this issue. You know that there are plenty of people who actually do write about race and pop culture for a living, who might have had a valuable perspective to share on your opinions? Who might have been able to give you some background on your critique? Offhand, I can think of Jay Smooth, Cord Jefferson, Ta Neshi Coates and Sasha Frere Jones, all of whom live in NYC and are reachable on social media. It seems really disingenuous, maybe intellectually dishonest, maybe just lazy, that you’ve appointed yourself the only person qualified to have an opinion here. Again, denying agency and a voice to all of the people in the world writing about or having opinions on pop music except you and the New York Times. Again, maybe the reason why none of these people, who make a living writing about race and pop music, had anything to say was because there’s actually nothing to say on the topic of “Royals” being a “deeply racist” song.

    Posting “Hey this person said a racist thing” might get you 20,000 shares on social justice Tumblr. But outside of that echo chamber, journalists who actually have to be accountable for their opinions (as opposed to moonlighting bloggers posting self-promoting drive-by character assassination pieces) are usually going to be a little more thorough in backing up their own ideas than just insisting on the correctness of their speculative, admittedly-uninformed (you did say, after all, that you don’t pay attention to pop music) opinions.

    Also, as far as saying the song lacks a critique of old money, did you miss the part where Lorde addresses the British Monarchy? That’s about as old-money as old money gets. The song is called “Royals” which in Commonwealth nations like New Zealand is how you refer to the House of Windsor. My assumption with the line “We’ll never be Royals…we’re not caught up in your love affair” is that it’s addressed to both Kayne and Kim and Jay-Z and Beyonce, but also the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton, who have been in the news some recently.

    Anyway, you’ve been really successful in creating a false-equivalence controversy here, where you make an assertion, 90% of people disagree with your assertion, and then the noise that you’ve generated gets mainstream media to cover the “controversy” and validate your assertion.

  • http://feministing.com/members/mannen/ Matt

    I wonder if you could offer your own working definition of racism, concisely?

  • http://feministing.com/members/raja211/ M

    After reading this article and the posts that follow, I must say that I respect Veronica for her observations, and critique on this issue. I also respect the views expressed in some of the comments, even if I didn’t quite agree with them, but I have to interject. One must take lyrics such as the following and ask questions about the artist’s knowledge of the subject.

    “We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair”

    So Lorde is a sixteen year old from New Zealand right? So When I read this article I asked myself, “What does she really know about Hip-Hop culture?” Does she even know why there is a love affair amongst hip hop artist and material objects? See, we have to take step back and see the progression of hip hop, and why there is so much flaunting of symbols of perceived wealth. Hip-Hop originated from poor blacks who spent time rhyming bout their situations. Now, I know some of you will try to argue that hip-hop isn’t limited to blacks, or that there are other elements of hip hop, but I don’t see breakers, or taggers spittin’ lines about Maybachs or Cristal, so here we understand that she is referring to the musical element of hip-hop, which is dominated by blacks. The same blacks who have a history of oppression. When you are deprived something for so long, and you finally get it, of course you’ll want to show off. That love affair that she is talking about grounded in centuries of a people who were deprived, and now that they are able to get it, it’s like a slap in the face to those who would have it otherwise. The statement that they are making is that “now we can get the Benz that you have, now we can get the 13 room mansion that you have, now we can drink and piss out $1,000 bottles of champagne like you do.” This love affair that she speaks about comes from a yearning of something that blacks, since their time in the U.S, have been taught means wealth, or high-status.
    Now, I am a fan of hip-hop, not the material world that most rappers speak about. I am a fan of Lupe Fiasco, Nas, Common, people who rap about the struggle, but also how we (I am a Black American) can improve as a people. I too come from the hood, the poorest neighborhood in my city, but I had someone to ground me and teach me to reach above the wealth and the fake statuses. But, that line is disturbing to me because I, like Veronica feels that the song is singling out a particular genre, that is dominated by a particular group. Now, if she was speaking on bullshit American consumerism, then one must also ask how come the song didn’t mention the actions of people such as Paris Hilton, or the Kardashians who also have a love affair of the material and do ignorant things to stay in the news. It is the fact that she states, extensively, the objects that black hip-hop artist rap about or show off. This is why I can see where Veronica has issue, and why I agree. As a Black American, I am too used to this kind of subliminality, even within hip hop itself. As many people stated, I do not expect this sixteen year old girl to understand the culture, or its love affair, especially when most people here in America don’t either, but her record execs, and the others who let this song hit the airwaves knew exactly what they were doing. Again, I am fine with this song, but the truth is that it has a narrow focus. It would be more widely accepted had she added other images that portray useless spending and the love of the material.
    Do I think that Lorde is racist? Not at all. She is a talented young artist who I wish much continued success. It just remains to be seen whether she will develop a love affair of the material as well, because I am pretty sure that she will no longer be wearing the clothing of the poor, especially when she’s on the red carpet at some award show, getting her well deserved praise for her talents.

    • http://feministing.com/members/amycjnz/ Amy Johnston Bray

      M, and Veronica thanks for providing us a more in-depth look on how the song lands in the US. This song certainly would have been questionable if had been written by a fellow American given the history of race relations there. In a society that values wealth and prosperity as part of the American Dream and continually subjugates a portion of that society, I can see how you read Lorde’s lyrics the way you do.

      May I please provide a more in-depth view on how the song lands in New Zealand?
      As a Kiwi, when I (and others) look at the lines

      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

      I see some references to hip hop culture (gold teeth, grey goose, Cristal, Maybach), a reference to rock culture (trashin’ the hotel room), a very specific reference to Lana Del Rey who Lorde claims to listen to (tigers on a gold leash) and some generic wealth references found in all sorts of genres (ball gowns, cadillacs, diamonds, jetplanes and islands). As a Kiwi, these are references to different genres sung by people of lots of different backgrounds with one thing in common. That is, they are all imported music that floods the airwaves here. Those references are rarely found in New Zealand music regardless of the genre or the cultural/ethnic background of the musician. As a whole we don’t conspicuously value wealth.
      And this is not because everyone here is well off. We have our abject poverty too, which also disproportionally affects Maori and Polynesians for all the usual colonial reasons. And yes we have racism embedded in our society, but it plays out in a different way as other posters have mentioned

      You’ll find that NZ musicians that appear in our top 40 will refer to these societal issues but just not in a way that idolises bling. The reasons for this are long and complex and I’m happy to go into them in more details if you want, but that would divert this already long post into something like an essay.

      What I will say is please have a listen to some Kiwi music and watch our videos. We have some great hip hop too that does well in our charts. And yes, hip hop was originated by Black Americans, but it is now global and Kiwi’s like others, put their own stamp on it. Check out artists like Che Fu, Nesian Mystique, Scribe, P Money, Smashproof , Savage amongst others. You’ll notice a distinct lack of bling, because we just don’t sing about that. Related issues such as fame, sex, relationships, poverty yup, but not bling.

      So to Lorde and other Kiwis, hip hop in general in our charts and on the radio is not about displays of wealth, just the imported stuff.

      So some questions that need to be addressed are, did Lorde write a song about and for her own culture that is completely within the bounds of that culture and not considered racist in the same way….Or did she write the song for an American audience with some some inappropriate lyrics? Was the song expected to go big in the USA? Another question is should the record executives have picked up on the racial overtones?

      If you look at her interviews, she seems to write for herself as a form of poetry.
      Royals in particular was written by her and fellow Kiwi Joel Little and appears on her debut EP last year which was recorded in NZ. Lorde was discovered by a Kiwi working for the NZ branch of Universal, so all Kiwi so far.

      The Love Club was released for free online late 2012, so could be listened to by anyone. Would Universal NZ have expected the song Royals to take off in the USA? There is no real precedence for this, very few Kiwis have broken into the USA market ever (Crowded House, OMC and Kimbra in association with Aussie Gotye are the only ones that spring to mind). Lorde never even entered the USA until the single took off this year so it can’t be said that she was trying to make it in the USA in particular.

      Royals became popular in New Zealand first as you would expect. The word about her music spread pretty much organically through social media. Even Universal say that she is part of a new paradigm.

      The next question is, should the record executives have picked up on lyrical issues for release in the USA? The horse had already bolted in that the original had been released. The NZ executives may not have picked up on it because it was a NZ song written and recorded in NZ about life in NZ.

      Is it our responsibility to write a song or create a music video that is seen by everyone in the world in the same way? Is that even possible? For example if an American creates a music video with them giving the V for victory sign, do they change it for us Kiwi’s because that’s an offensive gesture here?
      Does anyone in the music industry moderate what they do for different countries? I know of Kiwi music videos that have been changed to suit a USA audience, Royals actually being one, Swing by Savage being another. I don’t know of any that go in the other direction. I also know of songs that have swear words removed to make them more radio friendly and thats about it.

      What could the American music executives done in this case if they felt the song was inappropriate? Ask Lorde to change the song for the USA audience? Bleep out the references to Hip Hop? Can you please advise what should have happened?

  • http://feministing.com/members/rmand/ Louis Armada

    Not sure how railing against typical hiphop references is racist. Is it attack on white people to dis stereotypical imagery in country music? Also as far as I know, at least here in Miami one one of the biggest proponents of the whole hiphop gold-chain lifestyle is Pitbull, who I’m pretty sure is a white Cuban. In fact a lot of commercial “club” music makes the same kind of Cristal references (sometimes in the videos) often with a soft-voiced female singer of unknown ethnic background. I really think you have to give up the crusade against Lorde, or else people will be less likely to take seriously your articles on things like sexual harrassment in academia.

  • http://feministing.com/members/quondam/ Quondam

    Also, FWIW, I think that this Tumblr post by Stereogum correspondent Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is a good example of how to critique a music video for doing some problematic things (appropriating Arabic / African culture as “edgy”) while not getting bogged down in speculating about the character or internet of the person creating the work. It also provides a nice history of the context of white female musicians appropriating Asian / African culture (especially the regrettable fashion bindi) to appear “enlightened” or “alternative”.

  • http://feministing.com/members/lizr/ Liz

    This says everything about the racism of the accusers, who apparently aren’t capable of seeing beyond their own parochial views to work out what someone from New Zealand might mean by denying celebrity culture. Some “feminist,” who can’t be bothered to look at the cultural identity of the person in question because they’re so caught up in their own culture. There’s a world beyond America, you know (or maybe you don’t) and some parts of some parts of it don’t suck.