When Taylor Swift dropped her new video for “Shake It Off” yesterday, The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon heralded Swift’s final descent into cookie cutter pop star conformity, noting that the song’s “we’re all freaks who love to dance!” message is completely at odds with the former country oddball’s new shiny, sanitized sound.
Today, Swift cemented her pretty/skinny/simple pop star status with her own version of this year’s hottest starlet scandal. Drug use, sex tapes, and dating Justin Bieber are so passé—these days, it’s accusations of cultural appropriation that are all the rage.
“Shake it off” is already being compared to Lily Allen’s video for “Hard out Here”, in which she parodies Crystal-guzzling rappers by ass-slapping and champagne dousing a bunch of black women. Swift’s take features the lily white, pin thin singer-songwriter trussed up like an off-brand Cheetah Girl in short shorts, a leopard print zip up, and what might literally be her weight in gold jewelry.
Naturally, Swift’s chosen to surround herself with a handful of twerking girls. The video features an array of back up dancers of various ethnicities—but rest assured, the one close up of a faceless twerker’s derriere is definitively black. One white celebrity plus potentially harmful stereotypes plus the appropriation of black bodies as casual props equals some complicated math that no one in America is in the mood for this week.
While the calls of “Shake it Off” racism have yet to hit Miley Cyrus or Avril Lavigne-levels of outrage and indignation, the public shaming of Swift has been, well, swift. Rapper Earl Sweatshirt came down hard on the spunky songstress with a series of fighting tweets.
haven't watched the taylor swift video and I don't need to watch it to tell you that it's inherently offensive and ultimately harmful— EARL (@earlxsweat) August 19, 2014
perpetuating black stereotypes to the same demographic of white girls who hide their prejudice by proclaiming their love of the culture— EARL (@earlxsweat) August 19, 2014
for instance, those of you who are afraid of black people but love that in 2014 it's ok for you to be trill or twerk or say nigga— EARL (@earlxsweat) August 19, 2014
While Swift’s interpretation of black culture was doubtlessly meant as a celebratory homage, it comes off as lazy and reductive at best, and racist at worst. A barrage of online backlash has taken issue with Swift’s sweet, quirky appropriation, pointing out that not all white, female dancers are ballerinas and not all black ones exclusively love to twerk.
And while we’re on the subject, why does every pop singer looking for a new, risqué look these days rely on allusions to black culture to render them sexy, daring, and current? “Shake it Off” might be Swift’s version of throwing an ethnically-inclusive party, but her culturally insensitive stamp of approval is as superfluous as it is simply ignorant.
And in this story’s final installment of pop culture history repeating itself, Lena Dunham, who famously made a lifelong enemy of the Internet when she failed to imagine Girls who weren’t white, college-educated and affluent, actually preempted this entire racism debacle with her own tweet in support of Taylor’s new stuff. Oh Lena, when will you ever learn?