What Do Miley's Comments Say About The Value Of Black Music ?
Miley Cyrus in an interview for Billboard Magazine voiced her opinions about her change of artistic direction. Miley's comments have received a hostile reception because her actions sit in a wider history of white artists exploiting and profiting of black art.
Here is what she said:
“…But I also love that new Kendrick [Lamar] song [“Humble”]: ‘Show me somethin’ natural like a** with some stretch marks.’ I love that because it’s not ‘Come sit on my d**k, suck on my c**k.’ I can’t listen to that anymore,” she said. “That’s what pushed me out of the hip-hop scene a little. It was too much ‘Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my c**k’ — I am so not that.”
Black culture and black music is often equated with being cool, urban and edgy. As a consequence, it has been exploited and appropriated by white artists and music establishments for generations.
Time and time again black music is repackaged by white artists and when done so becomes ‘art’. It’s this pattern that allowed ‘Bangerz’ to sell over one million copies and Taylor Swift’s shameless twerking in ‘Shake It Off’ to go platinum worldwide. When white artists strip down they are given creative license, when black artists do it is fetishized and demeaned.
But this is not new, from ‘The King of Rock and Roll’ Elvis Presley replicating the sound, style, and lyrics of the legendary Chuck Berry, to Joss Stone winning Billboard reggae artist of the year, history tells us that when black music is performed by white artists it become more palatable, more accessible and more profitable.
So what’s this got to do with Miley?
Hip hop since its conception has been a medium to express discontent, angst, and resistance against systematic oppression. Hip hop is not simply a genre nor is it merely a culture. Every music lover knows Hip Hop is a microphone and catalyst for social change. In light of this, Miley’s comments become more problematic. From NWA to Public enemy to Kendrick Lamar, Hip Hop has alwaysbeen more than “Come sit on my d**k, suck on my c**k”
Kendrick rapping about stretch marks is positive, but Kendrick has talked about police brutality, black masculinity and community empowerment – embracing stretch marks isn’t quite his most pertinent point. Instead, Miley’s comments reflect the little investment and research she chose to undertake during her short lived venture into black music.
So when does black music become art?
Take Kanye West, throughout his career Kanye has attempted to break the boundaries between Hip Hop and art. Yet, despite his influence, his talent and persistence, the mainstream music industry does not equate black-fronted Hip Hop with artistic craftsmanship. Black music performed by black artists is angry, resentful and antagonistic, but for white artists becomes dissimilar, colourful and non-conforming.
Why do you think both ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ and ‘Lemonade’ missed out on album of the year at the Grammys?
Miley’s sabbatical in Hip Hop propelled her to transition from Hannah Montana into a credible adult artist. Yet, despite this she has the privilege to renounce her association with a culture that built and embraced her.
As a wealthy white American woman Miley has privileges at second chances that others do not. White artists must acknowledge that a second chance at authenticity is not a chance awarded to many black artists. Black artists cannot fall back on a naivety and innocence awarded to them by their whiteness in order to reinvent their image.
Black music is not your gap year, it is not your sabbatical and is not for your gain. You can not use black music to gain an international following, work with legendary producers who offered you credibility, notoriety and legitimacy as an artist and then decide “I can’t listen to that anymore”.
Black music continues to be a prop for the profit of white artists and unfortunately Miley's comments reinforce that little has changed.
By Halie Changlee