No, Lorde's 'Royals' is not racist. Can we dial back the lyric parsing?
It all started, as these things often do, with a blog post. A few days ago, Veronica Beyetti Flores on the Feministing website, alleged that Lorde’s “Royals,” the No. 1 song in the U.S. is racist.
It took a few days, but by last night, her accusations had blown up with news sites like CNN and Time weighing in on the made-up controversy.
Flores’ interpretation of the song is that Lorde, by mentioning elements sometimes associated with rappers—and her rejection of them— is being deeply racist. She cites the lines “But every song’s like gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom/Blood stains, ball gowns, trashing 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,” writes Flores. “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.”
What? I don’t doubt that Flores truly somehow sees the song that way, but I don’t really understand the giant leap she’s making. The song is a rejection of material things, not of blacks or anyone who wants these things. It’s written from the standpoint (or at least my interpretation of it) of a teenager who realizes she is being sold to at every moment and has decided not to buy into the conspicuous consumption. As she sings: “And we’ll never be royals/It don’t run in our blood/That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.”
And yes, while we may hear more rappers bringing up Maybachs or Cristal than a country artist, the fact is that rap songs are the pop music of the day. Kanye West had it absolutely right when he said that rap stars are the rock stars now so these symbols are touchstones of wealth for anyone who is listening to pop music, whether they are White, Black, Hispanic, Asian or any other ethnicity.
Lorde has not responded to Flores' colum, but, as the CNN piece points out, earlier told NPR, "I was just sort of reeling off some of the things which are commonly mentioned in hip-hop and the Top 40. I've always loved hip-hop, but as a fan of hip-hop, I've always had to kind of suspend disbelief because, obviously, I don't have a Bentley. There's a distance between that and the life I have with my friends." How does that make her racist? It just makes her like the 98% who can't afford a Maybach.
Have we gone so overboard that we are now parsing every lyric of every song and every movement of every artist? In just the past few months, the critique of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” developed after a blogger wrote that she found the song “rapey.” The song had been out for a few months before that and no one seemed to have much of a problem with it. And while that one probably had a little more validity than these others, next came a blogger accusing Miley Cyrus of being racist because when she twerked on the VMAs she was appropriating black culture and because all of her dancers were black.
We’re getting into dangerous territory here. There is so much true racism that still exists in the world that we should be fighting against instead of looking for signs of it that aren’t there. Has Cyrus shown any kind of pattern of racism? None that I can see. Is there anything else on Lorde’s album that could be interpreted as racist? Not that I heard-- but then I didn’t hear racism in “Royals.” We can probably find something offensive in every song if we want to and if we are so desperate for page views, but sometimes, it’s just not there. And every time we spend the energy trumping up a controversy, it takes our eyes off the real offenders.
Do you find Lorde's "Royals" racist?