KYD Advent Calendar

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Music

That kind of racism just ain’t for us: Lorde’s ‘Royals’ and offence criticism

by Chad Parkhill , January 29, 20142 Comments

One of the most widely-read and influential pieces of music criticism in 2013 was not written by a music critic – its author possesses a master’s degree in sexuality and public health, works in the field of reproductive justice, and had written little about music before the blog post in question was published. Despite this, Verónica Bayetti Flores’ post entitled ‘Wow, that Lorde song Royals is racist’ – which argues that ‘Royals’ is ‘deeply racist’ because its singer doesn’t care for a list racially-charged signifiers of material wealth – not only (in the words of its author) ‘BLEW. UP.’ but also set the frame through which Lorde’s song ‘Royals’ would thenceforth be analysed, inspiring an endless series of rebuttals along the lines of ‘Nah, that Lorde song “Royals” isn’t racist’.

Of course, ‘Royals’ wasn’t the only song from 2013 that engendered controversy along the three most salient axes of contemporary identity politics: that is, race, gender, and sexuality. We were also preoccupied by whether Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ was an example of rape culture, or whether the twerking in the video for Miley Cyrus’ ‘We Can’t Stop’ was cultural appropriation or sexual empowerment. The controversies that raged about these songs were also focused on their content rather than their forms or context, and were motivated by a strong feeling of outrage that usually culminated with the work being labelled with a pejorative (‘rapey’, ‘deeply racist’, etc.). Tiny Mix Tapes’ Benjamin Pearson has characterised this form of engagement with music as ‘offense criticism’ – criticism that analyses its object in terms of a given politico-theoretical worldview, and finds the artist morally culpable when the object does not live up to the critic’s standards.

Pearson’s own article is not without its problems – it is, at points, as hastily generalising and glib as some of the criticism it responds to – but it does identify and name a disturbing tendency. Offence criticism is, first and foremost, hasty criticism; it responds to art not through careful analysis of the work’s intention, but rather by searching selectively for evidence of thought crimes. Thus Bayetti Flores’ analysis of ‘Royals’ singles out certain signifiers of wealth (‘Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your time piece’) while ignoring others that have little to do with hip-hop culture (‘blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room’). Bayetti Flores also fails to question her assumption that ‘Royals’ is a swingeing critique of conspicuous consumption, when there is little textual evidence to suggest that it is. (‘That kind of luxe just ain’t for us’ is hardly Karl Marx.) The original blog post also conspicuously ignores the context of the song’s composition and production, and the (still open) ethical question of whether a teenager from New Zealand should be held accountable for the way her work is received by adult audiences in the United States. Most tellingly, though, Bayetti Flores completely ignores the song’s form – and the minimalist production and sub-bass heavy beat of ‘Royals’ sounds like nothing if not a love letter to contemporary rap music.

The fundamental issue with offence criticism is that it has no definition of the role of the work of art, beyond examining art against a checklist of -isms to determine whether or not it is politically right-on. This seems to miss the point, since art isn’t solely made to educate or to conform with pre-existing political ideologies (although plenty of art, good and bad, has been made for these purposes). It might be hard to pin a univocal meaning to Lorde’s song ‘Royals’, seething as it is with the tension between asserting one’s personal anti-consumerist ethos and the allure of luxury goods and the lifestyle they promise, but it is precisely this tension that the song aims to explore. While it’s a near-certainty that race, gender and sexuality will continue to be flashpoints for musicians and critics alike in 2014, we can only hope that, in future, those who are poised to vent their offence will first pause to consider whether the offence is warranted.

Chad Parkhill is a Melbourne-based writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Australian, Killings, The Lifted BrowMeanjin, and The Quietus, amongst others.

ACO logo




9508984918_5d8a187fc1_z

Marika Sosnowski

Living Side by Side: Multiculturalism at Home and Abroad

It all seems quite idyllic – people of varying nationalities, religions and cultures coexisting peacefully. It could be a blueprint for the perfect multicultural society. However, there’s something beneath the surface that is troubling to the western notion of modern liberalism. Read more »

9864007066_4a196b364d_z

Tim Robertson

Fear, loathing, and the erosion of civil liberties

The hysteria currently being concocted by Australia’s political leaders is a smokescreen for the more serious threat facing everyone – an attack of the very freedoms and values our nation has been built on. Read more »

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

057212e0462005b9_Thumb

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part One): TV, Books, Technology

In the first of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in television, books and technology. Read more »

isabelle_cover_grande

Dark Places and Safe Spaces: S.A. Jones’ Isabelle of the Moon and Stars

S.A. Jones’ Isabelle of the Moon and Stars is a powerful and affecting depiction of a young woman struggling with mental illness and emotional turmoil. A book like Isabelle might well be described as the underdog of Australian publishing: a character-focused literary novel published by a small press … Read more »

w527705

Carody Culver

Taking Christmas off the shelf

Ah, Christmas – for some, a time of gift-giving, awkward family gatherings and over-zealous consumption of rum balls; for booksellers, a time to weep silent tears of stress and experience the irrational but persistent fear of being buried alive beneath boxes of the latest Stephen Fry memoir. Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

mariah-carey-all-i-want-for-christmas

Julia Tulloh

A SuperFestive Christmas playlist

I know what you’re thinking: lists like this became redundant in 1992, when Jon Bon Jovi rubbed shoulders with Cindy Crawford beneath a Christmas tree for the first and last time. Does the ideal of Christmas music get any better? Perhaps not, but many have tried. Here are a few other Christmassy pop goodies. Read more »

Kim_cover_web_

Julia Tulloh

Kim Kardashian, butts, and the internet

We’re used to seeing her butt, and we’re also used to Kim doing crazy publicity stunts. Her entire life is a publicity stunt in itself, both the means and end of a crazy, money-making, power-acquiring trajectory. Her very fame is built on the playful and shameless self-exposure captured in the Paper shoot. Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

Exodus-Gods-and-Kings-Poster-Bale-and-Edgerton-691x1024

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Problems with God: Exodus: Gods & Kings

This is the thing about retellings of old and beloved foundation stories: it’s impossible to come to them fresh, without trying to compare and contrast with previous versions for veracity and style. It’s usually the modern incarnation that comes up short. Read more »

Screen-Shot-2014-10-01-at-11.22.21-AM

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Can too many parts destroy an adaptation? The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

It’s a relief to feel the weight of fidelity lift off an adaptation film, as Mockingjay: Part 1 becomes a meta-exploration of fame, franchise and future. Read more »

057212e0462005b9_Thumb

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part One): TV, Books, Technology

In the first of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in television, books and technology. Read more »

3991099211_8397c745fe_b

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Taking up space: The legitimisation of creepshotting

There is a relationship between catcalling and creepshotting. Both are practices that involve the reduction of strangers to objects to be gawked at and commented on, which is what makes the ‘Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train’ Tumblr blog interesting and complex. Read more »

IMG_0086

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Pictures of pictures: Monument Valley and the rise of the in-game photographer

Presenting screencapturing a game as a form of camera-free ‘photography’ gives rise to a conceptual issue. If the ‘photographer’ is moving through, and capturing, a world created entirely by others, then who exactly should take the credit for any images created? Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

2447663467_2d543e6c87_o

Danielle Binks

Young Adult literature: genre is not readership

YA is not a genre – it is a readership. It may seem like pedantic nitpicking to focus on this distinction, but so pervasive is the mistake, amongst even established literary channels, that explaining the difference has become increasingly important and indeed necessary. Read more »

00page

Danielle Binks

Disability or superpower? Deaf identity in YA

‘We actually need more stories about deaf and hard of hearing characters and for their experiences to be shared in stories. Often, young readers believe they are ‘alone’ in their deafness and do not realise that there are many others like them.’ Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

mariah-carey-all-i-want-for-christmas

Julia Tulloh

A SuperFestive Christmas playlist

I know what you’re thinking: lists like this became redundant in 1992, when Jon Bon Jovi rubbed shoulders with Cindy Crawford beneath a Christmas tree for the first and last time. Does the ideal of Christmas music get any better? Perhaps not, but many have tried. Here are a few other Christmassy pop goodies. Read more »

drake-cover-650

Justin Wolfers

Drake’s climate change epiphany

Or: ‘Heat of the Moment’ as an epiphany in which Drake realises the urgency and importance of acting on climate change Read more »

057212e0462005b9_Thumb

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part One): TV, Books, Technology

In the first of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in television, books and technology. Read more »

??????????????????????

Stephanie Van Schilt

Lady Bosses on the Box

An increasing number of female-driven comedies, dramas or melodramas are popping up on our screens. Through the filters of fiction, the worlds these heroines inhabit directly reflect our own. This is the age of the lady boss. Read more »

105768385_5672eae965_z

Stephanie Van Schilt

Bananas without pyjamas? Budgets cuts and the next generation of ABC kids

From my humble beginnings watching kids’ programming, I learnt that ‘Your ABC’ was indeed, our ABC. The protests and public outcry which followed this week’s announcement of cuts to the ABC demonstrate its crucial role in fostering a sense of community for Australians. Read more »