This Isn’t How I Do (Or Who I Listen To)

by Alison O’Connor

I kept seeing her on TV, kept seeing her name on Itunes and her image all over the internet and at least three Rolling Stone magazine covers.I also kept seeing her name under different articles and blog posts about how wrong cultural appropriation is. Her name is Katy Perry, one of the biggest pop stars of the past two decades. She’s a beautiful woman, with perpetually changing hair, expressive eyes, an amazing figure and very stylish, constantly making different “edgy” fashion choices. Her voice is decent, her music is certainly very catchy, very infectiously produced, at least. But I have never been able to tolerate her. She keeps making my ears hurt, my eyes ache with the perpetual candyland motif on every aspect of her, and, moreover, she keeps making problematic “artistic” and “aesthetic” choices in regards to her appropriation of other races and cultures.  

The first I ever heard of her was in an issue of Rolling Stone magazine, when her debut album, One of The Boys was released. It received a lukewarm review, but it marked the beginning of her superstar career. I already was slightly wary of her, though. While her single “I Kissed a Girl” seemed like a great statement, for me, she lost all credibility of that with a second song on that same album, “Ur So Gay”, a song insulting an ex-lover by using stereotypes of gay men as insults.But regardless, she rose quickly to fame and renown. Each one of her songs was catchy, as I said before, but they were all so grating, her voice having this unpleasant quality that made her irritating to listen to. I tried to watch her performance during the Grammys four years ago, but it was so terrible I had to stop watching the Grammys that night. Case in point, I’m no Katy Perry fan. She looks beautiful and always fashionable, but that’s it.She’s supposedly a sex symbol, so totes numerous men’s magazines, at least, but there’s nothing super-sexy about her that’s not in other female celebrities. She looks like every other conventionally sexy woman (code for trim physique), aside from the ever-changing hair color.

But I could always just tolerate her. She wasn’t doing anything harmful, nothing vicious or damaging to anyone, really. She has a big fan base, she’s a strong, confident woman with a very successful career. Until it became more and more apparent that Katy Perry was, in fact, damaging.She was more than just a fad, she was proving to be highly problematic. I know every celebrity does or says something problematic, but Katy Perry was being more blatant than the average celeb might. To the point where I not only had to outright reject her and her music, but actively speak out against some of her “artistic” choices.

For one thing, the first red flag was her statement in 2012 on the matter of feminism. She said that “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.” Which is an obvious oxymoron, and a dangerous one that further perpetuates the common misconceptions of what feminism is. In 2014, two years later, she changed her answer slightly, to “I used to not really understand what that word (feminism) meant, and now that I do, it just means that I love myself as a female and I also love men.” Which is not even remotely what feminism is about. It further, by the way, demolishes the credibility of her tune “I Kissed a Girl”, if she is so quick to jump in with “I love men!” “Don’t think I don’t love men!” Already, despite the constant blaring of her music in shopping centers, her constant appearances and spreads in the pages of Rolling Stone, it was apparent that she was very ignorant, and dangerously so, using her public platform as celebrity to further misinformation still rampant in society, especially among impressionable fans. I though, well, ok, she’s just another case of the misinformed celebrity, but she’s not someone I really need to reject. But I didn’t know just how bad she could get.

Katy Perry’s constant cultural appropriation was what made me finally reject the fad she and her music was, and will likely continue to be. First, it was her geisha-dress and makeup she had displayed in concerts, which is, of course, a grotesque continuation of the long history of hypersexualization and fetishizing of Asian women by western society, particularly by white people. Katy Perry, as a white woman, is clearly acting irresponsible and out of line. Her only defense of such accusations of appropriations of other cultures was, furthermore, that she was upset that she could not “appreciate a culture.” But, I thought, she cannot get any worse. Until I saw what turned out for me to be the absolute last straw with her, just a month ago. This came in the form of her latest music video for her latest single, “This Is How We Do.”

Out of curiosity for this latest catchy summer anthem, and what negative things I’d heard about it in terms of more accusations racism and cultural appropriations, I decided to watch her music video. The song was vapid and generic, nothing special but catchy, like most of her music. However, there were many, many disgusting aspects of that music video. I had no idea how awful her appropriation and mockery of other cultures had become, until I delved further into the video.

Firstly, she put on what is called a “blaccent”, the stereotypical fake “black (code for hip hop)” accent popular among many white pop stars who want to sound “urban” to give their music some kind of desired edge. Which is in and of itself grotesque. But the video got even worse than that. Katy Perry, this white woman, dressed up in cornrows and with gaudy nails (which she calls “Japaneesy”, by the way) and other aspects of “hip hop” attire, costumizing black women, or what she thinks constitutes a black woman, decided to pepper this racist stew with a motif of watermelon.

Appropriating hip hop culture, black culture, and then adding a watermelon motif to the background? It was horrendous. In that moment, I decided that I was forever done with this fad, this superficial, callous and highly problematic pop star. I would not see any merit in her, her fashion, her so-called sex appeal and most certainly not in her music. I got into a passionate discussion on the racism displayed in the video with my parents the next day, and I was still stewing about how garish she had made cultural appropriation. She is certainly not the first artist to do this, but she has made it into a very vulgar art form, one that deserves no place in any pop culture trend, definitely no pop culture trend that should be allowed to continue.  

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