If you’ve turned on a radio in the last few months, you can’t help but hear Lorde’s incredibly catchy song Royals, which criticizes conspicuous consumption. Lorde
laments the fact that popular music is filled artists who glorify consumerism and feature high-end products most of their listening audience will never see be able to obtain.
Despite a pretty positive message, the song has been criticized for being racist.
“While I love a good critique of wealth accumulation and inequity, this song is not one; in fact, it is deeply racist. 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?”
The song certainly mentions things which are stereotypically associated with hip hop. But does that make it racist?
Let’s try some math.
Lorde mentions thirteen items in the chorus. Five are, what I would call, highly correlated to hip hop (gold teeth, Grey Goose, Cristal, Maybachs and diamonds on your time piece.) Two are highly correlated to rock (blood stains and trashing the hotel rooms.) Four are too generic to apply (Cadillacs, ball gowns, jet planes and islands.) One is strongly associated with alternative (trippin in the bathroom) and one with Russian oligarchs (tigers on a gold leash.)
For those of you keeping track at home, that’s five items associated with “black” music and three items associated with “white” music plus one item associated with “white” people (I’ve yet to see a black Russian oligarch.) Nearly 50-50.
Considering the fact that hip-hop is a much larger contributor to Top 40 music than rock or alternative, I’m not convinced the song singles out hip hop or rappers at a “racist” rate. And I’m not the only one.
The Jezebel piece asks why not take hits at golf or polo or Central Park East. There’s an obvious reason for this. Incredibly popular music, TV shows and movies aren’t showcasing golf, polo and Central Park East as what you get or do when you become incredibly wealthy. Jet planes, islands and expensive cars are.
What do you think? Racist or not racist?