Line Out Music & the City at Night

Friday, January 10, 2014

White Artists Suck the Life Out of Black Music Culture, Black People Now Irrelevant

Posted by on Fri, Jan 10, 2014 at 12:11 PM

Wanna guess how many black acts topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2013? If you guessed ZERO, give yourself a high five! And maybe a slap in the face!

Chris Molanphy at Slate points out these uncomfortably bleak stats , as well as the fact that white acts topped the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart 44 out of 52 weeks. This year was overflowing with culturally appropriative musicians rocketing to number one (Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, Macklemore), but it's not like there weren't any black acts to choose from—Jay Z, Drake, Kanye and other established popular acts released successful albums in 2013. So why didn't any of their songs reach number one? Molanphy thinks we can chalk up the "drift away from black visibility in our music" to our post-racial approach to, well, everything, but music particularly.

Not to be too grand about it, but my honest opinion is that it’s of a piece with what Ta-Nehisi Coates would call the myth of a post-racial America. Music fans are playing out an unironic version of Stephen Colbert’s joke about not seeing color—we’re cool with the idea that authentic rhythmic music can now come from anyone, and yet somehow, when the data is compiled about what we’re all buying and streaming, the Timberlakes and Matherses and Macklemores keep winding up atop the stack, ahead of the Miguels and J. Coles.

What's troubling is that Molanphy doesn't see a correlation between the disappearance of black acts from the Billboard 100 with racism in any way:

What I find compelling about all of the above is that there’s no willful racism or systematic exclusion happening, neither in the Rock Hall nor on the charts. In both instances, the populace is naturally drifting away from African-Americans after decades of regarding them as the avatars of cutting-edge popular music.

Are you kidding me? It's not a difficult equation: In post-racial America, if you refuse to see color, people of color start to actually disappear.

Why don't more people feel gross about this?


Comments (64) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
I think you're going to have to show your math on this one.

it is odd, and probably does speak to some structural issues around race, but you've literally just said 'there used to be black acts at #1 and now there are not so there is racism.'

Step it up.
Posted by Chris Jury on January 10, 2014 at 12:14 PM · Report this
Tovirus 2
Troll bait...
Posted by Tovirus on January 10, 2014 at 12:19 PM · Report this
Banna 3
Pop chart affirmative action! Or maybe black artists need to release better music or music that appeals to more people? Nobody liked them back when they were popular because of their race, why should their decline in popularity be attributed to their race?

Nordic synth-pop once ruled the charts; who bemoaned the decline of A-Ha? People move on.
Posted by Banna on January 10, 2014 at 12:29 PM · Report this
Fnarf 4
On a hopeful note, I think part of the reason is that there are more avenues for black people to go down than just sports or music -- witness Ta-Nehisi Coates himself (one of my heroes).

On a less hopeful note, the stratification of the music biz is complete, and black people and white people both live in their private little cultural ghettoes now with almost no crossover.

Another thing: music isn't important anymore. Video games and apps are what kids are looking at and listening to. Even in music, the real stars, the real high-income folks, are celebrity DJs in places like Las Vegas, where the main focus isn't music, it's magnums of Dom Perignon and giant bottles of Belvedere vodka and all that kind of bullshit. And, more specifically, it's the Billboard Hot 100 that isn't important. No one talks about it; it's not interesting, it's not the locus of anything. I mean, sure, we talk about Miley, but her costumes and antics, not her music. The mainstream pop conversation, such as it exists, does very much revolve around black musical artists; I've read infinitely more words about Yeezus than I have about any charting white record (and I have no interest in Yeezus or Miley).

And, you know, the real money in music, now as ever, isn't in prancing around on stage but in pulling the strings. Jay-Z, for instance, has made millions more as a producer and is now suddenly the top sports agent as well. The folks putting together all those Britney and Katy Perry and Timberlake hits, whose names few people have ever heard, are the real kingpins -- and yeah, they're mostly white (Max Martin is Swedish, of all things). Dr. Dre has made a hundred times as much money from his headphones as he ever did from music -- do you think he misses Billboard?

Billboard is all about record sales, and since records don't sell anymore, their chart is irrelevant. The #1 record of the year now wouldn't be in the 100 two decades ago.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, of course, should be burned to the ground immediately.

I'm not saying there's no racism in music, or more accurately in music consumption, just that there are other factors too to explain the whitening of the Hot 100. You could say I'm making excuses, and you'd be partly right, but there is more. How are black people faring in other aspects of our culture? TV, for instance [Oh my God, what the hell? That's an article I'd like to see you write too].
Posted by Fnarf on January 10, 2014 at 12:36 PM · Report this
Fnarf 5
Groan. Danielle, I should have known. Now my comment is going to be taken as a part of the general Slog pushback against any acknowledgment that racism is even a fit topic for conversation, which is the opposite of my intent. Stick with it, Danielle. This is the conversation that Slog has been dying for, whether it knows it or not.
Posted by Fnarf on January 10, 2014 at 12:42 PM · Report this
Paul Pearson 6
The Hot 100's methodology has been altered in the last couple of years, to the point where the Billboard 200 album chart is a more reliable barometer of what music acts are pushing the marketplace. For example, the Hot 100 now includes YouTube views, which gives more credibility to passive music consumption as opposed to real investment. That's how Ylvis' "The Fox" and Baauer's "Harlem Shake" made the top 10, and how "Chinese Food" almost did. Meanwhile, on the album charts, these black artists hit #1 in 2013: ASAP Rocky, Kanye West, J. Cole, Jay Z, Drake, Beyoncé.

Which is not to say that racism has been vanquished in music, just that the Hot 100 is more often than not a heaping pile of ephemera. It hasn't held any real importance in profiling mainstream musical culture since about the late '80s.
Posted by Paul Pearson on January 10, 2014 at 12:51 PM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 7
"Chic—the Rock Hall’s current Susan Lucci." WHOMP
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on January 10, 2014 at 1:02 PM · Report this
diminished 8
@fnarf - just because you feel like music isnt important anymore doesnt make it so. maybe its just that the music you like isnt important anymore.
Posted by diminished on January 10, 2014 at 1:02 PM · Report this
I wish more people specifically felt gross about Miley Cyrus.

She was mega-gross in 2013.
Posted by Kelly O on January 10, 2014 at 1:05 PM · Report this
I agree with this article in most regards, but just a quick note-- people of color aren't disappearing to people of color themselves. That line is from a very white-centric perspective.
Posted by Alex1223 on January 10, 2014 at 1:06 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 11
Is there a CMJ like list for mainstream radio rotation? I'm sure there is, but I'm curious how those managerial preferences might affect sales.
Posted by undead ayn rand on January 10, 2014 at 1:07 PM · Report this
McJulie 12
Isn't this exactly what happened with rock & roll, once upon a time? So I'm a little skeptical that it's something new, rather than something old that we haven't fixed yet.

Anyway, all the pop music associated with modern "white appropriation of black styles"-- Robin Thicke, Miley Cyrus -- is pretty terrible, so there's that.
Posted by McJulie on January 10, 2014 at 1:11 PM · Report this
So I checked the charts- allowing for a strict definition of African American (as a general term, even if the artist is not from America), and acknowledging both the Title artist or 'Featured' artist(s), 29% (15 out of of 52 weeks) of the billboard 100 #1 songs of the week were by or featuring African American artists in both 2012 and 2011. For perspective, in 1990 it was 31% and in 1980 23%. According to the 2010 US census, the population of the US is 13% African American.

I think a more interesting aspect of this story would be the economics, the flow of capital through the music business. I have a feeling that is where institutional racism reigns, and is much more a story of exploitation and appropriation.

This could be a great discussion if we focus on the loci of power, not on artists just exploiting the opportunities presented to them.

Posted by Chris Jury on January 10, 2014 at 1:12 PM · Report this
dnt trust me 14

Racism is "the conversation that Slog has been dying for??" Slog has talked about racism endlessly many times.…
Posted by dnt trust me on January 10, 2014 at 1:14 PM · Report this
@9 I'm ambivalent on the Miley = gross assertion. Do young female artists have to be sexy all the time? When they fail to meet (or actively subvert) this expectation, they're derided as physically disgusting or morally destitute or some other hyperbole.
Posted by wxPDX on January 10, 2014 at 1:19 PM · Report this
The only way minorities can be at the top of commercial anything is by being creative. In the absence of continually creating something new and desirable, institutional racism will push the representative of the socio-cultural mainstream to the top because they can sell so much more stuff?
Posted by anon1256 on January 10, 2014 at 1:19 PM · Report this
Paul Pearson 17
#11: There's this:…

But radio these days feels to be more reactive than instigative. Only certain genres of radio stations can claim to legitimately channel sales -- country, for one -- and radio's influence in breaking hit songs is nowhere close to what it was between the '50s and, again, the late '80s. The market is highly segmented by industry design.
Posted by Paul Pearson on January 10, 2014 at 1:21 PM · Report this
meanie 18
More wheezy less macklemore. got it.
Posted by meanie on January 10, 2014 at 1:26 PM · Report this
Good job, Whites!
Posted by MRM on January 10, 2014 at 1:29 PM · Report this
Beyonce and Timberlake had the top selling albums on iTunes last year with Dragons, Jay-Z and Drake rounding out the top 5.

What's trending on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud, etc.?

Which artists are trending on your favorite Twitter feeds and on the amazing, independent and alternative music blogs written by people who bleed cool?

What's Dave Segal listening to RIGHT NOW? Seriously, ask him.

What's KEXP's song of the day?

Who gives a fuck about Billboard?!

Let's have that conversation about race and racism. Seattle needs to have that conversation. But, a discussion about Billboard charts is a weak starting point for that dialogue.

I just know you can do better...bring it like we know you can, Danielle.
Posted by Billboard? Seriously? Uh, no. on January 10, 2014 at 1:37 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 21
Maybe Black artists are just making crap? No one Black/White/Blue/Green is buying or listening to their music according to the article. They want to listen to some White chick with big boobs. (Hmm maybe that's the reason).
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on January 10, 2014 at 1:55 PM · Report this
Larry Mizell, Jr. 22
everybody telling the author "she can do better", kiss my entire ass
Posted by Larry Mizell, Jr. on January 10, 2014 at 1:58 PM · Report this
TVDinner 23
Is it a cultural thing? I'm late to the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis party, but I fucking love them. Also: I am an old white woman. So there's, you know, that. But when I hear Macklemore's rhymes about addiction, equality, and capitalism exploiting folks, man, it resonates. Because while the form is hip-hop, the content is something I understand and values that, misogyny aside, I relate to. In other words, their narrative is closer to my own than, say, Jay-Z's or Kanye's: white.

And I'll be totally honest: I don't listen to other American hip-hop artists, because my perception is that the music is based on gross misogyny, self-aggrandizement, and the promotion of a minstrel-esque stereotype of black people for white consumption. I'm sure that's not the case for all artists or even most of them, but why would I sift through so much chaff to find the wheat?

Finally, at a global level, hip-hop is absolutely the syntax of the most interesting cultural narratives about fighting the power structure. I've been listening to La Mala and Calle 13 a lot lately, and the narratives they spin are all about gumming up the works of the ruling class. That the global grammar for fighting exploitation came from African Americans is hardly surprising. That we do a shitty job of recognizing or honoring it is also hardly surprising.

Posted by TVDinner http:// on January 10, 2014 at 1:58 PM · Report this
Sean Kinney 24
@6. Great point. I don't see enough data presented to use it as leverage for a sociological assessment that bears any weight.

That... and the border wars over identity, legitimacy, and cultural 'property' are a depressing and unproductive slog without spelling out quite clearly one's terms and their boundaries. Bring on the cultural appropriation argument; because it is a real thing. Still - The cast of characters assembled here that illustrate this argument are either too alike to support such an argument... or just too stupid to care about [Kanye? Please].

I see Jay Z and Justin Timberlake as planets orbiting the same pop-culture star. They are popBorg.
Posted by Sean Kinney http:// on January 10, 2014 at 1:59 PM · Report this
Arsfrisco 25
what @13 said. No artist should be knocked for 'appropriation' per se. However crass or elegant, the history of music is endless appropriation. It's the apparatus of reward that needs scrutiny.
Posted by Arsfrisco on January 10, 2014 at 2:01 PM · Report this

So, are her "big boobs" black, blue or green?

Wait a minute, are you looking at Smurf porn again?
Posted by My best friend is blue on January 10, 2014 at 2:05 PM · Report this
Sean Kinney 27
Larry: I like Danielle's argument because of what it makes me think about and propels me to dig some more, but like #6 and #13, a few more stats would be nice. And that is as much or more a critique of Molanphy than Danielle, since Danielle is discussing/commenting on the Slate piece as much as posing a singular argument.
Posted by Sean Kinney http:// on January 10, 2014 at 2:06 PM · Report this
Paul Pearson 28
#20 - I agree. Billboard's nurtured a long-standing identity crisis that sort of reflects the music industry's post-Napster malaise. All Billboard really proves now is that they know how to count. That's not enough though; there's a bunch of subjective reasoning that has to be considered when talking about the pulse of the music marketplace.

I mean, Imagine Dragons has been in the Top 10 for the better part of the last year. Does anybody think we're actually going to be talking about them in 10 years? Or 5?
Posted by Paul Pearson on January 10, 2014 at 2:06 PM · Report this

Love the boys in the band, but the sound is so vaguely Coldplay, et. al. can almost see the light beginning to fade as their orbit decays.

I blame Gwyneth Paltrow.

Posted by Radioactive Demons - What? on January 10, 2014 at 2:27 PM · Report this
I can see how this could be quite unsettling to black people since cultural appropriation is only allowed in one direction. Now that the most popular hip-hop is white it shouldn't be too long before blacks turn their backs on it.

For the sake of comparison, are you more grossed out about whites taking over hip-hop or Darius Rucker putting out country music?
Posted by cliche on January 10, 2014 at 2:28 PM · Report this
Erin Resso 31
FWIW, it seems like people who at least pretend to actually listen to music tend to give POC their due respect.…

I think I agree with Fnarf in that this is evidence of the Billboard 100 losing even tangential relation to music quality. As an indicator of cultural/popular zeitgeist, the results remain troubling, and unfortunately, unsurprising.
Posted by Erin Resso on January 10, 2014 at 2:36 PM · Report this

Careful. If you strain any harder to make that point, you might just shit out what little brains you've got left.

Posted by Darius Rucker? Did Charley Pride die? on January 10, 2014 at 2:47 PM · Report this
Knat 33
I have only this to add, after reading Miley Cyrus' name while skimming: chicken butt.
Posted by Knat on January 10, 2014 at 3:08 PM · Report this
Maybe black people should start doing things of value again.

Hey, you're the one race-baiting.
Posted by treehugger on January 10, 2014 at 3:10 PM · Report this
dwightmoodyforgetsthings 35
Can we all agree that what the color of the people on the top of the Billboard R&B/Rap charts, their music was terrible and has been pretty terrible for years if not decades?
Posted by dwightmoodyforgetsthings on January 10, 2014 at 3:12 PM · Report this
Sam Levine 36
White people buying (particular amounts of) music by black people isn't a good barometer of racism. Do the Right Thing had a really great scene that illustrated both hating black people and not thinking of black pop stars as black.
Posted by Sam Levine on January 10, 2014 at 3:14 PM · Report this
@32 - Oh right. White mens fault. White mens problem only. I feel smarter already.
Posted by cliche on January 10, 2014 at 3:17 PM · Report this
While we're on the subject, what ever happened to Asher Roth? He just didn't really take off did he? Shame he was a cutie.
Posted by LukeJoe on January 10, 2014 at 3:22 PM · Report this
Is your whole shtick just finding trivial factoids and claiming (without proof) that they're rayciss?

Come on step it up. This isn't Tumblr.
Posted by William F. Fuckley on January 10, 2014 at 3:53 PM · Report this
raku 40
Great post and I agree with all of it!

But, one related point about black artists and the music industry - Every one of the 2013 singles by the black artists you listed has lyrics about psycho bitches, hoes, and / or a littering of n-words. I'm glad they're not more popular as I'm pretty sure you have to be a pretty hardcore misogynist or racist to listen to them if you're not black. Even indie black rappers like Danny Brown have this major problem.

Of course there are really good current black indie black artists, but black men especially seem to have to be horrible people to get music industry money. It's awful. Black women don't seem to have the same problem, but of course they have the most oppressive biases of any huge group of people in America. It's listeners, but a huge part of it is biases in the industry. Shocked though that the R&B charts aren't dominated by black women.
Posted by raku on January 10, 2014 at 3:59 PM · Report this
I wish we could discuss appropriation without it coming down to restricting certain kinds of expression to certain demographic groups.
Posted by RDM on January 10, 2014 at 5:37 PM · Report this
There are as many Hispanics in this country as blacks and they are almost invisible in the music industry. Asians, who make up 5% of the population have no representation at all. Perhaps record labels and the media have a pro black bias which is why blacks are so overrepresented while Asians and Hispanics get no airplay or promotion. Shouldn't the same people who lobbied SNL to cast a black female comedian be lobbying record companies to look for and promote more Hispanic and Asian musical talent?
Posted by hayden c on January 10, 2014 at 6:03 PM · Report this
Sean Kinney 43
Knowledge is not possible without appropriation - yet we rightly expect those who profess it to cite their sources (even in the interwebs, sometimes). Performance is predicated on the appropriation of previous experiences, be it an act of mimicry, a result of what one is taught, etc. It is always subject to revision, but credit should be expressly or implicitly offered (whether the performance is an homage or a critique...).

Cultural appropriation assumes the legitimacy or validity of essential cultural expression or practice - and it cannot help but be shaped by demographic/ethnic/tribal associations. What to do? Acknowledge your sources and be as mindful as you can of asymmetrical relationships.

That said, to demonize "appropriation" carte blanche, without a host of caveats - or the recognition that it is the central mechanism of 'culture' - is totes Maoist.
Posted by Sean Kinney http:// on January 10, 2014 at 6:18 PM · Report this
seatackled 44
@9, @15

I didn't care much for Miley and just tried to ignore her for most of her career, probably because of the Disney image, but at some point I decided I liked the way she is challenging norms of beauty and femininity.
Posted by seatackled on January 10, 2014 at 7:20 PM · Report this
@22- perhaps troll bait bullshit rises to some level of journalistic excellence, but not so in my book. A job is a job. It ought to be done well, especially given that there are literally thousands of people who would do this one for free. I don't know this author, but it seems like a poor outing on a very fascinating topic. So lots of folks are chiming in with "important topic- now lets frame this conversation in useful terms."
Posted by Chris Jury on January 10, 2014 at 8:25 PM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 46
Meanwhile, Kanye is appropriating white music.

Listening to Black Skinhead is like Marilyn Manson's The Beautiful People but with more ego (if that was possible).
Posted by TheMisanthrope on January 10, 2014 at 9:06 PM · Report this
It's absolutely true! We've become so post-racial that formerly Black people are becoming invisible!

My cardiologist's head and hands are just faint outlines attached to his stethoscope these days, the lady at the cleaners is only visible because she uses so much makeup, and my next door neighbors, who are nudists, have disappeared entirely.

Who knew this would happen??

I have to reluctantly agree with Ms. Henderson, we must work to restore irrational bigotry based on people's features, accents and customs wherever it has become weak, so that people's former racial classifications will become relevant again! Only then will we be able to properly recognize the superiority of all musicians who are Black, and who, as Ms. Henderson points out, are therefore more creative and avant garde and downright worthy than White or Hispanic or South Asian or East Asian or Native American or Ainu or Slav musicians, or musicians of any of the other "races" that have been invented in different times and places.

Thank you, Ms Henderson, for correcting us. What were we thinking?
Posted by ECarpenter on January 10, 2014 at 9:59 PM · Report this
Great post, but can we give some credit to Macklemore, he's repeatedly acknowledged white privilege and spoken out about it:…

Heck he's even got a song about it:…

And he's done a lot to give other non white males exposure, look at all the artists he worked with on his latest album and all the credit/exposure he's given them.

And it's not like he's Mac Miller who's rapping about slapping people with his dick and what not.

Plus "Same love" is a great song, sorry it just is.

Anyways great post, and please keep posting about this type of stuff.

Also wow, this post really brought out the racists on slog...don't listen to 'em and keep up the awesome posts :)
Posted by j2patter on January 10, 2014 at 10:46 PM · Report this
Actually, since you've brought up Macklemore a couple of times, i'd love to see a post about your thoughts on him. Is it his music you dislike, his actions, or society's reaction to him (The whole "white man comes in to save rap and make it "wholesome"" thing)? Or is it that white people should never rap (or just white men, is Katie Kate ok). Please don't take this the wrong way, I'm not trying to be confrontational and honestly am interested in your thoughts :).
Posted by j2patter on January 10, 2014 at 10:55 PM · Report this
Just Blue 50
@47, the problem is the notion of a post-racial society masks racism. As you stated in a previous thread, "…we are a long, long way from living in a society where race does not matter." People who prematurely declare racism dead don't bother examining their own prejudices (because they don't have any, of course!) These are the people who would never self-identify as racist but will selectively follow black customers through a store, reject black applicants, etc.

There seem to be some legitimate reasons to question the current relevance of the Billboard Hot 100. But, for the sake of argument, let's momentarily assume it's an accurate gauge. The problem isn't that there are white people performing R&B/Hip-Hop. The problem is that they are almost completely dominating the charts while competing against otherwise successful black musicians.

Can you seriously argue that Miley Cyrus is more creative, avant grade, and downright worthy than…well, anyone?

If the Hot 100 is a reliable barometer, the issue isn't "Oh my god, there are white people performing hip-hop!" It's a sizable portion of the audience collectively declaring, "Thank god, now there are enough white people performing the type of music I like that I can comfortably retire in my exclusively white bubble while pretending race doesn't exist."

Not every landlord that repeatedly rejects black applicants is an avowed racist. Bias is often subtle. "I liked the other family more," "we related better," "he just seemed more trustworthy." People can feel they're making choices for less vile reasons, but the truth comes out when time and time again they choose white applicants over black applicants with similar rental histories/incomes. Since the myth of racism's demise makes it easier for people to ignore their own prejudices, they can safely surround themselves in a culture that is entirely white - incidentally, of course.
Posted by Just Blue on January 10, 2014 at 11:42 PM · Report this
I'd second #49's request for a more in-depth analysis of Macklemore from you - I absolutely agree that his massive success is a huge symptom of systematic racism (this seems to be represented perfectly in this comment thread by TV Dinner's #23 post), but at the same time, I feel a little uncomfortable about calling the guy out as a knowing agent of the current wave of white cultural supremacy in the same way as I would Justin Timberlake or Miley Cyrus. A big part of that is personal - I went to college with the guy, talked with him on an arts panel at Vermillion once. Moreover, he's never been shy about pointing out racial biases when he sees them in others, and he seems to have made attributing his success to an unacknowledged and morally reprehensible system of racism a pretty big part of his public persona. He also spent years playing shows in a primarily black scene as an unknown, and I don't think anyone could accuse him of not paying his dues or not being part of the community (though he should do more of this with his current platform).

So what's a guy to do who seems a little bit shook up about the fucked up implications of his success? I think he's made a much better attempt to put himself on even ethical ground than than any of the white musicians mentioned, but it's obviously not quite good enough, and I don't know what his next step ought to be. He clearly wants to continue his career in its current state, and that may be the source of most of his problems.

[for the record, I've never been a fan of his music, I just think he's a decent and intelligent enough of a person that I can't explain him away by calling him cynical - maybe it's just a sign that white people, no matter how much they want to correctly identify and fight against racism, really can't change anything]
Posted by -w on January 11, 2014 at 3:01 AM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 52
I agree with @51 in wanting to read a critical analysis of Macklemore from Danielle. He's an ally at all levels, but still operates from a place of such privilege. Some of that has made him a more effective ally (I don't believe that Same Love would have gotten the same airplay if it'd been written/recorded from a queer standpoint). But, in the end, he's succeeding financially while equally talented queer and POC artists aren't. The question of how to be an artist ally is a complex one.
Posted by Canadian Nurse on January 11, 2014 at 7:22 AM · Report this
@50 - I see racism every day, and I do what I can in whatever moment I'm in to reduce it. So it strikes me wrong when I read what looks like a screed inventing even more racism where I'm not sure it exists - and the author provides nothing but her own assumptions as evidence.

If African American musicians are being hurt by other people's efforts to put race out of their evaluations of music, because those earnest people are still gripped by unconscious racism which they no longer try to compensate for, that's a good topic for an article. But that's not this article. This article assumes that Billboard is scientifically accurate about what people are listening to every day, and that's ridiculous. It then goes on to make claims about large groups of stereotyped people that are not supported by anything but Henderson's own assumptions about race.

Let's all work together to reduce the conscious and unconscious racism that taints our culture - and one good effort would be to refrain from tossing accusations of racism at people without any real evidence. There's plenty of proven racism to go around, we don't need imaginary racism, too.
Posted by ECarpenter on January 11, 2014 at 7:23 AM · Report this
"I called Macklemore "The Ginger Minstrel" during my interview so I'm still sort of shocked that I got hired."
Posted by Lisa G. on January 11, 2014 at 8:06 AM · Report this
Another issue I disagree with Ms. Henderson about is her use of the term "culturally appropriative" when talking about cultural evolution.

She seems to think that we should all live in ethnically (or perhaps racially - she seems to be quite comfortable with the concept of race, as if it was real rather than made up) separate communities, and anything invented by members of one community cannot later be re-made by members of another community, because that would be "culturally appropriative", and bad.

She's in a long tradition - for a long time some people insisted that jazz could not legitimately be played by anyone but African American people, because that would be stealing. But the logical outcomes of such a belief, if carried out in all realms of life, are bizarre. People of Italian and Zulu ancestry, among others, could not make trousers (although they could wear and admire them), since trousers were not invented by their ancestors. Only people of Northern European decent could grow, slaughter and cook beef, since cattle were originally bred by Europeans from aurochs. Only people of Germanic descent could perform Beethoven's music, only people of Central and South American ancestry could grow and cook corn and potatoes, etc. etc. etc.

Human cultures and subcultures are not separate, they do not "own" what some of their members invent, and they all, *all* borrow freely from other cultures and subcultures. What some splendid African American musicians have done with pianos has been a benefit to us all, what some splendid Anglo American musicians have done with banjos has been a benefit to us all, it would be a shame if we split up instruments, musical styles, rhythms, tunings, etc by ethnic group, and were only allowed to make music using what our ancestors had invented.

"Culturally appropriative" behavior is both normal and good, and it's shameful to use that term as an attack, or as an accusation of theft.
Posted by ECarpenter on January 11, 2014 at 11:09 AM · Report this
Just Blue 56
@53/55, there's good cause to call out the chart for having a bias. Considering the number of popular black acts in the genre, the list does suspiciously skew toward white. For me, the biggest question isn't "does this chart reflect a bias?" It's whether or not the chart itself is accurate indicator of America's musical preferences.

Seems to me the most thought-provoking conversations about racism come about in the gray areas. In clear-cut, rigorously documented cases of racism, most commenters simply express disgust. The only contrary opinions typically fall into the blatantly racist troll category. There's no real debate, no introspection, no cause to evaluate or analyze. There are some interesting comments in this thread that wouldn't have been written were the situation wholly unambiguous.

The author's fundamental point stands: "In post-racial America, if you refuse to see color, people of color start to actually disappear." Denying the existence of racism provides cover for its perpetuation, whether or not the Hot 100 is culturally relevant.

Appropriation isn't simply cultural permeability, like many of the examples you cite. The problem lies in selective permeability. The conflict arises when society accepts the cultural contributions of a group of people while simultaneously maligning and sidelining the group itself. On an individual level, it's easy to see. For example, take people who love hip-hop, buy numerous EPs by black artists, and simultaneously post watermelon jokes on Facebook. These people represent the far-end of the spectrum: it's easy to see the disconnect. But the problem doesn't just magically appear in its most obvious manifestations. There are many degrees leading up to the extremes of appropriation, just like there are many degrees leading up to the extremes of racism itself. The only way to root out subtler biases is to actively scrutinize subtler degrees.
Posted by Just Blue on January 11, 2014 at 11:59 AM · Report this
@56 - Yesterday evening I listened mainly to Billie Holliday. I don't know for how long - I lost track of the time. I didn't say to myself, "I must get my weekly quota of African American chanteuses", I just wanted to play Billie Holliday. Because her singing fits my mood better than anyone else's sometimes.

Billboard, however, totally missed this event, and did not record that I, an old white guy, wanted to spend an evening with Billie Holliday, an African American woman.

And thinking back on her body of work, Ms Holliday was also, per Ms. Henderson, a "culturally appropriative musician". Gosh, Ms. Holliday was African American, why was she recording songs written by Jewish American men, and Anglo American men? Why didn't she stick to her own songs, or only songs written by other African Americans? Sure, she sang Bessie Smith songs, and her own songs, and songs by other African Americans - but, gasp, even her signature song, "Strange Fruit", was written by an Atheist Jewish American! With a non-African American author, how could that song possibly have any relevancy to African American musical culture? How could Ms. Holliday have done such a thing?

I can almost hear Ms. Henderson tutting, and wishing that she had been around back then to set Ms. Holliday straight.

Personally, I can't hear Ms. Holliday sing "All of Me" or "The Man I Love" or "Me, Myself And I" and think of her as a cultural thief. Ms. Holliday was an amazing American musician, who (so far as I can find) sang only American songs. So she was apparently more expansive and culturally inclusive than Ms Henderson, and thought that she owned the cultural rights to everything in American culture, not just the things in African-American culture. For which we should all be grateful!

I don't know whether unconscious or conscious racism contributes to the suspicious absence of African Americans in the current Billboard results. Neither does Ms. Henderson. I AM certain that the Billboard results do not reflect what people listen to, because millions of us listen to a wide range of music, a lot of it isn't current, and a lot of it crosses "racial" boundaries because Americans tend to listen to American music, and we are a varied bunch of folks. Are African Americans really becoming invisible? Not that I can see.

Ms Henderson should, I think, do some real research, rather than just writing about her hunches. Her hunches only illuminate what we think about *her*, not what we think about the rest of the world, and that's not journalism.
Posted by ECarpenter on January 11, 2014 at 1:22 PM · Report this
I know I'm late to the game, but... a few people pointed out the ethnic/racial percentages in the Billboard charts the last few years. They were much different than 2013. So we have one year (already an arbitrary way of slicing up music consumption, even assuming Billboard in any way is relevant), and Henderson tries to make claims about it. Despite the fact that the previous year would disprove the point. It seems to me the default interpretation would be that this year might be an outlier. Because, clearly, if there was some significant change in American culture, we'd have to have *some* explanation for why it didn't exist last year, right? I mean, even a nod in that direction would be necessary if Henderson were being serious, right?

As such, it's hard to not conclude that this is just (Goldy-level asinine) Slog-bait. Which, if Henderson wants to ignite a conversation and not just get pageviews, is rather counterproductive.
Posted by Madasshatter on January 11, 2014 at 7:33 PM · Report this
Talking about the telecommunications act, and how it allowed big companies to acquire consolidated media empires and cut down black mom and pop radio stations to their knees is tough work. Talking about the abolition of regulatory restrictions, and how even profitable black radio stations were bought out replace by stations that had the same violent rap/sex music playlist formula is tough work.Talking about how that gutted the networks that helped black artists develop their talent is tough work. Talking about the white kids in the suburbs who buy the music in these formats( and the responsibility they share with backward thinking black men in perpetuating the interlocking systems homophobia and misogyny that emanate from them) is tough work. I'm not surprised that almost no one here is interested in doing it. Fish gonna swim, birds gonna fly, stranger race trolls gonna troll.
Posted by Robert Lashley on January 12, 2014 at 6:13 PM · Report this

Danielle can handle all this without you bringing your "entire ass" into the middle of it.

As a man, you may mean well, but your choice to defend her instead of her post only demonstrates that you assumed weakness where none exists.

Our words represent us; our silence reveals us.
Posted by Silence will not protect us on January 12, 2014 at 6:55 PM · Report this
Since the very beginning of hip hop, in the late 70's, white teenagers were the majority audience pretty much everywhere except NYC.
The black station here in Seattle, KYAC, didnt play rap for years, and if you wanted those big blue 12" singles of treacherous three or grandmaster flash, you had to go to the whiteboy punk rock record stores.
So it only makes sense that, after 30 years of listening to hip hop, a few white teenagers would get good enough at it to sell some records.
But mostly this points out how irrelevant the Billboard charts are- all the rappers that are making new music are dropping mix tapes that are free downloads, and there are hundreds and hundreds of them. None of this shows up on Billboard, but the influence of the cutting edge of rap and hiphop filters down to Billboard songs 2 or 3 years later.
The internet means NO single category or performer sells anywhere near what they used to- When Lil Wayne was no. 2 on the Billboard Chart a few years ago, he sold 2 million records- yet, many years earlier, when Thriller was No. 1, it sold 20 million.
So Charles Hamilton or SpaceGhostPurrp can be very influential, and still not come near cracking the Billboard 100.

Virtually no music worth listening to, in my opinion, in the top 100 anyway.
Posted by CATSPAW666 on January 13, 2014 at 7:02 AM · Report this
Cultural Drift is Sacred Drift- Hakim Bey.
Posted by CATSPAW666 on January 14, 2014 at 8:35 AM · Report this
H/T to Just Blue.
Posted by Taryn on January 14, 2014 at 2:26 PM · Report this
thelyamhound 64
I realize this is a function of my white privilege, but I don't really think much at all on the racial makeup of my music collection. I quite like Shabazz Palaces, TV on the Radio, and Dalek, for what it's worth, and have historically been a fan of artists like Sun Ra, Sly & the Family Stone, and Fishbone; on the flip side, my preference for dissonance and dysphoria tends to keep me in the largely (incidentally?) white ghetto (if you'll forgive the expression; I'll accept my punishment if you won't) of industrial, noise, and postpunk music (with all of its appropriations of dub, funk, etc., natch).

I can't pretend we're in a post-racial culture. I also can't pretend that polemics will ever matter as much to me as aesthetics when it comes to what I listen to. As to the success of Miley Cyrus or Robyn Thicke ... People, by and large, like bad music. That's not even news.

I appreciate what you're getting at, but I feel like you haven't travelled deep enough into the subject with this post to get the kind of conversation the topic deserves.
Posted by thelyamhound on January 16, 2014 at 9:56 AM · Report this

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