Jay-Z wasn’t praising Miley Cyrus on Magna Carta Holy Grail’s “Somewhereinamerica” when he rapped, “Cause somewhere in America Miley Cyrus is still twerkin.”
But that went over her head when she hopped on Twitter to boast that Mr. Carter wasn’t shouting out any other “b*tches.”
Ratchet culture is the new “it” thing in pop culture where artists like the former Hannah Montana Disney star imitate an actual lived experience of some poor underclass people of color. The bandana rocking, gold grill bling, and twerking she dabbles in for entertainment is a reality that can’t be escaped.
While some black males and celebrities laud Miley for her inauthentic attempt to appear “down” with the brown, others who live what she portrays are considered “ratchet”; a title that comes often with negative connotations.
The online double standard
Take a look at the official Twerk Team: Two black women who make a living from their choreographed hip gyrating YouTube videos (and who are a hell of a lot better at twerking than Miley) for example. Scrolling through their comment section, they are subjected to degrading, racist and sexist insults, but Miley’s white privilege allows her to twerk on stage with Memphis producer and rapper Juicy J unscathed.
Not only does Miley Cyrus accessorize her videos with blacks, according to songwriters, Rock City, she wants a black sound for her upcoming project.
“I want urban, I just want something that just feels black,” the “Party In The U.S.A.” singer allegedly told her producers.
Yes, because something that “feels black” can be worn for commodification and taken off when it no longer benefits her.
Jay-Z has rarely lauded white women in his music in the way many of his peers fetishize, which makes it clear he’s subtly calling her (and America out) for profiting from black music. On Jay-Z’s already platinum 12th album, Miley thinks Jay-Z is encouraging her to twerk because, well, he raps, “Twerk, twerk, twerk, twerk, Miley, Miley, twerk.”
Her ego was validated more during Mr. Carter’s Monday Twitter Q&A where Jay answered whether he thinks Miley is somewhere in America still twerking. “Yes! She represents an old world’s worst nightmare,” he tweeted. The part Miley—and others who don’t listen to rap music critically—missed is the verse right before he name dropped Miley, where he rhymes about his days of “Instagram,” a reference to his drug dealing days, the last thing he wanted was his picture taken. He also alludes to the Feds still watching him because of all the work he’s put in over the years. Now, in a different day and time, Miley’s twerking is celebrated. “Only in America,” he raps.
History is repeating itself
Around this time two years ago Kreayshawn was all the buzz as the Oakland bred white female rapper whose White Girl Mob friends marveled in rolling “ni**a” off their tongues because a black person—or several—had apparently given them a pass.
Kreayshawn, like Miley, sought to capitalize off the new ratchet culture that had replaced the “ghetto” culture preceding it.
Fortunately, Kreayshawn’s antics were too inauthentic to translate into album sales. Her debut album sold 3,900 copies in its first week, setting an all-time record for the lowest first week sales for an artist signed to a major record label.
The doorknocker earrings Kreayshawn wore, in addition to the weak black male rapper endorsement, didn’t translate into the guaranteed money in the bank she thought.
Two years after Kreayshawn’s fade into oblivion, Miley Cyrus has taken her seat on the cultural appropriation throne.
Ain’t nothing new
Cultural appropriation isn’t new. Elvis anyone?
From Madonna to Gwen Stefani, pop stars have always borrowed particular aspects of marginalized cultures for their art. Miley is just the latest offender.
Now that ratchet culture has entered mainstream, more culture vultures will pop up sporadically. One has to wonder why the ratchet culture is what non-people of color find worthy of mimicking and equating that with the totality of the black experience.
It’s too bad that it went over Miley’s head that Hov’s opinion of her twerking wasn’t favorable, but that’s probably because four years ago she’d never heard a Jay-Z song. It’s even worse that she actually thinks she’s good at the dance she didn’t create but has magically become the face of. Jay’s right.
Only in America.
Bené Viera is a journalist, blogger and cultural critic. Her work has been published by VIBE, VH1, ESSENCE, HuffPost and others. Follow her on Twitter at @writtenbyBene.