This is the first in a series called Sheroes & Zeroes, about the people who defined our year in culture in both terrific and terrible ways.
A few years ago, The Daily Show did a great segment about Fox News' coverage of the "Ground Zero Mosque," in which they debated whether or not the network was evil or stupid. Fox's coverage of the controversy had been so obviously absurd that, as The Daily Show pointed out, they'd have to be either hopelessly stupid or deliberately evil to push the narrative that they did. Neither explanation is preferable to the other, but either way, it's an explanation.
With Iggy Azalea, I find myself grappling with the same question. Is she a plumb asshole or is she dumb as hell? It could go either of both terrible ways. The list of sensible grievances against this woman is long, and there isn't much time left in 2014. We'll just hit the highlights.
Iggy Azalea is from Australia. When she gives interviews or generally moves about her life, she talks like an Australian, yet somehow when she raps, she sounds like an extra from ATL. Iggy lived in the South for five whole years, and she claims that that influence and the fact that she was taught to rap by Southern rappers is the reason for this particular vocal discrepancy.
She also has repeatedly referred to herself as "ghetto," because, I dunno, kangaroos.
You might be thinking: That doesn't make any fucking sense, and you would be right. I myself lived in Boston for four years and somehow managed to walk away without sounding like a Wahlberg. However you may feel about him, Macklemore—a rapper often mentioned in the same breath as Iggy— has never done this. He's a white boy from the Pacific Northwest and he talks, raps and acts like one.
This is the correct way for a white person to enter a predominately black genre of music: to enter the genre as his or her (white) self. To do otherwise would be to actively utilize stereotypes of what you think a black person looks, sounds and acts like. To do so would be to wear blackness like some sort of costume for monetary gains.
I'll defer to Azealia Banks briefly:
(For the record, Azealia Banks says a lot of things that give me pause, but her criticism of Iggy has always been on point.)
So the question remains: Is Iggy Azalea really clueless to the point where she gets on stage or steps in the recording booth and has no idea that suddenly she's rapping with an Southern accent? Has she been taken over by the ghost of Pimp C?
Or, does she know that it's more profitable for her to put on an accent that implies blackness because history has shown that white people much prefer their black music to be performed by white artists? (See: Elvis all the way through Sam Smith.)
Iggy Azalea's music is bad.
One of Iggy's early songs,"D.R.U.G.S.," features the following line:
Tire marks, tire marks, finish line with the fire marks/ When the relay starts I'm a runaway slave-master
Iggy later pointed out that the slave-master line is a reference to Kendrick Lamar's "Look Out For Detox." Transposing lyrics from one song to the next is a common practice in rap, so let's take a look at Kendrick's original lines.
Tire marks, tire marks, finish line with the fire marks/ When the relay starts I'm a runaway slave
So, Kendrick Lamar—a black man whose ancestry puts him well in the territory of being able to reasonably and autobiographically reference slavery in America—raps about being a slave. Later, Iggy Azalea, a white Australian woman, decides to reference that line and change it so that she would be the slave-master.
Was she too stupid to pause for a minute and think: "Hmmm, perhaps that line won't go over quite as well as it did when Kendrick did it."
Or did she say: "Fuck it, I want to say I'm a slave-master and I don't care."
Iggy Azalea has a history of tweeting racist jokes that I'll go ahead and assume she also cracks in her daily life, because why else would you think that shit is funny? So know that it's not just (her idea of) black culture she makes light of; she makes jokes at everyone else's expense as well.
Iggy Azalea is in a relationship with a black man, yet shows absolutely no awareness or solidarity with black causes. Frankly, that might not be much of a problem, largely because you know damn well she would have nothing helpful or intelligent to add. However, when her audience began to question why she—a white person with a large platform whose entire career has been built on a black genre of music—had remained silent about Ferguson, Iggy Azalea responded like a petulant child while completely deflecting the question. (Sidebar: Iggy is living proof that being in an interracial relationship or having mixed children or majoring in African-American studies does not vaccinate you against ignorance.)
To be sure, the question was posed by Azealia Banks, someone we all know she hates. But this is perhaps the worst thing about Iggy Azalea: the way she responds to criticism. Instead of taking a minute and actually listening to what is being said, she blindly responds with bullshit platitudes that make her sound tone-deaf and ambivalent. There's a pattern with her when it comes to issues or criticisms surrounding race. She often wants to remove race from the conversation entirely, particularly when it is suggested that the color of her skin has been a clear boon to her successes.
It's difficult for me to even wrap my mind around the audacity that it would take for a white woman to saunter her way through a culture rooted in blackness and then constantly try to push race aside. So which is it? Stupid or evil?
Objectively, Iggy Azalea sucks.
A common complaint leveraged against Jezebel writers who criticize the actions of influential female celebrities is something like "You're supposed to be feminists, why aren't you supporting women?" But it would be far less reasonable to give powerful women a pass on their behavior just because they are women. Supporting women means taking them seriously enough to call out patterns of racism that draw from and influence an insidious, larger racism that still infects American culture. Feminism allows for critical multivalency: I can call out Iggy Azalea's racist behavior and also think that Anonymous threatening to release her sex tape is sexist and gross. And I hope Iggy is paid the same amount as her male peers, and that she has access to the whatever method of birth control her heart desires.
All women deserve fundamental rights and equality. No woman deserves an enormous platform to erase, mock and hurt women of color (and expect a pass for doing so). So call the blind support of famous female Columbuses what you want, but don't call it feminism.
Image via Getty.