“Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece” – Is Lorde’s Royals a racist diatribe?

Non-stories about pop’s brightest star aside, in a race row there’s only one winner – Kanye West

Thu, Oct 17, 2013, 16:32

The number one song currently rockin’ all over the world is a racist attack on black people and no one cares. It is shocking and appalling that so many people have listened to/downloaded Lorde’s Royals and saw no problem with what the song says. White liberal critics have obviously chosen to ignore the song’s racial implications.

Not my argument, but one made by writer Veronica Bayetti Flores in a commentary article headlined “Wow, that Lorde song Royals is racist”. Flores has taken exception to the lyric in the song (which is about the contrast between celebrities’ lavish lifestyles and the economic conditions of the fans buying their music): “But every song is gold teeth, Grey Goose . . . everybody likes Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.”

Flores writes that while she loves a good critique of wealth accumulation and inequity as much as the next person, this song is not that. “In fact, it is deeply racist. Because we all know who she’s thinking about when we’re talking gold teeth, Cristal and Maybachs. So why shit on black folks?”

Flores could not be more wrong in her argument. Furthermore, what she is alleging is dangerous and nasty. The Lorde song is about today’s music scene’s rich and famous. Royals also refers to “ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room, jet planes, islands and tigers on a gold leash”. Lorde is railing against the vulgar ostentatiousness of rock/pop/hip-hop stars as a body of people.

What is worse is that this ridiculous and alarming misconstruction of a best-selling song by one of today’s brightest new talents (Lorde is just 16 and the youngest person to have a Billboard number one in decades) grabbed the headlines in a week when clear-headed arguments about real racism in the music industry were being made but largely ignored thanks to the Lorde Royals non-story.

In an interview with the BBC, Kanye West – for whom self-confidence has never been a problem – launched an excoriating attack on racism not just in the music industry but in the general cultural worlds of fashion/design, theatre and film also. Speaking from his own experience over the years, he said that black people in the creative arts are routinely denied the opportunities granted to white people. Theatrical production and fashion line ideas he had were routinely dismissed at corporate planning interview stages, he claimed, because “I look around the room and there is no one here who looks like me”.

His aim is true when he makes the point that the entertainment industry would prefer if he just did the “I am a gangsta, I am a drug dealer thing – because those patinas fit better on a person like me”.

But he’s not an “urban” artist in the sense that he’s a suburban, middle-class person who refuses to accept the narrow strictures within which he is expected to operate.

Granted, West does overstate what he believes to be his God-given genius at every opportunity, but his sweeping statement about how black people are under-represented and marginalised in the creative fields (and the white, middle-class record-buying public do like their black hip-hoppers to have a “thug” persona) is true in essence.

West says the fashion world is too restricting, so he’s now turning his attention to architecture. A design for life?

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