Country fans call Lil Nas X a cultural appropriator. Is he?
Cowboy boots and 10-gallon-hats have reemerged as staple fashion choices. Kacey Musgraves' charisma and tight melodies beat out pop music kingpins Drake and Post Malone to clench Album of the Year at the 2019 Grammy Awards.
"Old Town Road," a debut from 19-year-old college dropout Lil Nas X, beat out a streaming record set by Drake and brought about a pop culture movement known as the "yeehaw agenda," which brings the idea of black cowboys and cowgirls into mainstream viewing. From Tyga and Cardi B to Mitski, Mac Demarco and Solange, a country music crossover revolution is in full swing. So why do Country fans continue to insist on exclusivity within their genre? The "yeehaw agenda" didn't unfold gracefully; country music fans resisted the genre's crossover into black culture at every conceivable turn, dismissing the trend as its own form of "cultural appropriation." Most recently, Wrangler Jeans came under intense scrutiny when they announced a collaborative line with Lil Nas X and were consequently accused of "taking the cowboy outta country." "Can't believe Wrangler stooped to that level," wrote a user on Twitter. "Stop trying to conform and stay loyal to your roots." In March, "Old Town Road" was removed from the Billboard Country charts because it allegedly "did not merit inclusion" in the Country charts. The song's removal sparked a debate surrounding racism in Country music and cowboy culture.
Despite popular culture welcoming the Yee Haw movement with (mostly) open arms, Country music as a whole still feels relatively inaccessible for those who don't religiously follow the genre and adhere to its strict guidelines. At last week's CMT music awards, Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile were joined on stage by multiple generations of Country women to subtly raise awareness for the lack of female representation in Country music. From Martina McBride to Carly Pearce, all 8 women on stage sang a rendition of Tucker's 1972 hit "Delta Dawn," which tells the story of a modern-day Mary Magdalene. Additionally, Zac Brown of the Zac Brown Band told his haters to "f*** off" after winning video of the year; the send-off was to comment on ZBB's alleged departure from Country music circles. In the past, Brown has called the genre "predictable" and is often criticized for collaborating with artists who aren't strictly country. Country fans' agitations also peaked when Beyonce joined The Dixie Chicks on stage at 2016's CMT Awards, and again a month later when beloved duo Florida Georgia Line appeared to be anti-police by refusing security backstage at a show in Wisconsin—as if being anti-police would've been a bad thing when "52% of all the years of life lost [in 2015 and 2016] at the hands of police were lost by nonwhite, non-Hispanic ethnic groups." But that's a different argument altogether.
"Country, as a genre, is obsessed with notions of patriotism, of purity, of some nondescript American-ness," wrote The New Yorker. Yet as Country fans attempt time and time again to shove artists into the cookie cutters of a strict list of dated archetypes, the genre has naturally evolved to incorporate pop and R&B with or without the traditionalists in tow. Kelsea Ballerini's top song is a progressive house collaboration with The Chainsmokers. Maren Morris, who performed at this year's CMT awards and was nominated for Best Video, infuses pop melodies throughout her debut album, Girl, with tracks like "Flavor" and "Gold Love" seemingly devoid of Country-influence. Chris Stapleton, one of Country's biggest breakout stars in recent years, continually borrows influence from R&B and Southern Rock. "Musically he understands that 'country' is an inclusive label," writes Pitchfork. "One that uses the bristly twang of 1970's outlaw as its foundation but also covers the excitable R&B from Memphis...as well as the blues-based Southern rock of the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd."
Yet all the artists listed above have often cited Country music icons as their heroes and influencers, acknowledging and respecting the confines of the genre, therefore fostering a connection with conservative country hot-heads. Meanwhile, Lil Nas X admitted in a Rolling Stone interview that he had to "google Western terms," that he had never ridden a horse, and that "Old Town Road" was engineered for virality rather than to be a country song. Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Kid Cudi are his primary influences, and not once has he acknowledged that he listened to Country or was influenced by the genre. As shown by their brewing agitations, Country fans can only be so open-minded. "[The] country [music industry] is guarded," Lil Nas X said of the "Old Town Road" Billboard controversy. "You can have your country song with trap elements...if it's known by country artists, then it's allowed."
As Country fans continue to protest the genre's evolution, there is little they can do about the changing sound, with their protests mostly coming off as petty whining rather than concrete accusations of cultural appropriation. Whether the reluctance of country fans to accept the genre's crossover into black culture is due to racism or a simple fear of change, it seems there is little they can actually do to stop Country music from moving outside the tired confines of the antiquated genre.
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The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.
Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.
"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "And is everything right with our country right now? No. It's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution."
This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.
Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality
Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.
But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?
Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?
When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.
After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.
Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.
Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.
Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.
For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.
We're glad they're on our side.
The world is up against a seemingly insurmountable threat, but luckily, we've got a crack team of heroes on the case.
Sure, there's already the girl with super strength, the guy who can fly, and the anthropomorphic, trash-talking animal tailor-made for merchandise. But this is a threat of intergalactic proportions, and we're going to need all the help we can get if we want to survive.
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