Doc Zeus will only do the shoulder lean on a private Vine account
It was the that launched an empire of think pieces. A pair of hoop earrings, some gold fronts and a Skrillex cut re-made Miley Cyrus in the image of Rihanna. It didn’t matter that Hannah Montana herself was a girl so white that she became the lazy rapper’s go-to metaphor for cocaine. A meticulous re-branding of the former Disney star managed to make Miley the patron saint of ratchet white girls ineptly twerking in their college dorm rooms across America. The video for “We Can’t Stop” was a perfectly cromulent exercise in poptimal insipidity that featured just enough low-grade cultural appropriation to inspire angry writers to cry foul that she was stealing black culture. In short, it was genius career move for a young singer who hadn’t had a hit record since your idiot DJ friend thought it would be hilarious to ironically play “Party In The USA” at your favorite hipster haunt.
Miley Cyrus was hardly the first white female pop singer to take the proverbial culture safari through the ghetto to find their hip-hop credibility. Debbie Harry rapped semi-convincingly on Blondie’s seminal “Rapture” when hip-hop was a fledgling genre in American pop culture. (Of course, the success of “Rapture” can probably attributed to Debbie Harry being ACTUALLY down with Fab 5 Freddie and, moreover, being fucking bulletproof…) In 2003, no less an artist than Madonna herself famously tried to rap (ineptly) on the astronomically terrible “American Life” and was properly crucified for her efforts. Meanwhile, the critical and commercial success of “We Can’t Be Stopped” inspired white pop stars such as Katy Perry to recruit Juicy J for street cred on “Dark Horse” and Justin Bieber’s hilariously misguided attempts at speed rapping remain a scourge to society in general. It’s probably not a huge coincidence that a year after Miley Cyrus had your grandparent’s awkwardly twerking at your cousin’s wedding that Iggy Azalea, a white female rapper, had the No. 1 and No. 2 songs on the charts this summer.
All of this brings us to Taylor Swift and her vapid, hip-hop shaded, new music video, “Shake It Off.” In the realm of young pop singers, it’s not total slander to claim that Swift is quite possibly the most white bread of them all. The calling card of Swift’s country-inflected pop music remains her relentless Tracy Flick-like perkiness and aggrieved-teenager-in-love aesthetic. To listen to Taylor Swift is to feel as if she is constantly on the verge of dramatically removing her horned rims to reveal she was secretly the hot girl all along – a young Celine Dion if she was obsessed with “Say Anything.” Prior to “Shake It Off,” the closest Swift had gotten to black culture in her music is Kanye West bum rushing her VMA acceptance speech thus setting a chain reaction off in Kanye’s life where he is openly calling to build a cathedral to a Kardashian. Debbie Harry, she is not.
“Shake It Off” finds Taylor Swift ditching the pretensions of country stardom that launched her career as a precocious teenager and firmly replacing them with newly formed delusions of urban rap-ture. The chorus of the song finds Swift cheesily lifting 3LW’s “Players Gonna Play” and transmuting it into at rack where she complains that her much-talked about struggles with her love life is endless fodder for the celebrity gossip industry. At one point , she even attempts to “rap” in unconvincing fashion delivering white girl bars such as “And to the fella over there with the hella good hair/Won’t you come on over here, baby, we can shake, shake, shake.” Outside of the hip-hop inflections, the song is exactly the type of precocious teen anthem that has made Swift a huge star. She sings with the same mild chagrined conviction as on many of her biggest hits. Meanwhile, the Max Martin beat is mostly catchy if totally without grit. It’s perfectly Taylor Swift. Regardless of whether this is your type of jam or not, you are going to hear this song a lot and it will probably beat you into submission with the same violent repetition as Brock Lesnar throwing a German suplex.
But what makes “Shake It Off” particularly inane isn’t necessarily the song itself, but the stupid music video that accompanies the single’s release. The clip finds Taylor Swift attempting to cheekily mimic the various background dancers twerking, gyrating and b-boying as she mugs to the camera to highlight how terrible she is at doing this thing. The video’s central premise seems to revolve around the extremely tired “joke” of watching white people act “black” for laughs. Swift dons the same ratchet culture signifiers, sporting large hoop earrings and gaudy truck jewelry, as she chuckles at her fumbling attempts to shake her ass in the video. At one point, the video finds Swift gawking at her background dancer’s asses with awed amazement as she is positioned beneath them. While you certainly get the sense that Swift is attempting to subtly mock the Miley Cyruses of the world for their ratchet allusions – as we all as mocking Lady Gaga’s art futurism for some reason – but it’s not a particularly clever or an original conceit to watch Swift irreverently smirk at the camera while she clumsily gyrates, nor is it particularly honest to play this all off as satirical when you are still using the same musical appropriations as your fellow pop starlets.
In the spirit of honesty, Taylor Swift makes the type of music that I’m preternaturally pre-disposed to loathe with frothing intensity. I’m probably never ( ever, ever) going to willingly listen to a Swift album for personal enjoyment. And yet regardless of my natural distaste, “Shake It Off” is precisely the type of exploitative lameness that highlights how limp these attempts at urban credibility for your average pop singer really are. If you absolutely must go the Full Miley, there’s always Ke$ha.