“Okay Ladies Now Let’s Gentrification?” Did TSwift Copy Beyonce in LWYMMDVideo?

Kevin Mazur-Getty Images/Roc Nation Sports/Golden Boy Promotions/THZ Photo Library

Taylor Swift hasn’t even released the entire video for her new single “Loow What You Made Me Do” but she’s already making news, fielding controversy and breaking records with it.

She released the single’s audio version August 24th with a teaser for the video that will premier at the VMA’s Sunday. Even without the video, however, the single has broken at least one record  and it did so before even 24 hours had passed. The single is now the fastest song to reach number one on iTunes from a female artist in the U.S.

The lyric video also, as of early Saturday afternoon, already has over 25 million views on YouTube—and it’s not even the actual video.

Anyone experiencing the various teasers from TSwift about her upcoming single, video and album have noted that it seems to indicate a style and sound change for the pop artist. The visuals definitely seem edgier, to say the least.

What hasn’t changed is the attention Swift is getting and that there is controversy already surrounding the teasers and single.

Some of the first reactions were relatively harmless, comparing her apparent character change to other good-girls-gone-bad like Sandy from Grease and Robin Sparkles turned Robin Daggers from How I Met Your Mother.  

 

As anticipation grew throughout the week for Swift’s release, many were expecting it to fuel the so-called feud between Swift and Katy Perry, who also released a new music video for “Swish Swish” this week. Initial viewings and reports from both singers’ representatives seem to indicate that the feud is not relevant in these releases, at least as far as overt content. The most “there” that seems to be there is in the fact that both Swift and Perry released new content this week, with Perry beating Swift’s release with her video Tuesday and Swift releasing her full video the same night Perry is hosting the Video Music Awards.

The biggest controversy, however, is coming from the comparisons many are making between the video teasers for “Look What You Made Me Do” and Beyonce’s “Lemonade.”

Internet sleuths have isolated at least four stills from TSwift’s video teasers that strongly resemble some distinct Beyonce looks.

In one, Swift is in an outfit strikingly similar to Beyonce’s iconic, and oft-sported black leotard. The tweets and memes were quick to rework Beyonce lyrics for Swift’s images, accusing her of appropriating, stealing and sampling depending on the intensity of the criticism.

The best and most cited of these references Beyonce’s Formation: “Okay ladies now lets gentrification.”

The “Look What You Made Me Do” video director Joseph Kahn released a statement responding to the accusations that his video copied or stole from Beyonce. “I’ve worked with Beyonce a few times,” he said in a Tweet. “She’s an amazing person. The #LWMMDvideo is not in her art space. Love and respect to Bey.”

He also indicated that there’s more to some of the shots that are being cited as lifted from Beyonce, saying “there’s something to that ‘formation’ shot I painted out and you haven’t seen yet.”

The accusations of gentrification and appropriation come to a star who has faced accusations of racism more than once in her career. In “Shake It Off,” she cast white dancers as ballerinas and dancers of color to twerk. 

She was accused of perpetuating black stereotypes throughout that video as well as of appropriating black culture.

In “Wildest Dreams,” the video takes place in an African landscape, with plenty of African wildlife and no African people to speak up throughout.

The appropriation of black art, culture and music by white artists who are then, ultimately, more successful because of that appropriation is a narrative as old as the United States itself. Country music, bluegrass, and gospel all have roots in the songs enslaved people would sing while working in the fields. Rock and Roll was created by black artists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe and evolved from so-called “race music” like blues, rhythm and blues, and swing. Chuck Berry was one of the biggest influencers for rock and roll artists but Elvis Presley has been culturally crowned the King of Rock and Roll.

Rap gets its most mainstream attention and acceptance when white artists like Eminem and Macklemore appropriate it. And even white artists who acknowledge the influence of black artists still benefit from the white supremacist mindset in the United States and much of the “western world” and experience tremendously more success and acceptance than those racially segregated, often-exploited or taken-for-granted artists that paved the way.

When Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift make a mockery of black culture or aesthetics and use people of color as props for coolness or sex-appeal or artistry in their performances, they perpetuate a system where they benefit from white privilege. When artists like Adele and Macklemore enjoy so much more success than their black influencers or counterparts, even when they acknowledge those influencers, they do the same.

In 2013, Robin Thicke, Macklemore and Justin Timberlake were at the top of the Billboard Charts in black-oriented musical genres. “Maybe, like Eminem says, they only sell more than their black counterparts because they’re white.” 

Swift is just one more example of this phenomenon. Whether blatantly stealing from Beyonce and exploiting black culture, she benefits from our culture and society which ensures that she’ll have the fastest selling single on iTunes regardless of that controversy, and almost regardless of the merits of her artistry in general. 

People often note that Barack Obama and his family were the first (and only) First Family with no real controversies or scandals while in the White House because it represents the common black experience of having to work twice as hard or be twice as good to get to where a white person can get easily. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is the most controversial president in our history, perhaps more controversial than all others combined, and yet this white, rich man became president and continues to have the support of a solid base of people. 

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