Respect vs. Appropriation
One thing I’ve always appreciated about David is his “soul” potential. His ability to feel a song and make sure the rest of us feel and understand a song (Exhibit A – above video).
This week, while the new semester started and I had little time to post on my blog while preparing my classes, I still took the time to read different commentary about the disturbing spectacle at MTV’s VMA show.
The issue of race and cultural appropriation was once again raised in terms of which artists were celebrated (and which ones made fools of themselves – Exhibit B – Miley Cyrus). What does it mean for Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” to be the big hit this summer while he is also engaged in a legal battle with Marvin Gaye’s family over the similarities between his song and Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up?” What does it mean that Justin Timberlake (already viewed by some to be an R&B culture thief) received the Michael Jackson Vanguard Award? Does that excuse the way he left Michael Jackson’s sister Janet alone in taking the brunt of the criticism of their performance at the Super Bowl in 2004?
And let’s not even get into the way Miley Cyrus reduced her black female backup dancers to “teddy bear toys,” literal props on which she could assert a dangerous sexuality that was far removed from her squeaky clean white Disney Hannah Montanna image.
What, essentially, does it mean that black music, dance, culture, bodies, etc. don’t have any real agency and currency until somebody white takes it over and makes it popular to the mainstream? What does it mean that white performers, who want to get away from a squeaky-clean image, must associate with blackness to earn “cool” and “street” cred?
Is our culture so racially ingrained that these narratives have to be the primary ones, from Elvis Presley to present-day pop stars?
And, can David Archuleta break the mold?
I hope he can. Because when David sings Stevie Wonder, I don’t see or hear “cultural appropriation.” I see and hear respect – respect for the culture, the art form, and the original artists.
I hear respect when David routinely gives props to the black female vocalists who influenced his own style, as he did in his memoir Chords of Strength – from Natalie Cole to Tamyra Gray – and from those blue-eyed soul singers like Eva Cassidy. I hear respect from a guy who doesn’t think he’s too macho to give a shout out to the women who taught him a thing or two about vocal stylization.
It’s that respect that is so very much missing in the music industry today and which perhaps propelled David to take a break and remember what respect and the purpose of music is all about – even if he does so in the context of his own faith upbringing and practices.
The VMA show revealed to the world how the music industry doesn’t respect cultures or persons, let alone the music which sprang forth from certain persons and cultures.
Real music and artistic influence springs from respect. Without that, we have no culture. Just meaningless signifiers that ultimately signify nothing but disrespect and artlessness.
Let us hope David will continue to grow from the roots of musical respect – which he has often graced us with each time he opened his mouth to sing.