Taylor Swift - "Shake It Off" video

As a Taylor Swift fan, her new “Shake It Off” video is obviously a fucking disaster, a humblebraggy liberation-of-the-bad-dancers things set to a sub-”Hollaback Girl” anti-hater cheerleader chant that substitutes a fucking Taylor Swift rap verse for a bridge. (Music-video OG Mark Romanek directed the video, which doesn’t really make anything better. You made “99 Problems,” Romanek! You have your own Director’s Label DVD! You’re better than this!) The video shows Taylor sucking at a wide variety of dance styles — ballet, interpretive, ravey liquid-dancing stuff — but the parts that are justifiably raising the most eyebrows are the ones where she twerks or breakdances, offering a halfassed stereotypical take on street-dance styles that are still identified with black culture. One of the people who isn’t thrilled with the video is the great young rapper Earl Sweatshirt. On Twitter last night, he talked about how the video was “harmful” even though he actually hasn’t watched it yet. And while that’s usually a clear case of uninformed criticism, the “Shake It Off” video is the rare case where you can look at a couple of gifs on Twitter and still get the whole picture. Here’s what he wrote:

haven’t watched the taylor swift video and I don’t need to watch it to tell you that it’s inherently offensive and ultimately harmful. perpetuating black stereotypes to the same demographic of white girls who hide their prejudice by proclaiming their love of the culture. for instance, those of you who are afraid of black people but love that in 2014 it’s ok for you to be trill or twerk or say nigga

(via Earl’s Twitter)

Solange Knowles favorited those tweets, too, which is telling.

UPDATE: Mark Romanek responds to Earl’s criticisms in an interview with Vulture:

I’m a fan of his and I think he’s a really interesting artist. (I posted a Vine to one of his tracks once.) But he stated clearly that he hadn’t seen the video and didn’t even intend to watch it. So, respectfully, that sort of invalidates his observations from the get-go. And it’s this one uninformed tweet that got reported on and rehashed, which started this whole “controversy.” We simply choose styles of dance that we thought would be popular and amusing and cast the best dancers that were presented to us without much regard to race or ethnicity. If you look at it carefully, it’s a massively inclusive piece. It’s very, very innocently and positively intentioned. And — let’s remember — it’s a satirical piece. It’s playing with a whole range of music-video tropes and clichés and stereotypes.

And this is why, I think, if Earl Sweatshirt was open-minded enough to take the four minutes to watch it, he might see what the larger, humanistic, and utterly color-blind message was intended to be.

He also reveals that in choosing the genres represented in the video “we did consider a punk mosh pit thing … but it didn’t really work out.”

Comments (64)
  1. The impression I got was that the video was serving as a parody of other pop star videos (Which explains why literally every single dance style she does in the video she is terrible at and looks obnoxious doing). Not defending the quality of the video or the song or the artist but I do think there is a difference between parody and ripping off a cultural dance and really does show that you should never criticize something until you have seen it.

  2. Offensive? Nah.
    Whoafully & generically covering a bunch of types of dance? Yeah.
    About 2 minutes too long? Definitely.

  3. I’m really getting tired of Black artists complaining about other races “perpetuating”, “stealing” (or whatever) Black culture, Hip-Hop culture, etc. We don’t own it! The minute we started doing the same things Taylor Swift was trying (and failing) to do in her video in our OWN videos, for PROFIT, for FAME, for EXPOSURE we gave up the rights to it. What, its ok if a Black artist twerks in a video, or has on gaudy-ass gold earrings and necklaces simply because they’re Black? NOPE. Taylor Swift is not trying to steal or perpetuate anything. Hell, seems to me she’s trying to say ‘Sorry, this just ain’t me! I’m just an uncoordinated White chick. Deal with it.”

    Oh, and it is possible to like certain things in a culture but be afraid of some of its people. This all or nothing mentality is just ridiculous.

    • Damn Clifton, hit the nail on the head. Bravo.

      Also, Earl passing judgement on a video he openly admits to not having watched makes him sound about as ignorant as the people he’s attempting to condemn. Especially when there’s real shit to be pissed off about right now, like what’s going down in Ferguson.

      • Seriously why be critical of a popular movie when there are entire nations being oppressed by censorship and propaganda? Why send back a plate of cold food when there are people starving? Why fret about bullying when there are people being stoned for imaginary crimes? Why do anything at all unless it’s focused on the worst crimes or the maximum benefit for mankind? If only we could learn how to think about many things at once, with varying degrees of concern.

      • sorry, your comment didn’t deserve that much snark, but the ‘there are more important things to worry about, so drop it” argument is a pet-peeve of mine. There’s always something more severe to think about.

    • I’m not saying Clifton is wrong or that he isn’t entitled to his opinion, but it’s so funny to see how much white people LOVE it when a black guy shows up to disagree with another black guy’s claims of racism. I can’t remember the last time I saw a comment log 27 upvotes (and counting) in such a short span of time.

      • yeah it happens when white people have an opinion that they don’t think they have a right to voice so when a black person voices a similar opinion there’s just a massive feeling of relief and a few pounds of white guilt are lifted off their conscience very temporarily. Speaking of white guilt, Columbus day is only like 2 months away..oh man…there it is

        • White people don’t need to feel guilty about Columbus, but they should feel guilty that they continue to throw parades for him.

          Likewise, white people don’t need to feel guilty about minstrel shows, but they should feel guilty that they continue to produce and enjoy 21st century versions of them.

      • Yeah, it’s one thing to argue that this isn’t a case of appropriation–but it’s stupid to claim there’s NO SUCH THING as appropriation.

      • It reminds me just how many white people go nuts over that “Black People Vs. Niggas” routine by Chris Rock.

  4. It’s absurd to claim the video is offensive (which is actually just generic and more Swift-ian self-absorption) but refuse to watch it. If you have time to be offended by stuff you haven’t even seen then you’re just committed to be offended.

  5. No real comment here except to say that the world lost its mind over Miley & Lily Allen doing more or less exactly this, so I guess TSwift has more good will saved up or something? Seems this isn’t sparking, on the whole, the same kind of ire. It’s probably too early for the backlash, but I wonder if it’s coming.

    • Swift and her people are having this exact conversation right now, only it’s more like, “Why isn’t this video trending as much as Miley and Lily’s? Maybe it’s too early for the backlash but hopefully it’s coming.”

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  7. Isn’t this just a mash-up of about a dozen different looks from pop starlets from the 80s (“Lucky Star”-era Madonna) to the present? I didn’t realize people watched this (or didn’t) and thought it was supposed to be serious instead of a goof. It’s almost more like an homage to the Weird Al school of video-making. Yeesh.

  8. Sorry, I’m just not getting the outrage here.

  9. Earl is great at what he does, and its allright if he says something about something without knowing what it is, (Because he is a young rapper, and as such, provoking stuff through blatant display of ignorance is, you know… fun.) but how could you defend that as a journalist? Judging a video by a gif is like judging an interview by a single quote. Kontext is important in everything. The video is boring, but accusing white popstars of harming black culture is like accusing teenage rappers of homophobia. Just get a sandwich, everybody. Dont try to find hate where there is none.

  10. OFWGKTA thrives on this kind of crap. OWWWOOOOOOOOOO!

  11. It’s offensive cause it sucks.

  12. Also, how dare she steal the grey backdrop from the “My Humps” music video!

  13. Maybe watch the freaking video next time. It’s a light hearted self deprecating parody of someone who is trying not to take themselves too seriously, ie, not being able to dance as well as others can. STOP making everything into a goddamn race issue. Some things are just light-hearted.

    • But therein lies the problem. Swift is making fun of herself in the video, with the takeaway being “dancing well is not as important as just having fun.” Nothing wrong with that, but will Swift’s legions of (presumably mostly white) fans draw the line between self-deprecation and cultural deprecation? I see this video (and song, yerg) becoming very popular, which could easily lead to tons of white middle school girls thinking it’s ok to blatantly make fun of black culture.

      • Agreed. I grew up around this crap in Wisconsin, the state whose most populous city, Milwaukee, has long been the most segregated city in the US (to say nothing of the rest of the state). It’s institutionalized light minstrelsy with suburban and rural kids (not 100% white, of course, but still mostly so), and you know what I mean if you grew up surrounded by morons who gleefully embraced the “wigger/wangster” identity. I highly doubt pop stars like Taylor Swift intend to offend. It just sucks because it others segments of the population for a lame joke. And because it’s pop, not part of some transgressive underground subculture, it is harmful in a broad sort of way. Not trying to vilify Taylor Swift, but it’s not like Earl is wrong.

  14. I’m sure that Swift, like a lot of people, has a sort of well-intentioned albeit naive and problematic belief that we live in some sort of post-racial moment where lampooning ballerinas is analogous to lampooning hip-hop dancing. Unfortunately –– because there’s a history to deal with, folks –– it’s a little more complicated than that, and as a result… yeah, not a good idea. Also the whole “I’m white! Look at how I can’t dance like black people!” joke just isn’t a very funny one.

    At least the video didn’t have her fumbling through some traditional American Indian dance, right? Some admirable restraint, there.

    • Also: this song…. this is not a good song. And I’ve been known to appreciate a few of ol’ Swifty’s songs. But this… no. Good thing the lyrics include a built-in defense against any such criticism! Savvy move, there.

    • I honestly don’t think she’s even lampooning ballerinas and hip-hop dancing. She’s the butt of her own joke. Sure, it’s kinda humble-braggy like Tom says, but I don’t feel like she’s making fun of any of these dances.

  15. That still photo alone is enough to be offended by. Oh not because of anything racial, just because…look at it.

  16. Will the internet ever get tired of hashing out the same “People are too sensitive nowadays” vs “This is racist and horrible” argument? Can’t we all admit that there is truth to both sides?

    We have to be willing to admit that there is a nasty history of white musicians “borrowing” musically and/or aesthetically from musicians of color, often squeezing them out of the market in the process, and that makes people upset. At the same time, we have to also be willing to admit that slapping the tag “RACIST” on something and leaving it at that, is not the same thing as a well-reasoned and objective critique.

  17. jloo  |   Posted on Aug 19th +9

    I really don’t get it. Would it be less offensive if TSwift pretended like these dance styles didn’t exist? I would assume that ignoring another race’s culture would be more racist than displaying it. IDFK anymore. This shit is confusing.

    And honestly the moment a member of OFWGKTA starts talking about how offended he is by something he hasn’t even seen is just, beyond fucking hysterical, not to mention utterly hypocritical. How many people do you think were offended by Tyler the Creator’s lyrics/videos/basically ANYTHING the guy has made, without even having read/watched them? Something tells me Earl wouldn’t look too kindly on those ignorant folks and yet he’s engaging in that exact same kind of ignorance here.

    For the record, as a gay man, I could be beyond offended at OFWGKTA’s “homophobic” antics but I’m able to take it with a grain (more like a mountain) of salt. Rather than absorb it at face value, I’m willing to look into the context of what they’re doing and realize that they’re not really homophobes. Granted what they’re engaging in isn’t exactly appropriation of gay culture (which you could allege TSwift is doing to black culture here) but still. I’m not bitching about how Disclosure bro-ified 90s house music; rather, I’m dancing my ass off to Settle. Just my two cents. IDK.

    • IDK I feel like featuring 5 female vocalists and, with “Latch”, breaking the most prominent gay man in pop music today (and in a way *ever* since Elton John and George Michael both came out well after their commercial peaks)… can’t really see the case for how Disclosure “bro-ified” house. And if you look back at the heyday of 90s house, it’s still super common to have straight and/or white men writing and producing for the divas.

      To the more general point, I think what it really comes down to is white girls need to realize that their “black girl / bad bitch / ratchet” impressions are (1) kind of fucked up and (2) not especially funny anyway. No one cares if you can rap every word to “Super Bass,” no one cares if Beyonce is your spirit animal, no one cares if you can twerk. You’re not black and you need to knock that shit off.

      • What’s the word for mansplaining when its done by a straight person to a gay person about gay culture? I don’t know, but it kinda seems like what you are doing to jloo. Even if you’re gay too, his opinions aren’t invalid and don’t need to be corrected.

        • 1. I am gay (and have identified myself as such on these message boards before).
          2. It’s OK for people to disagree with each other. Obviously I felt his point was interesting enough to reply to, and I don’t think I was rude in expressing my own POV.

          Ok? Now let the adults talk.

          • I don’t know if I’ve ever seen snark on the internet as justified and eloquent as this.

          • jloo  |   Posted on Aug 20th +3

            I didn’t find your reply rude, dansolo.

            I hope I made it clear that I don’t actually feel that Disclosure “bro-ified” house music. I only brought that up because I know LGBT folks who *do* feel that way—that EDM culture and its current resurgence in older styles of house music are becoming too “bro”-y and therefore more homophobic in general—and although I see where they’re coming from, I disagree. (I wasn’t lying about Settle.)

            What I wrote was kind of confusing but what I was trying to say is that I don’t think cultural appropriation is inherently bad. Looking back though I realize it’s not the same with Disclosure because TSwift’s appropriation is visual rather than sonic. (This song’s production is unplaceable IMO. Not 80s and definitely not hip-hop though, besides maybe that spoken-word part.) Furthermore, I can see why someone would be offended. I’m not trying to say that Earl isn’t allowed to be. It’s just not offensive to me.

            Let me elaborate: I don’t think twerking is necessarily sexual. (Although it’s not the only appropriation of black culture in the video, I imagine it’s the main issue here.) From what I’ve read, it has origins in New Orleans’ bounce music scene, where it’s not weird for toddlers and children to twerk. Sure, Miley burned the image of it into all of our brains at that abominable VMAs performance in a very sexual way. (Ugh, understatement of the century.) But Miley doesn’t define twerking. If twerking is offensive because it objectifies women (and especially black women), then that’s a bigger problem than TSwift using it in a music video. It means the dance itself is inherently degrading. That’s something I don’t think anyone from the dance’s original culture would agree with, and neither do I.

            Granted, I am gay so it’s easy for me to say I don’t look at a woman’s ass in that way. I just think TSwift’s use of it was as a reference to one of several kinds of dance and doesn’t *have* to be sexual. Was it (and the video as a whole) kind of lame? Yeah. Could it have been done more tastefully? Definitely. Do I think Taylor Swift is a racist? No. Do I think Taylor Swift is objectifying black women? Not necessarily.

            It mostly pissed me off that Earl singled her out not as a white person (which would be reasonable) but, specifically, as a “white girl.” Her gender isn’t the issue here. She already gets enough sexist bullshit for being too fake/perfect/“humble-braggy” or for dating too many guys or whatever as it is so I got defensive. (Though tbqh I’ve really only liked Red.)

  18. I actually get what Earl is saying, just don’t think it applies to this video at all.

    Also, I’m gonna go ahead and put it out there that I love the song.

  19. By Earl’s logic, is Lykke Li also guilty because there is some twerking in the ‘Gunshot’ video?

    I’m from the Caribbean, and the pelvic gyrations referred to as ‘twerking’ has existed in our culture since before I was born (but we just call it dancing). It’s a sexual yet liberating form of self expression. I have a hard time accepting a viewpoint that states “nope, you are not black therefore you cannot twerk or depict the act of twerking in any media.” It does not seem right to place such a classification on a dance.

    That being said, I would in no way want to diminish someone if they feel offended like Earl is, and I would love for him to provide some more insight after he has seen the video.

  20. Really not here for all the defenses of this video claiming that “context matters” while ignoring the much larger and more important context of this video happening in a society where black people are stereotyped, dehumanized, demonized, and murdered because of their culture while white people wear it as a costume and experience no repercussions whatsoever.

  21. We’re all seriously getting bent out of shape over a Taylor Swift video and Earl’s comment? Taylor Swift and her new song are totally whatever. Earl’s comment is uninformed, which is funny since he’s smart and usually makes very clear statements/arguments for his perspective. That said, would anyone give a damn if any average person said what Earl had? Would we take it seriously? No. So let’s stop mumbling about this, it’s just silly. Other than that, Taylor, you wanna stay at the top? Keep doing whatever it is you’re doing, be it making mediocre pop songs or writing songs about all the guys you dated or appropriating trends you really shouldn’t be, because it keeps you in the limelight and people can’t stop talking about you, case in point. At least she isn’t Miley.

  22. By the way, just watched the video, which I suggest Earl do (it’s only four minutes, and I’d love to hear what he’d say afterwards). While I’ll note she doesn’t make as much fun of herself during the twerking or b-boy scenes as she does in the rest of the video, it’s clearly not meant to be taken seriously, especially when you see the end of the video. I wonder if her label had a fit editing this to make it look like she wasn’t mocking any potentially racially sensitive dance phenomenons. And it’s not that bad a song, though it’s not that great either. So let’s just get past this goofiness.

    Oh, how much you wanna bet Solange still hasn’t watched the video? If you’re going to like someone’s comments where they admit they haven’t watched it, you should probably watch it yourself and have your own opinion.

  23. wg  |   Posted on Aug 20th +1

    Earl Sweatshirt is just trolling. Absolutely no need to read into this any further.

  24. I love being of Celt decent. That whole “white guilt” thing really isn’t so bothersome…

  25. The song is mediocre, but the video is funny. She’s making fun of herself and showing some actually amazing dancers in the process.

    And if Earl Sweatshirt (dumbest name ever) wants to see people perpetuating black stereotypes, he should watch a few rap videos.

  26. No beef to be had though.
    The video (which is skimmed while continuing to listen to Cylops Ream) is just a bunch of dance styles, from ballet to hip hop to rock chick to electro future girl to cheerleader to R’n'B etc etc. If anything it’s like the longest GAP commercial ever.

  27. Um, what now???? Who’s perpetuating black stereotypes???? Earl, you are embarrassing yourself…to publicly comment on something you that haven’t taken the time to become educated on is a bit of a stereotype as well, don’tcha think??

    PS- How much shit that you guys put out there perpetuates stereotypes?

  28. What? Is Earl fucking working the Machine now? I would have never watched and/or listened to this terrible music if he hadn’t called it offensive. Serves me right for respecting his opinion.

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