I never follow American Idol all the way through the season. I only like the beginning. After the second round or so I’m basically over it. After that it feels like a game show with all its voting and judging and Ryan Seacrest. I can’t. As of right now they’re down to, I think, a dozen singers or so and I’m all but drained. My girlfriend however loves it. While she sits cooing and voting, I make myself scarce. Do the dishes. Write. Facebook. Anything. However, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a lot of white soul and blues singers. They were belting Nina Simone and Whitney and Stevie and were really good. These timid teenagers in suburbia USA and all but washed up lounge singers have been inspired to channel their “inner large black woman” as so eloquently stated by Adam Brock, an ousted American Idol finalist. It feels like I’m watching the gentrification of soul music right before my eyes. If Harlem were a performance show, it would be American Idol. What the hell is going on? Why has there been this significant eruption of white soul and R&B singers? What is this little ripple in pop culture? Adele. Adele is the ripple. The perfectly timed success of 21 right before Idol season has moved thousands and produced legions of soul singers that look like its antithesis.
We are so accessible. Our culture. Our bodies. We share it with the world and there is a fine line between appropriation and appreciation. Before the Adele stans attack, I’m not taking anything from her. She’s an amazing songwriter and her syrupy bluesy voice fits soul music and is undeniable. But, she is a cog in the machine and is profiting off her access to black culture and privilege. Now, I’ve been accused of making mountains out of molehills, racializing and politicizing situations that are innocent and benign. I’m sure some folks will cry the same argument about me taking on the success of Adele as another example of the tentacles of whiteness trying to own and appropriate black art. So how about we remix this scenario a bit.
22-year old Daquan from 125th st loves country music. He owns every Johnny Cash album and regards Reba McIntire as the Whitney Houston of Country. And Daquan can sing. He has a deep silky voice with a perfectly affected soulful twang. However, Daquan doesn’t look like a country singer. He looks like every other uptown brother with a fitted, Polo and Timbs. Typical uniform. No one would know from looking at him that he was a connoisseur of country.
Can Daquan access, be good at, be awarded for and profit from Country music? HELL NO.
Black people have very limited access to whiteness and rarely profit from it. It’s because of this limited access that we have movements like Afro Punk and organizations like the Black Rock Coalition. Black artists have created solidarity on the fringe of the main rock stage because there is a cultural road block that will quickly extinguish any attempts to achieve mainstream success off of music that is for arguments sake, white. It’s on this margin where an authentic voice is found and space is made without blatant appropriation. This is a difficult point to make in a multi-cultural, well-meaning, Black president having America. Conversation around race are all but derailed by the complexities of a culturally pluralist society where cultures crisscross, collide and bend. Where what it means to be black often times means nothing at all as folks rush to post-blackness (whatever that’s suppose to mean) and a post racial America.
Black culture is a billion dollar commodity that is used to sell everything from French fries to overpriced sneakers. Therefore, Adele can access, be awarded for and profit from black music. She can be very comfortable looking like Mary Poppins and singing like Gladys Knight. People love the contrast and that’s part of the reason why she’s so popular. As if she validates the cool of black art.
It boils down to this, “You can eat off my plate, but I can’t eat off yours.” A double standard that Elvis and the Rolling Stones and Fergie and Madonna have build there legacy on. And the beat goes on.
Category: News & Politics