Is everything about race? While over at the Jezebel site, I watched a “chillaxed” version of Willow Smith’s smash hit, “Whip My Hair.” In the video, seventeen-year-old Katie Gavin took to her acoustic guitar and produced a coffee shop version of the pop hit.
While I was watching, I thought her video was in line with other YouTube covers I’d seen—very low-tech, shot in a bedroom, just the person and their instrument. Although young, her voice was beautiful, and she seemed to enjoy singing the song. Gavin even shouted out Willow and called the pint-sized singer her “idol.” So I was quite surprised when I browsed the comment section and many felt the remake was racist.
One commenter, ihateddiamonds, injected a bit of pop history into the debate.
Internet stop trying to make white people moderately famous by singing gutless versions of awesome songs by black people happen (I mean I realize it will probably happen, alwaysandforever, the Elivis-Effect is live and well, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it).”
Another commenter, sexysecularist, outright labeled this “trend” of taking rap and pop songs and turning them into acoustic melodies as being racist.
“ ‘Acoustic’ is vague enough that you don’t have to actually commit to what’s really happening musically. White people are taking music with elements that are tightly tied to black American culture, removing everything about it that is associated with black America, and then marketing it as cute or funny, and often in the process calling attention to what they consider to be flaws in the songwriting.
She’s probably not racist, but she’s jumping on the wagon of a racist trend.”
While some readers were injecting race into the debate and discussing the politics of Black hair, others were sharing various covers by artists—both famous and struggling—to give some background to the discussion. However, while I watched the whole thing play out in the comments section, I couldn’t help think if everything we do, say, or listen to has to be tinged with race.
What did I see when I looked at the video? I saw a young girl, her guitar, and a song she obviously enjoyed, trying to get some hits on YouTube and possibly get plucked out of obscurity to get a shot at making music for real. Hey, it worked for Justin Bieber.