Normally I don’t defend white artists when they are being accused of using black people as props in music videos and appropriating black American culture since most accusations are usually true, but after watching “Shake It Off” several times, I just don’t see it. And frankly I feel that people who are judging it have not actually seen the video at all.
Swift is not using any of the black people as props in the video nor is she appropriating cultures. It’s merely a showcase of different styles of dance as we watch Swift literally just try to dance with everyone and observe as she clearly doesn’t fit in with any of the dance styles, including twerking and breakdancing. In every style, we see that she is definitely not adept at any of them. While white artists like Miley Cyrus try to claim some kind of ownership over twerking, we’re clearly meant to laugh at Swift’s terrible impression of twerking as she’s alongside women who actually know how to do it. Same with breakdancing, same with every style in the entire video except at the very end when people are just dancing freely. As opposed to Katy Perry, Swift is also not using black people as props. She’s not trying to grind on them, or slap them, or using them as background decoration, she’s literally just trying to dance with them, because they are people who know how to dance and she is not one of them. I actually think it’s pretty charming.
I get it that there are a lot of women of color in the twerking part, but there are women of color in almost EVERY dance group in the video. In the modern dance group, cheerleading, ribbon twirling, in the band, in the final part where non-dancers are dancing. The presence of black people in the video is not specific to twerking or breakdancing, they are nearly everywhere except the ballet group. So there’s also no deliberate erasure of black people and particularly black women in all forms of dance.
Furthermore, by placing twerking in the video alongside ballet, modern, and others, the video acknowledges that twerking is a legitimate form of dance and artistic expression and doesn’t make any judgements of it, which is a lot more than I can say for other white artists who feature twerking as grotesque props.
Ummm I have some thoughts. Firstly, I am white and what I say on the matter has like 0% relevance. But Im gona take a stab at it.
From what ive read and from what ive seen, the main issue i think is the camera angles of the twerking girls. The part where it is just a shot of the girls butt, and the part where taylor is literally crawling through their legs and looking up, I dont think thats okay to do.
I think your point about putting twerking alongside something like ballet is a nice idea, and its very possible that she had good intentions, but i dunno i just dont think it was her place. Because its not like black folks are waiting for whites to legitimate their art forms you know?
I think its a very colorblind video, when that is not fair to do. Like as a white person, if I was friends with taylor or her video person whatever, id be like, if youre gonna include twerking you need to do your homework and talk to every black person you can think of to see if its possible to do it respectfully. but really i think she should just not touch it. especially with the trend of black appropriation, it is silly to think audiences dont notice this trend and see the video independently.
Also as an aside, im pretty sure the phrase “haters gonna hate” is AAVE. Im not 100% positive on this but im pretty sure.
I don’t think it’s “colorblind” in the way that you mean. Clearly the video has an understanding that there are going to be more people of color in the breakdancing and twerking parts than all the others. If the video was entirely colorblind, then all group would have an equal representation of all races, but “Shake It Off” accepts the context that more black people have a handle on breakdancing and of course, twerking. So I find that the diversity in the video is actually very much color-conscious because it demarcates which styles would have more people of color and which would not.
I understand the critique about the close ups and the choreography of Swift moving under them, but it makes sense to me that that would be the focus on the twerking just all of the ballet scenes are pretty much about the upper bodies of the dancers except when Swift tries to run through them like a child. And I think it shows Swift admiring twerking, since in an intwerview with Rolling Stone, she said, "Those girls [who twerked] were trying to teach me how, and it’s just never gonna happen. I tried really hard. They were teaching me what they do, and there’s like a science to it – they’re like digging their heels into the floor without you seeing their legs move, but their butts’ moving. It’s mind-blowing to me. They were explaining it all to me, and it’s so above my comprehension of how to understand your body." And even with that part itself, that’s not even Swift’s decision in the first place; it would be more of a director or cinematographer thing to place her there.
Ultimately, I think people are extremely adverse to the imagery of Taylor Swift trying to “act like” the black dancers in the video and connect it to other artists who have entire videos and personas devoted almost entirely too the misappropriation or mocking of black culture. However, those same people who try to critique this video with that same point of view completely ignore the entire rest of the context of the video, which is that Swift is trying to act like EVERYONE in the video and ALL of the dance styles including twerking are supposed to highlight how she herself is terrible at all of them and doesn’t fit into all of them. Of course, you could critique how this is a very common theme in Swift’s music and so it’s not “edgy” or whatever, but it has no bearing on the racial politics of the video. And clearly she has respect for all of these styles by trying to emulate them, before ultimately deciding that like, you know, being yourself and dancing the way you want is what is ultimately the solution yada yada. It just doesn’t fit into any narrative we often see with white artists trying to mock or “fit in” to black culture. Swift’s video is just not about that, incidentally or tangentially.