How do you like that white chocolate? According to units sold, America apparently loves it. White soul man Justin Timberlake sold approximately a million copies of his new album The 20/20 Experience in its first week. His totals are outpacing his black contemporaries. Why is the question? Is there a visual preference for whiteness? At least one scholar thinks there is.
Imani Perry has a point in regards to how racialized standards of beauty harmonizes with the undeniable appreciation for black artists’ sonic gifts. Elvis to Timberlake evidences a to be heard but not seen archetype for black musicians. Ostensibly, Justin Timberlake is adored because of his talent and because of our internalized notions of beauty.
I bought the Timberlake album, and I consider it a good piece of work. You can hear the influence of MJ all over it. Sad but true that MJ wanted to look like Justin when all other artists want to sound like him.
However, the popularity of “ratchet” artists illuminates another wrinkle to the argument. Trinidad James of “All Gold Everything” fame is a foil for Justin’s “Suit and Tie.” I love my black people, but I will take a risk and say that Trinidad James has no interest in authentically representing beauty. I think he wants and is rewarded financially, emotionally, socially and politically to be “ugly.” Our negative internalizations of stereotypes support cartoonish and buffoonish imagery projected by many black artists.
I still cringe whenever I hear the Biggie line, “Heart throb never, black and ugly as ever.” This line has been unpacked like an overnight bag, but it provides an important lens into the American psyche. Biggie’s velvet voice gave him every right to snatch beauty from the likes of Timberlake, Elvis, and Brad Pitt. However, the notorious one gave the people what they appreciated.
Without question, white and black artists swapped style and form. As a result, black and white artists share a peculiar bond. For the male artists, sexism permeates through their work.
The other white guy’s video exemplifies the point.
Robin Thicke’s, Blurred Lines video (above version NSFW) featuring T.I. and Pharrell displays women dancing topless in bikini bottoms while the men, fully clothed, admire their musical harem. Hip-Hop has played the pimp for music since hair bands met sheers. However, Blurred Lines does what hip-hop has been itching to do for years – normalize sexism. Is Thicke, T.I. and Pharrell’s presence in a raunchy, chauvinistic video a sign of a post-rachet America? Nevertheless, Robin Thicke will legitimate it as art, hipsterism and sexy.
Thicke may act like a rapper, but parading naked women certainly doesn’t make him blacker. It just makes him as sexist. I can’t imagine us not vilifying Rick Ross (as we should) for such a stunt. Ross is currently taking a hit for bragging about drugging and rapping a woman in song. In fact, we should vilify Ross for regularly going topless himself in videos. But remember, Timberlake’s stock rose since the wardrobe malfunction incident with Janet Jackson during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show.
Still, white R&B and hip-hop performers will always trend high. But the rise of Adele and Justin doesn’t mean whites have captured soul music. The origins of soul music can’t be stolen. So let’s not get carried away with notions of a white takeover of R&B. I worry more when artists peddle stereotypes.
From Beyonce’s “Bow Down” to anything by Lil’ Wayne produces, I expect more. I love R&B, hip-hop and the artistic freedom they entail, but I love my family and community more. Our communities need artists to uplift a different standard of beauty particularly of black folk. We need a higher standard. We need standards period.