Tag Archives: Major Lazer

Major Lazer’s “Get Free” and cultural appropriation

23 Aug

The video for Major Lazer’s “Get Free” was just released.  It’s a good track, and a good looking video. (Sorry for the link-out, but embedding is being all wonky for me right now.)

The first thing that strikes me about this video is its depiction of gender.  It shows the gender-specific sexualization of women in the nightclub scene (like many music videos do), but it gives us a few chances to see that this is not a simple thing but a complex reality that women deal with in a variety of ways – for example, a variety of candid shots of women dancing that are not particularly sexualizing and frame the women as people behaving in an environment rather than simply as body parts, and the inclusion of shots of women who aren’t “model perfect” (as with the apparently partially-blind woman shown above.)  Add to this the shots of a woman surfing and of a woman refusing a man’s advances in a nightclub (the last shot of the video), and the varied depictions of masculinity (the hip-shaking skinny dudes in the club, the boxers, the old guys just hanging out) and the video comes across as a pretty honest depiction of gender in the nightclub culture as a complicated, multi-faceted part of real people’s lives rather than a strictly-divided pseudo-pornographic masculine fantasy (like what we’re used to in pop music videos).  Kudos on that.

The other thing that strikes me about this music video is its depictions of race.  The musicians are both white folks from the US, but the people in the video are all black; beyond just this divide, the whole thing is presented in such a way that the music is identified with the black subjects of the video rather than the white musicians. It’s hard for me to think that Diplo is actually producing this music for the black people shown in the video, since the single has only charted in Australia, Belgium, the UK, France, and the Netherlands, where internet EDM audiences are stereotypically white (although I don’t actually know the demographics of Diplo’s fans.) I’ve noticed that a lot of the tropical bass scene’s aesthetic is tinged with producers from the US and northern Europe identifying with and appropriating culture from other place of the world in what seems like a grab for authenticity and/or novelty, and this seems like a very overt step in that direction (especially for a producer, Diplo, who has already been criticized for his arguably racist appropriations of Jamaican culture in developing the image of his project “Major Lazer”.)

On the other hand, in this interview where Diplo explains his take on the issue of cultural appropriation in his music and in tropical bass music in general, he sounds very aware of the potential problem and very committed to accurately representing the people and sounds he works with.  He points out the anthropological mindset he brings to his use of samples and collaborations around the world, and describes what he does as collaboration instead of appropriation.  As is pointed out in the interview, though, Diplo’s insight into the problem of cultural appropriation still doesn’t change the fact that he’s profiting off of the perceived exoticism of his global collaborators/sources, or that hundreds of copycat producers are further appropriating “exotic” music with even less context and profiting off of it.

It’s a shame, because I really like the sound.  Dem grey areas.

Thanks for reading!

(As a disclaimer: I’m a white dude who grew up in the US and am living in Detroit.  As such, white/black is the primary racial dichotomy that I see reflected in media, though I recognize that this is an incomplete way to talk about race.  I think it’s pertinent, though, in this case, because it the racial dichotomy apparent in this music video, especially since there is no context given to the video by way of descriptions of where it was filmed and how the people in it might identify.)