Flashback Friday : WOC as Props in Pop Music

Originally written in hm… 2013, I think in response to Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, and Lily Allen using WOC as props in their videos.



There’s such a huge difference between how WOC and white women treat WOC (specifically Black women because they make the most appearances in hip hop videos and videos poking fun at hip hop videos).

Look at Nicki Minaj. In Beez in the Trap, she was on the floor with the girls. There wasn’t a disconnect between what she was doing and what they were doing.

Missy Elliot may not have dropped down to the floor in her videos, but you always got the feeling that she was proud of her fellow WOC for being badass and beautiful and that’s why they got such a high position of power in her videos.

I honestly can’t remember M.I.A.  ever doing a solo video where WOC weren’t the front and focus of the music video.

Meanwhile, white celebrities thrive over using Black bodies as hypersexualized props in their music videos.

Madonna has literally used POC as props from the moment that she started putting them in her videos. Hell, when M.I.A. and Nicki did that video with her, they were still essentially props that were rendered unimportant by most of mainstream society except when a line “needed” to be drawn between Madonna’s new saintlike image and Nicki/M.I.A.’s more “controversial” styles of dress or refusal to interact with White America in specific ways.

You have Miley Cyrus and Lily Allen in turns co-opting and insulting Black bodies in their work. One professes to “love” Black women and Black culture while the other blames it for her not getting any radio time.


However, they’re both playing up a scary cultural angle. Neither one seems to like Black women very much though considering that they don’t listen to any aside from sycophantic followers in their camp and the people that go “I’m black and I’m not offended”.

WOC don’t get treated right in the music industry. At all. Not in videos or in their own songs and stuff. But it’s acceptable for one artist to use the sexy stock image of a black woman’s nearly bare body to sell an association to a culture she’s definitely not a part of. It’s acceptable for another artist to use Black women as props at the same time she’s singing about how she’s smart because she doesn’t do what they need to do to make a living.

When WOC hire other WOC to be dancers and backup on their tours, I rarely get a sense that they’re being insulted or mistreated or treated like the thing that matters is their skin tone. Beyonce has a widely diverse set of women working with her and many of them are WOC. Wanna bet that they don’t have any problems with her treating them like they’re just props?

Gwen Stefani with Harajuku Girls during Gwen Stefani Visits MTV's ''TRL'' - December 10, 2004 at MTV Studios, Times Square in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by James Devaney/WireImage)
Gwen Stefani with Harajuku Girls during Gwen Stefani Visits MTV’s ”TRL” – December 10, 2004 at MTV Studios, Times Square in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by James Devaney/WireImage)

Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku obsession was pretty awful. And if I remember correctly, I’m pretty sure, her treatment of the young women that she called her Harajuku Girls was pretty shitty too. I believe that she treated them like they were easily replaceable and interchangeable.

(And like, yes, Nicki Minaj has slipped up with the orientalism herself, but after that first video, note that she hasn’t done it again. GS dedicated a whole album, fashion, and perfume line to her racism. So…)

And again, look at all of these white women making social commentary out of bodies that look like mine. Look at them. Look at the media response. How Miley and Lily are “new feminists” or how they’re not racist because “hip hop is inherently sexist”. Look at how artists like Lorde are coming into the scene with approval to insult and imitate black american culture firmly in place.

Because it’s just fine to sexualize black bodies, diss people like Lil Kim or Nicki Minaj for their sexuality, and still prey upon people stuck in a society that values them based on what they can do with the big butt you’re busy dissing in your song.

Shitting on black women and setting them up as wall or window dressing in your videos is new and cool and everyone’s doing it. Everyone except WOC (and even when they do fuck up, they usually never do it again because of the backlash). When white women in pop culture fuck up, society doesn’t shut up about how enlightened and ahead of the crowd they are. And I’m so not here for that.

I’m not here for a world that gives WOC limited choices for breaking into the entertainment world/paying their bills if they’re not major celebs and then goes around and lets white women in entertainment shit on them/their options.

So fuck Lily and Miley and their equally offensive use of Black women in their respective videos.