You Know You That B*#*h When You Cause All This Conversation: The problem of the black music celebrity as social activist

Yvette Griffiths

You Know You That Bitch When You Cause All This Conversation: The problem of the black music celebrity as social activist.

The recent resurgence of black social justice movements in the U.S. has created a socio-political climate demanding of social mobilisation. The music industry in particular has seen the call for expressions of black liberation answered in the resurrection of unapologetically black vernacular and diasporic art which has, this time around, made its way into the mainstream U.S. market by way of mainstream crossover celebrity musicians. Could this particular moment in socio-political history suggest an artistic climate where black artists’ creative decisions are less bedevilled by the age-old commerce/conscience binary? Debates over the intention, authenticity, effectiveness, and presentation of political expressions, however, continue to permeate the performance space and dictate the receptive discourse.

Through critical analysis of Beyoncé Knowles’ Formation and Kendrick Lamar’s Alright, this paper seeks to elucidate the complex realities faced by the performance of black political resistance by popular culture icons. Here, does the perceived dichotomy between ideology and commercial success oversimplify the intricate conflictions of celebrity identity politics and black political expression? How problematic is it, then, for both the artist and the cause if the audience stand divided on the meaning of their work? This paper ultimately argues that the overt consumerism of contemporary society has bred a scepticism that now defines our interpretation of culture, thereby convoluting the successful artist’s unique dual platform as cultural gatekeeper and social activist.

A graduate of Sydney’s McDonald College of Performing Arts, Yvette Griffiths obtained her Bachelor of Music at the School of Music, Australian National University in 2015, with a double major in musicology and creative musicianship, and minor in jazz vocal performance. She is currently in the midst of completing her honours year in musicology, examining the complex realities of racial authenticity and cultural ownership in hip-hop, with specific relation to the participation by and reception of white and biracial American rap artists in hip-hop culture. Yvette is particularly interested in the intricacies of utilising the arts in social, political, and cultural activism.

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