• Mon, Nov 25 - 12:04 pm ET

Katy Perry’s Racist Performance Ruined The AMAs

2013 American Music Awards - Show

Katy Perry is getting some flack for what I think we can all agree was at least a culturally insensitive (I’m cool with calling this racist) performance at the American Music Awards last night. Our girl Katy dressed up as a geisha. A geisha.

Per Vulture:

Katy Perry opened tonight’s American Music Awards with a performance of “Unconditional.” Flanked by women playing the shamisen, Perry came out wearing a kimono and proceeded to throw out a lot of Japanese cultural touchstones. There were geisha moves (danced by seemingly non-Japanese back-up dancers), giant fans, cherry blossoms, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, and much more.

Perry’s obliviousness to the whole “you’re being a dumb racist” thing is astonishing, and that wide eyed “who, me?” thing that she does so well translated seamlessly into a performance wherein she mocked dangerous stereotypes about a culture she’s not a part of. I’m trying to temper my reaction to this and think about it critically instead of viscerally, but the glee with which Perry made a sexualized caricature of Japanese culture is pretty unnerving. And while some people will certainly say that appreciation and appropriation are different, this simply doesn’t count as appreciation. Perry played on old stereotypes about Japanese women that still have effects on Asian/Asian American women today, and reinforced them to elevate herself.

2013 American Music Awards - Show

Yikes. Here’s what I can’t get my head around: this shit, again? I can’t even watch award shows anymore because the musical performers seemingly can’t stop themselves from a little cultural appropriation (Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus immediately come to mind). I almost feel like I have racism fatigue, because at this point it’s just expected. If someone doesn’t set up a teepee and wear a headdress while singing a ballad about their heteronormative, white relationship at the next awards show, then we’re just not getting our money’s worth.

Photos: Getty Images

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  • Mikey Mistersunsetboulevard

    This article is so over reactionary and over dramatic and just over the top that I genuinely think soon enough artists (of all stripes, be they vocalist or painters to even photographers) will be forced to a mental block and halt their creativity due to us living in a society that demand everyone and anyone find a reason to be offended. Especially ethnic minorities, to which I am one, some of whom have made a career out of waking up each morning and finding ANY reason to be offended and let you know it. I’ll leave by saying this much…..everything has become racist to the point where nothing is racist, and ‘racist’ has lost credibility. Let that one marinate.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      You super dropped the mic on me with that one, especially with the bit about marinating.

    • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

      It’s not creativity. It’s a culture. What you said above is a perfect example of why the majority of people just don’t understand/don’t give a fuck about cultural appropriation. People aren’t props.

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      thank you!
      I’m sick of being the butt of “DRINKIN’ IRISH!” jokes whenever we travel outside the country.
      Yes we have a reputation, but I only have a drink when I go to a concert.
      Funnily enough, I don’t seem to fit the Old Oirish image of the fun-loving leprechauns that people seem to think we are.
      People have no idea how insulting it is when someone goes- You’re not drinking? You mustn’t be Irish so!

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      Or one of the best ones I heard- For an Irish person, you’re not much fun.

      Wow, thanks! Excuse me if I don’t want to drink vodka until I’m seeing Smurfs.

    • Nham Thien Duong

      Being drunk is nothing, whenever I go to those U.S.A. I get non-sense on how ”Americans justfully beat our arses during a war” despite them losing and other non-sense, recent things, a war I was born in. Believe me, clothes are nothing to get upset about.

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      That’s so disgustingly insensitive!!!
      Ugh the thought that people can be so stupid and open their mouths like that!!
      My Grandad is Indonesian and quite tan and funnily enough he is always stopped for a “random” search in the airport. My Grandmother is Dutch and never gets stopped.
      Basic racism at its finest…
      My brother is quite dark due to the Indonesian blood, and he is constantly getting asked to speak Irish, coming back into Ireland from abroad as he does tend to tan to a dark coffee colour and people do not believe he is Irish (despite having a traditional Irish name and the heaviest Irish accent you’ll ever hear)

      The fact that people feel it is ok to comment on things like this sickens me.
      My aunt put it brilliantly once, she adopted a little girl from Vietnam. When people ask her what made her choose to adopt, my aunt always says what made you choose to give birth?

    • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

      Ps: let me guess – your “ethnic minority” is white person

    • Nham Thien Duong

      ¿Please explain to me how Japanese people wearing Western suits isn’t insulting to Europeans, North-Americans, South-Americans, Australians and New Zealanders? Sure she did mix some clothes, but in the past most Asian clothes were combinations from other cultures, most ”ancient” Vietnamese fashion is heavily Chinese and French inspired, most of Japan’s clothes come from Independent China, while Korea was inspired by Manchu China (Qing Dynasty) during the modern periods, associating the Chinese with the Cheongsam is both racist and correct, geisha’s are a class, not all Japanese women.

  • Anonymous12346

    I think a blog post I found perfectly sums up why Katy Perry’s performance was so racist. http://wishwantdream.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/is-blacking-up-always-racist-i-dont-think-so/

  • JennyWren

    I’m glad you covered this, but I’m also suffering from serious fatigue from reading so many comments along the lines of “This isn’t racist! It’s creativity! Everyone borrows from other cultures! Stop over-reacting! You’re a racist for thinking this is about race!”

    Suffice to say, what Perry did wasn’t that creative, demonstrated a complete disconcern with authenticity (as other people have pointed out, that’s half a kimono and half a cheongsam) and played into centuries-old stereotypes of Asian women. I’d hesitate to call her racist, but I think this performance is a great example of the “soft racism” that permeates our society in such apparently natural ways that we don’t even recognize it as such.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      Excellently said.

    • Nham Thien Duong

      And I’m wearing a French suit with a British tie now, call me a racist for combining European clothes.

  • Gargoyla

    American pop music and “musicians” are blight on our culture.

  • elle

    Sigh. Just more examples of casual racism invading our culture and people defending her. It is so tiring to constantly have to explain and reexplain why this is racist and not ok. So thanks for this post hopefully someday people who get it.

  • Kay_Sue

    See, this is what happens when people date John Mayer.

    • corbydjk364

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    • Dudley Dickerson

      That is a lot of money. She needs to go right out and buy a Ferrari car for sale http://zautos.com/used-car/for-sale/ferrari-f430/ They are great cars and will last. Does she have good credit to buy a car?

    • 1ChrisSharpton2

      I would bet she does.

  • Wilskey

    Do you know what else is so racist? Sushi restaurants. With their Japanese decor and Japanese employees clearly perpetuating a myopic scope of understanding of Japanese culture. O. Fenss. Ive.

    And don’t get me started on any city that has a Little Italy. Yeah, all Italian Americans are all “Fennicu-lee, Fennicu-li. Would you like-a some lasagna?”. Awful.

    How about Oktoberfest? Gag. So Germans are just about boobs, pigtails, beer steins, and Oompa music? RACISM!

    As deep as your Japanese roots must be, Ms. Sonenshein, I think you kind find other things to be offended about. This is ridiculous. Get over it, get over yourself. No one is getting hurt or offended.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      Thank you for calling me “Ms.” and not Miss, which is a huge pet peeve of mine.

    • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

      Wrong-o. It’s amazingly offensive. And people should speak up about it. It’s not cute or creative, it’s deeply problematic.

    • Nham Thien Duong

      Yep, like Asians combining Bavarian-American blue jeans and french coats, as a half-white person I’m deeply offended.

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      On a completely different note- I do rather love your FacePalm profile pic.

  • CMc

    But apparently because she loves Japanese people and they love her this couldn’t possibly be racist. At least according to one article I read. AhemahemTheStirahemahem.

    • elle

      I want to think you are joking but the stir really is that terrible. And now I’m off to go rage read…..

    • CMc

      It’s a joke in that that’s the worst excuse ever for giving Katy Perry a pass. I agree with you. The Stir is mostly comprised of articles that are sexist, poorly written and haven’t been fact checked. I don’t know why I read that site. It’s like a train wreck. I just can’t stop starting at it.

    • elle

      Yep I looked it up and found it. Wanted to comment but decided not to waste my time. It was some bullshit.

  • DainLaguna

    I def can see how this would be culturally insensitive…. But sexualized? No. Hardly.

  • nonpariel

    She’s not a geisha! Stop calling her a geisha! Geisha don’t wear qi pao/cheongsam!!
    If anything, knock her creative supervisors for lumping all of Asia together

  • Nham Thien Duong

    More than 3.000.000.000 Asians wear Western clothes every day and no-one bats an eye, 1 white person wears Asian clothes once and everyone loses their mind (>_<)

  • Nham Thien Duong

    ¿anyone notice how most Non-Hispanic Asian-Americans complaining about this are either Chinese or South-Korean?

  • cwj11

    Does anyone here really know what a geisha is? In ancient Japan they were considered artists first, not concubines. Geisha literally means ‘entertainer’. So the fact that she uses the persona of a “geisha” in her performance is somewhat appropriate. Geisha perform and dance, just like Katy Perry did. In fact there are still geisha living and walking around in Kyoto, Japan today. They are artists, not whores. Maybe people should learn a little history first before jumping to conclusions about an artist being racist.

    • logica

      I also saw it as an entertainer paying homage to the centuries old tradition of other entertainers. Geisha were the pin up girls and fashion icons of their day as well as talented preformers, so of course people are getting to be inspired by them.

  • Jonathan Wright

    If someone doesn’t set up a teepee and wear a headdress while singing a
    ballad about their heteronormative, white relationship at the next
    awards show, then we’re just not getting our money’s worth.

    Read more: http://www.thegloss.com/2013/11/25/culture/katy-perry-racist-geisha-performance-american-music-awards/#ixzz2m03Uxnk7

    Already happaned, though not white

    http://www.tribemagazine.com/board/tribe-main-forum/67273-outkasts-indian-performance-during-grammys.html

  • logica

    I am an American who collects and wears vintage kimono and kimono accessories. I love the craftsmanship and the history that comes with each and every piece I own and I absolutely love wearing them. As a ginger, I am very obviously not Japanese and whenever I wear one out people either love it or ask me a billion questions about why I don’t love America enough to wear American clothes. Katy Perry didn’t offend me nearly as much as those people, even though her “kimono” was far from authentic. As a whole I think that Memoirs of Geisha was far more offensive and did not get nearly enough criticism for its inaccurate portrayal of Kyoto geisha. The author was even sued over it. It is important to remember that there is a difference between appreciating and emulating a culture’s aesthetic and portraying an offensive stereotype of that culture.