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.
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.
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