In case you missed it, the pop singer — who’s been off the grid for a while now, at least on the American music charts — attempted to make some noise this week with her latest single, “Hello Kitty.” In the video, Lavigne dances around in a tutu with a crew of unsmiling Japanese dancers; pours some sake; and claps her hands delightedly when a chef chops up some sushi. Plus, there are the lyrics, an ode to the famous Japanese animated character: “Hello Kitty, you’re so pretty/Hello kitty you’re so silly.” (Inspired.) She also randomly sprinkles in Japanese words like “arigato” and “kawaii” (cute or adorable). Lavigne is one of the co-writers on the song along with her husband, Nickelback lead singer Chad Kroeger.
Not surprisingly, the outrage came fast and furious: “racist” was a common complaint on Twitter. Billboard called it “a grating earworm that squeezes Gwen Stefani’s Japan fetishization into an even more unseemly package.”
Speaking of Stefani, how is Lavgine’s latest attempt to grab headlines any different than other cultural appropriation videos? Short answer: It’s not, really. Stefani has faced lots of criticism for touring with a group of Japanese “Harajuku girls” that also appear in her music videos; in 2006, Margaret Cho spoke out about Stefani’s act. “I mean, racial stereotypes are really cute sometimes, and I don’t want to bum everyone out by pointing out the minstrel show,” Cho wrote on her blog. (Racial criticism only continued with Stefani: She and No Doubt got harsh backlash with Native American groups over their “Cowboys and Indians.”)
This series of events seems to repeat itself again and again with young pop stars. After Miley Cyrus twerked at the VMAs, Vulture.com’s headline read, “The 2013 VMAs Were Dominated by Miley’s Minstrel Show.” Various groups wanted Selena Gomez to apologize for wearing a bindi during a performance of her song “Come and Get It.” Katy Perry burned an Islamic necklace with the word “Allah” in her “Dark Horse” video, sparking people to demand it be taken off the Internet.
Just last week, Sky Ferreira defended herself on Facebook after charges of racism in her music video for “Night Time, My Time,” which, as Billboard says, “Features the singer palling around a torn-up Los Angeles neighborhood with African-American men, who engage in heated confrontations on the street before combining as her backup dancers.”
“Not only do I find it insulting towards myself but I also feel insulted for the actors & dancers & my family in the video,” Ferreira later wrote. “I did not use black back up dancers as ‘props’. I never have and never will look at any human being as a prop. That’s disgusting.”
Meanwhile, today, Lavigne ignored the criticism and was still proudly tweeting about the video: