Culture

Wow, Avril Lavigne’s “Hello Kitty” Music Video Is Really Racist

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Where do I start?

I unironically like Avril Lavigne. Tory and I have “Girlfriend” set as our ringtones for each other, though my favorite album is Under My Skin because deep down I am an emo teenager.

But oh my gosh, Hello Kitty is the biggest racist pile of shit I’ve seen in awhile. Yeah, Miley Cyrus appropriated ratchet culture a few months ago for her Bangerz album, and that was worthy of some eyerolls. But this… this makes me embarrassed to be white. That never happens! I can usually laugh this stuff off! But Hello Kitty is so, so, so bad it doesn’t even circle around to being good. The whole thing reminds me of that one commercial Sakura Con put out in 2009. You know the one.

Oh, the memories. The memes.

Anyway. Avril tweeted Wednesday night to say that no, Hello Kitty is not racist. Not even a bit, because she’s such a fan of Japan and the video itself was made for her Japanese fans! See for yourself.

That's cool. Still racist.

Cool motive. Still racist.

Which is great and all, but just because you hired people from the culture you’re appropriating from to work on your racist music video doesn’t make it less racist.

The video is less of a celebration of her fans and more an ode to how she fetishizes their culture. The lyrics are nonsensical and have nothing to do with Japanese culture. The backup dancers are barely more than props. The random use of Japanese 101 sentences isn’t impressive. My eyes started to glaze over around the sushi bar scene, which is where I started being reminded of the above Sakura Con 2009 commercial.

Please stop.

Please stop.

Besides, didn’t she learn from Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku phase? Or again, the very recent uproar of Miley’s appropriation of ratchet culture in her VMA performance? There is a difference between appreciation and appropriation, and dressing up in a pink tutu and pretending it’s Lolita based while randomly shouting ‘KAWAII’ is not it. Featuring the four nearly identical automaton women behind you as ‘backup dancers’ is not it.

Of course, I can only say so much. I’m just another white woman who enjoys a lot of things about Japanese culture, including Hello Kitty, those adorable Instax cameras, and sushi. I went through an anime ‘otaku’ phase as a teenager and used ‘cute’ Japanese. (I think a lot of us who were basically raised by the internet did.)

I don’t know if I can accurately say what would have been an actual appreciation of the culture and not-racist, because I am not Japanese. But at the very least, I can call racism, even “positive” cultural fetishization racism, when I see it.

Purple-haired Pepper Potts.

15 Comments

  1. Elly

    April 25, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    The other thing that really bothered me were the lyrics.

    “It’s time for spin the bottle / Not gonna talk about it tomorrow / Keep it just between you and me”

    Maybe I’m reading into it too much here but: “Not gonna talk about it tomorrow” like it would be shameful if they ended up kissing or something and they’d have to keep it a secret. Even if it’s just experimentation — which isn’t harmful in and of itself — it’s kind of pandering to the whole male-gaze scenario of what a slumber party between girls is like. Definitely not the grossest part of this video, but ugh.

    • Rachel

      April 25, 2014 at 12:28 PM

      Who is she even talking about in the song anyway? IT’S SO VAGUE AND WEIRD AND MAKES NO SENSE.

      • Elly

        April 25, 2014 at 12:29 PM

        I HOPE IT’S NOT HELLO KITTY CAUSE THAT’S FUCKIN GROSS.

    • Rachel

      April 25, 2014 at 12:29 PM

      Actually when you bring up that point, the song sounds like she’s trying to keep an asian girlfriend on the side. wtf.

      • Elly

        April 25, 2014 at 12:32 PM

        SERIOUSLY, maybe I’m overthinking it but it sounds like she’s talking about having a slumber party with a best friend (and that experimenting with/dating this girl would be SHAMEFUL!!) but aushghsgsh don’t bring Hello Kitty into this nonsense.

    • Elyese

      April 26, 2014 at 10:06 AM

      It really does feel a lot like a racist, even grosser version of “I Kissed a Girl”.

      • Elly

        April 26, 2014 at 10:59 AM

        Yeah! That’s how I feel about it too. Both of those songs feed into this really gross and fetishized view of lesbianism… this one’s just covered in a racist candy coating.

        • Elyese

          April 26, 2014 at 11:03 AM

          E x a c t l y. And with this one it’s got so many layers of fetishism to it that it just becomes this monster of awful

    • Kelly

      April 27, 2014 at 1:35 PM

      It looks like she herself is describing it “flirtatious and somewhat sexual” so I don’t think you’re reading too much into it: http://www.digitalspy.com/music/news/a523644/avril-lavigne-talks-sexual-new-album-track-hello-kitty.html#~oCFqrrjNeiJGWc

      • Elly

        April 27, 2014 at 1:36 PM

        Oh god I didn’t even see that comment. Yuck.

  2. Elyese

    April 26, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    I pretty much summarized my feelings on this video on twitter but upon rewatching it HOLY SHIT. The lyrics are even grosser – and there’s this whole skeevy veneer of infantilization to the thing. Another thing that struck me but I couldn’t work beyond my initial comment was that it also has a weird veneer of “brony” to it.

    I don’t know, maybe it’s the Equestria Girls-esque skirt she has on. Because seriously she looks a bit like a “sexy”/grimdark Pinkie Pie cosplay sometimes. It also reminds me SO MUCH of that ERO LOLI controversy that swept through the lolita community a while ago. (Which is a whole ‘nother can of worms.)

    • Elyese

      April 26, 2014 at 10:10 AM

      also oh my god i’m sorry i said “gross” and “skeevy” like twenty times

  3. Mehmed Celebi

    April 26, 2014 at 5:09 PM

    To be honest, I didn’t see anything terribly racist in the video. Granted, I’m just an overly privileged white male from a German city with very few non-white people around, so it’s highly possible that I am missing tons of subtext and unfortuante implications. But all in all, what I take from the video is the singer making a complete and utter fool of herself through spaztic “dancing” and (at least to my ears) annoying singing. While the asian dancers and the vendor only give me the impression that they are just doing their job, while being completely uninvested in whatever the hyperactive singer is freaking out over, but hey, it pays, and that I can sympathise with. So all in all, I can only see this beign “racist” against white people for being ignorant and childish idiots, but since it’s only one person doing all the hyperactive stuff, I don’t even really see that racist mesage, instead I only think that Avril Lavigne is as high as a kite.

    Not saying that there is nothing racist there, just asking if someone could explain to me where exactly the racism lies. Or is it just that Lavigne claims to show asian culture, but fails horribly?

    • Elly

      April 27, 2014 at 12:39 PM

      There are a few things about it that evoke racism. Separately, they may seem like small issues. Disclaimer: I’m an Asian-American.

      1) Cultural appropriation, this is the big one. It’s all about Japanese culture, supposedly, but it’s just her, a single white girl, being happy as she goes through candy stores and eats sushi. How is this at all inclusive of Japanese culture, even kawaii culture? This smacks of the Sakuracon commercial in particular. This isn’t demonstrating love and appreciation for Japanese culture, she’s using it as a fashion accessory, or like a cute trend. Her intentions might be good, wanting to only display the things she loves the most about Japan, but the execution is what really matters, and she failed with it here.

      2) Her admission that “it’s not racist, I made it with all these Japanese people!” sounds a lot like when people say they’re allowed to use slurs because they have a friend of that race and they’re okay with it — it diminishes the true purpose behind those slurs’ existences, and more importantly, glosses over the years of oppression and hate that those slurs evoke. Just because you made it with Japanese people, it doesn’t excuse you from poor appropriation. Japanese culture has a lot of interesting history behind it, none of which is reflected in any manner, even subtly, in this video.

      3) It gets worse when you realize that the only Japanese people are her backup dancers, the sushi chef, and Japanese fans fawning over her in the background. The backup dancers all look the same: they wear the same makeup. They perform the same robotic, boring dance moves, almost as if to further encourage the idea that all Asians look and act the same. It’s like… showing Asian culture only in a way that is palatable by white America. There’s a reason that a lot of the outrage over the video came from Asian-Americans — it’s because she capitalizes on harmful stereotypes that Asian-Americans have had to deal with for years.

      4) Apparently the Japanese embassy in D.C. has spoken that they aren’t offended by it, and that they would be glad if it encourages Americans to explore the rich culture of Japan. Here’s the thing, though: Japan acts like children when it comes to foreign countries — they latch on to stereotypes and exaggerated rumors much like we do, if not even worse than us. When I was there, the #1 question I was asked? What kind of gun do I own and do I bring it to school. (I DO own a gun, but that’s honestly neither here nor there.) No joke, they are extremely ignorant about Americans. The fact that they agree doesn’t mean much to me, as they often employ the same tactics Avril did in her video when they appropriate American culture. (And many other cultures.)

      5) It seems like a cheap ploy for her Asian audience. It seems to have worked. She seems like a nice girl, and she should have support, but someone with such a huge following and so many people following her, especially young people that may not understand the nuances of cultural appropriation, should know better than to do this kind of thing.

      tl;dr: Japanese culture is viewed like an exotic novelty in this video. The things about Japan that come across the most are largely-perpetuated stereotypes that are harmful. And her ignorance about the matter, once confronted about it, helps nothing. She really should know better.

      (Sorry for the wall of text.)

      • Mehmed Celebi

        April 28, 2014 at 3:15 AM

        Thank you very much, this has been very informative/eye-opening. :) Hopefully it will help me to be less ignorant about such things in the future.

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