Skip to main content

Is Lorde's 'Royals,' the top song on the Billboard Hot 100, racist?

By Tim Hume, CNN
October 10, 2013 -- Updated 0044 GMT (0844 HKT)
Lorde is currently enjoying having a chart topper with her single "Royals," but has sparked some criticism after<a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/09/showbiz/lorde-royals-racism-spat/index.html?hpt=en_c1'> a blogger cried racism</a> over some of the song's lyrics. Here are just a few other tunes that have have also caused controversy: Lorde is currently enjoying having a chart topper with her single "Royals," but has sparked some criticism after a blogger cried racism over some of the song's lyrics. Here are just a few other tunes that have have also caused controversy:
HIDE CAPTION
Controversial song lyrics
Controversial song lyrics
Controversial song lyrics
Controversial song lyrics
Controversial song lyrics
Controversial song lyrics
Controversial song lyrics
Controversial song lyrics
Controversial song lyrics
Controversial song lyrics
Controversial song lyrics
Controversial song lyrics
Controversial song lyrics
Controversial song lyrics
Controversial song lyrics
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Blogger says song unfairly focuses on consumption in genre dominated by U.S. blacks
  • NEW: "The vast majority of excess consumption is done by white people," blogger says
  • "Royals," the debut song by New Zealand singer Lorde, is No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100
  • The blog has drawn an angry response, accusing the writer of misinterpreting the song

Hong Kong (CNN) -- An international war of words has broken out over a New Zealand pop star's chart-topping single, after an American blogger labeled the track racist.

"Royals," the debut single by Lorde, the stage name of Ella Yelich-O'Connor, currently sits above hits from Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making the 16-year-old the youngest artist to top the U.S. chart in 26 years.

Blogger: Lorde's 'Royals' is racist

The singer -- who sings about rejecting the trappings of consumerism in "Royals" and has admonished fellow pop star Selena Gomez for being insufficiently feminist -- has won plaudits from critics as a refreshing presence in the charts. But not everyone is a fan.

In a post on the prominent feminist blog feministing.com, writer Veronica Bayetti Flores took issue with the song's lyrics, in which Yelich-O'Connor sings that "every song" is about gold teeth and Maybach luxury cars -- both fixtures of hip-hop music videos -- before concluding "we don't care, we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams."

"While I love a good critique of wealth accumulation and inequity, this song is not one; in fact, it is deeply racist," wrote Bayetti Flores. "Because we all know who she's thinking when we're talking gold teeth, Cristal (champagne) and Maybachs. So why s--- on black folks? Why s--- on rappers?"

While I love a good critique of wealth accumulation and inequity, this song is not one; in fact, it is deeply racist
Blogger Veronica Bayetti Flores

The writer attacked critics who "have been so captivated by 'Royals' call-out of consumption that they didn't bother to take the time to think critically about the racial implications of the lyrics."

She concluded her post with the observation that the singer "apparently calls herself a feminist." "Let's just hope her feminism gets a lot less racist as she develops as an artist," she wrote.

The post attracted a massive online backlash from Lorde's fans and compatriots as well as other writers, with many claiming that Bayetti Flores, by interpreting the song through the prism of American race relations, was guilty of the kind of cultural arrogance she was attributing to the singer.

"I realize not everything in this world is an instrument of oppression," wrote New Zealand journalist Lynda Brendish. "And not everything in this world should be viewed through the lens of Americans, particularly when it comes to race and cultures of other countries. To insist otherwise is ignorant at best and imperialistic at worst."

The track was the songwriter's response to the images of unattainable luxury often conveyed through a U.S.-dominated pop culture, Brendish wrote.

"The theme of the song is the dissonance between that life... and the one she lives in New Zealand, but it is not at all about race."

While a few of the trappings of conspicuous consumption cited in the song were associated with rappers, it also name-checked others associated with other wealthy, high-living stereotypes. "Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash? I'm thinking Richard Branson and maybe Russian oligarchs there," wrote Brendish. "Blood stains and ball gowns? Celeb socialites... Trashin' the hotel room? Rock stars."

Not everything in this world should be viewed through the lens of Americans, particularly when it comes to race and cultures of other countries
Lynda Brendish, journalist

Vice.com writer Dave Schilling said Bayetti Flores' reading of the song "couldn't be more simplistic" and asked: "Why should anyone be surprised that the proliferation of pop songs about conspicuous consumption would get tiresome eventually?"

A commenter on feministing.com, Amelia Harris, called the post "a dreadfully done piece of deconstruction." "I hope you have a better understanding of your own bias and lack of understanding of the world beyond your own, and an interest in the impact of imported American culture on the rest of the world."

Others noted with disappointment that a vocal young feminist role model was being attacked on a feminist blog.

Despite the overwhelmingly critical response to her post, Bayetti Flores told CNN in an email that she stood by her comments, which had focused "on how the song lands in the context of the United States."

"Clearly it has reached a much wider audience now," she added.

She took exception to how the song directs "a critique of excessive consumption to a genre both created and currently dominated by Black Americans, particularly when the vast majority of excess consumption is done by white people - not to mention the fact that Black people bear the brunt of the ill effects of wealth inequality, both in this country and globally," Bayetti Flores said.

Most of her critique is directed at record companies, U.S. media and "longstanding racist narratives" about consumption, she said.

While the genre isn't above criticism, hip-hop "must be critiqued in a way that contextualizes it within a larger system of race and power," she added. "To do so without this context reinforces racist narratives which feed into a larger system of racism that consistently dehumanizes people of color, and serve to uphold and excuse much larger oppressive systems."

A spokesman for Universal Music New Zealand, Lorde's label, said the singer had no comment in response to the criticism.

In an interview with NPR, Lorde described how the song was inspired by the messages conveyed by the pop music she had grown up with.

"I was just sort of reeling off some of the things which are commonly mentioned in hip-hop and the Top 40," she said. "I've always loved hip-hop, but as a fan of hip-hop, I've always had to kind of suspend disbelief because, obviously, I don't have a Bentley. There's a distance between that and the life I have with my friends going to parties and getting public transport and doing the things that every other teenager does."

The lyrics in question are:

But every song's like gold teeth, Grey Goose, tripping in the bathroom,

Blood stains, ball gowns, trashing the hotel room,

We don't care, we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams.

But everybody's like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your time piece,

Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.

We don't care, we aren't caught up in your love affair.

CNN's Michael Martinez and Rachel Wells contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 0023 GMT (0823 HKT)
Wilson Raj Perumal tells CNN how he rigged World Cup games: "I was giving orders to the coach."
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 0920 GMT (1720 HKT)
Our whole solar system appears to be inside a searing gas bubble, scientists say.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 0002 GMT (0802 HKT)
One journalist murdered, another still being held by ISIS -- a ransom negotiator talks to CNN about the delicate business of trying to get a hostage home alive.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 0223 GMT (1023 HKT)
The accidental killing of a gun instructor raises an "absurd question," writes Mel Robbins.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
ISIS has made surprise gains in Iraq and Syria in recent months, but may begin to suffer setbacks on the battlefield.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
The fear of Russian invasion is receding but peace may still be tricky to find.
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
Was a police officer justified in shooting and killing Michael Brown?
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 0815 GMT (1615 HKT)
Don't like the country you live in? Meet the people who created their own "micronations."
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 2157 GMT (0557 HKT)
The signs exist that indicate U.S. airstrikes into Syria are on the way.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 0946 GMT (1746 HKT)
We asked you what you would like to know about Ebola. Experts answer some of your most common questions and concerns.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT