Five of cultural appropriation’s greatest hits

Miley Cyrus neither invented twerking nor cultural appropriation in music. What follows is a crowd-sourced list of some “great” moments in musical cultural appropriation.

“Vogue,” Madonna

Said one contributor to this list, “[Madonna] owes her whole career to appropriation, POC props and GLBT props, too…The idea that people associate her with vogueing is pretty much the textbook definition of appropriation of marginalized cultures, gay and black.”


“Waiting on a Friend,” The Rolling Stones

You know what makes New York City look extra gritty? Black people. You know you’ve hit the big time when you can get reggae legend Peter Tosh to serve as a random black extra hanging on a stoop.


“Luxurious,” Gwen Stefani

Gwen Stefani is the patron saint of icky cultural appropriation since that time she tried to keep a posse of Japanese women as pets. Here she kicks it Cali-style with her best Latino friends.

This fuckery committed with her bandmates in No Doubt cannot go unmentioned.


“Save a Prayer,” Duran Duran

I was a “Nick girl” back in the mid-80s when every self-respecting teenage girl was a Duranie. It failed to occur to me then how often the band illustrating their jet set coolness by frolicking in front of exotic flora, fauna and, y’know, brown people.


“We Can’t Stop,” Miley Cyrus

Would that we could stop this hot mess. If you haven’t read Tressie McMillan Cottom’s piece on the black female bodies Cyrus chose to foreground her whiteness. Do it. Now.

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  • Tanya

    I think the Madonna example is valid. I will admit that when I was younger and less informed, if someone said “voguing,” I would immediately think of Madonna. Only some years later did I learn about ball culture and the different houses in Harlem (and beyond). It means that most people who didn’t know, or weren’t willing to dig deeper, would simply walk away *only* knowing of Madonna’s contribution.

    Also, in that Gwen Stefani vid, anybody else notice a pretty blatant sample of Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets”? Or is it just me?

  • sunflowergirl67

    Yeah it’s really too bad what happened to Gwen Stefani. That video just bugs me so much. I’m from SoCal as well, and Latino culture is a huge influence down there (I’m in NorCal now), but I had a friend explain it to me very plainly and simply: Just because you’re friends with Latinos, and are surrounded by them, or date one, doesn’t make you one. (For some background, he was the Mexican boyfriend of a white friend of mine, and we were talking about their future. He said that his parents didn’t approve, and I asked why, despite her being Catholic like him. That was the gist of his explanation). But mostly about the video was how she made herself up to look like a stereotypical “chola”, the stereotypical dress, the last outfit with the boxer shorts sticking out of her pants? WTF?

  • No-man

    Reading the article above combined with (many of) the comments below makes me shrug my shoulders and wonder if we’ll ever actually become the colorblind society that so many profess to desire. There is such a strong undercurrent of “It’s a black/brown/Latino/minority thing that’s just being stolen by a white person” that is prevalent that I don’t believe we could ever actually achieve racial neutrality. Too much possessiveness over what is “our” culture vs. “their” culture. If one truly wants to achieve a society where people are not judged by the color of their skin one should stop judging others by the color of their skin.

    • Val

      So, when the beneficiaries of hundreds of years of White Supremacy steal from those that suffered and still suffer under that same system, we should just say forgive and forget? We should all of a sudden become colorblind as to allow the thievery to continue unchallenged? That’s really rich especially considering a lot of the stolen culture is culture that was born out of the pain of being oppressed by the ancestors of those doing the stealing.

  • athenia45

    I had no idea about the history of vogueing. Thanks!

  • James Earl Hardy

    “Vogue” definitely fits the (mis)appropriation mold. She may have included Black/Latino Same Gender Loving men in the video and her concerts/television performances, but when it comes to honoring those who had style, grace and attitude Madonna doesn’t mention a single person of color in the song. She never heard of Paul Robeson, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte, Eartha Kitt, Pearl Bailey, Sidney Poitier, Rita Moreno, Diahann Carroll, Ricardo Montalban, Jackie Robinson, or Dorothy Dandridge? She rakes in millions using Black music and a Blatino dance to pay homage to … white people.

    • sunflowergirl67

      Earth Kitt my heart be still!

    • Val

      This is a confusing one for me. Please correct me if I’m wrong but, didn’t the Vogue grow out of Ball culture? And, if that’s so then isn’t Ball culture itself steeped in the worship of Whiteness? So, isn’t the song just following the standard set by the culture?

      • Alexis A

        Wikipedia seems to indicate that Black and Latino people are very involved in ball culture, and voguing is specifically attributed to the people of color in that community. So I’m not sure if the song does follow the standard. (Of course, all my evidence comes from this quick scan of Wiki so…yeah.)

  • Val

    Fused of course being a euphemism for plagiarizing? There was no sarcasm intended. It’s pretty widely known that Zeppelin stole from African American blues artists. Just google “Led Zeppelin Stolen Music”.

  • Derek Vandivere

    Well, except that both Tosh and the Stones are pretty much part of the same tradition. Rock and Reggae both evolved from R&B, which was more or less a combination of jazz and gospel pretty much invented by Ray Charles. Jazz itself is a combination of black, Creole, and white musics, so I just think it’s basically ridiculous to assert that musical styles have racial requirements.
    Same thing with the article the other day that used David Sanborn as the example of a successful jazz player. No mention of Artie Shaw, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Django, Paul Gonzalez or any of the other great non-black jazz cats who’ve pushed the music forward.
    I guess it’s, as always, the concept of cultural appropriation that bugs me. That implies that the original culture is stolen, that it’s gone. That’s just not the case. I mean, it’s fine to be pissed off and think it’s lame that people are making tons of money off of other folk’s culture, but happily you can still hear the original Mali blues whenever you want.

  • Kraas

    Is it cultural appropriation if it is an authorized cover?


    You forgot Justin Timberfake’s whole solo career.

  • Dorian Cliffe

    Totally disagree with Madonna’s Vogue being on the list. She didn’t just blindly take from the Blatino community. She had members of the community help her, often working alongside her in performances, and she is pop icon for the LGBTQ and LGBTQ blatino community. Her VMA performance of Vogue recently was all about throwing shade and calling us racist (last 10 seconds especially). Though I will say the massive consumerism she profitted from is hard to ignore, and I’m interested to know if she has spread the wealth back into the community.

  • AEleen Frisch

    [1] Rolling Stones certainly appropriate, but is this the best example? What does Peter Tosh say about being in the video? It could have been an attempt to bring him to a larger audience. [2] Another example is Bo Derek wearing braids in 10.

    • Fifty Shades Of Erin Gray

      Agreed. A better example is their attempts to do reggae (although Keith did a couple albums with a reggae band where he made a point of being “just a guy in the band.” )

  • Fifty Shades Of Erin Gray

    Interestingly, Malcolm McLaren “discovered” Voguing a full year before Madonna. The difference was that he let the voguers perform on the record themselves.

  • Circle

    I have mixed feelings about this particular video from the Rolling Stones. The cultural appropriation is definitely there (e.g. – the whole Stones career, the sax solo, Jagger/Richards hanging out with POC to signify grittiness). I definitely see that side of it. On the other hand, especially since Tosh was signed to the Stones label at the time (like Fifty Shades of Erin Gray said), I also can’t help but think of it as a way for the Stones to try to promote their friend. I am of course reading into it a little bit – I don’t know if they were actually friends or if this was purely a business decision on the part of the Stones and Tosh. Having known a good deal of mostly local/non-famous musicians, at the very least I do know that there are segments of the musical underground that work hard to support each other and that bigger underground names help bring their lesser known friends to larger audiences whenever they can. That said, the optimistic, hopeful, (naive) part of me wants to think that Jagger/Richards were hanging out with their friends and trying to help support Tosh’s career. Unfortunately, the more critical side of me can’t help but see Jagger/Richards as supporting their friend and/or contracted artist in a really messed up, exploitative way.

    I guess that I am really just having a harder time with the comment as it relates to this video and cultural appropriation – the consonance between the comment, the video, and the forms of cultural appropriation just don’t seem to line up quite as well as the other ones. Maybe I am just getting too caught up in the minutiae of my own interpretations – If you’re still reading, thanks for slogging through my nonsense.

  • Kim Voeks

    You left JT and Robin Thicke off your list. Two white males performing in the style of R&B artists and getting credit beyond their merit for it simply because they’re white. (They are also both the beneficiaries of a privilege pass in slut shaming incidents with female artists.)

  • jondreasmith

    Cmon… gotta include ‘Black Betty,’ arguably one of the songs that started it all.

  • Val

    Oh, shoot, I almost forget. Please include almost everything Led Zeppelin has ever done.

  • Fifty Shades Of Erin Gray

    To be fair, Peter Tosh waa signed to Rolling Stone Records at the time.

    • sharon

      Speaking of the Rolling Stones, as much as I like them, I wish I could erase that performance of Mick Jagger trying to emulate James Brown’s performance on the TAMI show…

  • Val

    Please include Eric Clapton’s cover of Bob Marley’s “I shot The Sheriff”. Especially since rock radio to this day will play Clapton’s version rather than the original.