Iggy Azalea has had a bumpy road in the rap game, largely due to accusations of cultural appropriation. While she’s previously tried clapping back and outright ignoring the crescendo of criticism to varying degrees of success, she finally attacks the concept head-on in a new interview with GQ, arguing that her image is the result of influence rather than imitation or appropriation.
“I’ve been in America since I was 16, I’m about to be 28,” she asserts. “America is gonna have an influence on me. I live in this country with everybody else. I’m supposed to live here for almost half my life and not be influenced by it? If I’m influenced by it it’s somehow inauthentic or an act? This is my life. It’s been here.”
She also takes issue with the idea of her success being the result of privilege. According to her, she grew up poor in Australia, and came to America as an illegal immigrant, which has both made her journey a lot tougher than assumed and made it impossible for her to vocally stand up on behalf of oppressed minorities, something she says she would do otherwise.
“I’ve tried not to be too political because I am an immigrant,” she reasons. “I’m on a visa. I’m not trying to go to a protest where they’re arresting celebrities and making an example of them because I’ll get deported… I don’t wanna bring the complications of the world into my arena. I understand why people criticize that because I have a voice in hip-hop. I make ‘black’ music. I don’t want people to think it’s not something I care about. I want to make music for girls in the gym.”
Regarding privilege, the Australian rapper says, “The whole privilege thing is a rough conversation. I understand that in America there is institutionalized racism and there is privilege that comes with the color of your skin. That’s real. I grew up in a situation that didn’t involve any privilege and I worked really hard. A lot of my childhood is overlooked. People assume they know my life because Australia is a nice beautiful country. It’s tough because I want you to acknowledge my work and [to understand] that this wasn’t easy but I also don’t want to detract from or trivialize any people of colors’ position because that’s legitimate.”
She maintains she makes rap because she loves the genre and for no other reason. After all, it would be just as easy — easier, in some respects — for a curvy, blonde, conventionally attractive white woman to find avenues for success in America outside of a genre where she is widely derided and says she was “bullied for a year.”
However, with all due respect, and not to minimize or trivialize any of what’s happened to her since 2015, I think she still misses the point of just what “privilege” is. I don’t blame her because it’s actually quite common online to find yourself caught up in a debate with someone who simply cannot see how they are “privileged” when they grew up dirt poor in Arkansas or working class in New Jersey. It’s probably the the connotation of the term “privilege” itself, which calls to mind an image of Richie Rich, sipping out of a $1,000 teacup with his pinky up and being attended to by butlers and maids.
The privilege that Iggy received though — yes, even in rap — is exactly the result of being a pretty, white woman in the entertainment business. Hip-hop may be a “Black” genre but it is still part of an entertainment industry run by white people and that values pretty, white women above pretty much every other artist other than pretty, white men. Iggy was afforded opportunities that a Black, female rap artist would not have been primarily because the people in charge of this industry want to believe that a pretty, blonde, white woman from Australia is still more marketable and valuable in this ostensibly Black genre than a Black woman would be.
Just look at Angel Haze and Azealia Banks, who both came out around the same time and who have both largely disappeared from the public eye. To get meta for a second, I’m standing here writing a piece about Iggy Azalea as opposed to either of them, even though all three had careers marred by controversy. While it’s admirable for Iggy to admit to the existence of white privilege, it’s clear she still hasn’t quite grasped what the term means, or that it’s not a uniquely American phenomenon — just ask the indigenous Aboriginals of Australia who had their land stolen and rights curtailed since the first British boats landed there in 1770.
She’s willing to engage, though, and that’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully, that can lead to her and others who move in these spaces to start using their voices on behalf of the cultures they enjoy and want to participate in. Maybe they can even highlight and amplify voices from within those cultures using their platforms and privilege to help all of us receive the same opportunities and treatment. Until then, however her album Surviving The Summer is received, she’ll always feel like an outsider to rap, no matter how much she loves it.