Imagine being a famous female singer — crowds of thousands watching you at every performance, listening to every word & note coming out of your mouth… It can be pretty intimidating for anyone. Nevertheless, powerhouses like Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, etc. manage to pull off a kick-a** show this close to ***flawlessly every time. Sure, some stumble (like Adele at the Grammys the past two years), but 95% of the time they’re golden.
But not every famous female singer is a powerhouse. Some get caught lip-syncing, which is usually embarrassing AF for the star. Some can sing but maybe not dance at the same time without getting tripped up. Some, simply, sound decent only after the recording studio works a little magic. It’s incidents like these that you’re about to witness. Right in front of your eyes, you watched at famous females, like Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus, took the stage, but never actually heard what was coming out of their mouths due to their track playing in the background… ’til now.
We’re not saying it’s easy to sing and dance to perfection — though, Beyonce & Lady Gaga prove that it’s totally possible to slay simultaneously — nor are we saying we can do any better than the following talents. We’re just pointing out that things aren’t always what they seem.
1. Katy Perry — “Are we tone deaf?” is right. At the recent 2017 Grammys, the 32-year-old was applauded for the political statement she made while performing her new single, “Chained to the Rhythm” (though, people were not impressed with her red-carpet interview moments prior). In the days following, people halted with the claps, as the live-mic feed from the event leaked onto the Internet, and it’s not exactly clean. If we had to define it in one word, it’d be “shaky,” at best.
Of course, this wasn’t Katy’s first unstable performance. Someone stripped her rendition of “Roar” at the 2013 VMAs, and it’s quite reminiscent of her recent aforementioned stint.
And she’s always been this way, apparently. Listen to her throwback “Hot n Cold” performance on The TODAY Show and you’ll notice.
2. Mariah Carey — The 46-year-old diva will go down as one of the best singers of all time, for sure. But, TBH, her voice isn’t at all what it used to be, as evidenced by her off-key, all-over-the-place 2014 performance of her classic “All I Want for Christmas is You” at Rockefeller Center. Those high notes though… Yikes.
3. Selena Gomez — Most of the 24-year-old beauty’s tunes leave her whisper-singing rather than all-out crooning… but not “Same Old Love” — that chorus is filled with high notes; high notes that Selena can’t hit… at least not on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in 2015.
4. Taylor Swift — T.Swizzle was highly criticized after her vocals were isolated from her performance of “Shake It Off” at the 2014 VMAs. Even when the 27-year-old wasn’t running around the stage, she still sounded out of breath. Whatever the case, though, she’s still the highest-paid female musician, so joke’s on all the haters.
5. Miley Cyrus — We’re SHOCKED to hear the Hannah Montana alum like this. In most performances, her stripped vocals sound like her recordings. Unfortunately, not in the case of this Bangerz Tour performance of “Can’t Be Tamed.”
6. Kesha — Most of the raw verses of this rendition of the 29-year-old’s “Your Love is My Drug” sound like the original, but that chorus leaves much to be desired.
7. Lana Del Rey — The best part of this Saturday Night Live footage: Daniel Radcliffe‘s introduction of the 31-year-old musician.
8. Britney Spears — Well… the 35-year-old has AH-mazing dance moves.
You know what’s worse than a failed live-mic feed? Racist accusations:
MUSIC VIDEO(S): "Wildest Dreams" (2015) & "Shake It Off" (2014)
T. Swift got herself in hot water not once but twice for having racist music videos. Ouch, not a good look. While in "Shake It Off," Taylor does feature several women of color — she got criticized for objectifying their bodies, in particular during a scene where she crawls underneath their legs as they twerk. Her facial expression of awe and moderate-confusion doesn't help her case, either. But it looked like Taytay didn't learn her lesson, because just one year later she was slammed yet again for having another racist music video. This one was filmed in both California and Africa, but many saw it as glamorizing Colonial Africa (A.K.A. a time where the British took over Africa thereby enslaving and exploiting the native African people). Additionally, the cast of the short vid is mostly while, featuring only two black people in some background shots. While we're sure Tay wasn't trying to be racist, she's gotta be a little bit more careful about the messages she's conveying in her music videos!
Photo: Big Machine Records
MUSIC VIDEO: "We Can't Stop" (2013)
Unfortunately, there are a lot of examples of Miley's accidental racism and cultural appropriation in her interviews, her music and — of course, her music videos (that's how she got on this list)! The video that got her the most heat was a piece she saw as emancipating herself from her good-girl Disney image. Like in her wild VMA performance, the "Wrecking Ball" singer twerks and focuses on the booties of her black back-up dances (see the GIF above). A lot of critics have seen those actions to be very problematic since they perceive her actions as using the women featured (and their bodies) like props. We saw it in Taylor's "Shake It Off," this idea is one we keep needing to confront when it comes to white pop singers featuring people of color in their videos: while we want to see more diversity in the videos, it's a fine line between representation and exploitation, and Miley unfortunately is having trouble figuring out where that line is.
Photo: RCA Records
MUSIC VIDEO: "Hello Kitty" (2014)
While the first two examples on our list were how Miley & Taylor were called out for racist themes against black women in their videos, Avril got bad press for her representation of Japanese culture. While she has a lot of Japanese people in the video, viewers saw issue in how doll-like they act, seeing them as not having any individuality or uniqueness apart from their Japanese stereotypes. Avril responded almost immediately to the haters on Twitter saying, "RACIST??? LOLOLOL!!! I love Japanese culture and I spend half of my time in Japan. I flew to Tokyo to shoot this video specifically for my Japanese fans, WITH my Japanese label, Japanese choreographers AND a Japanese director IN Japan." Seems like she just read the headlines and not the story — cause that wasn't really the issue.
Photo: Sony Music
MUSIC VIDEO(S): "This is How We Do" (2013) & "Dark Horse" (2014)
It seems that like Miley, Katy has a long documented history of getting called out for racist cultural appropriation (dressing in yellow-face for a performance, wearing a Native-American costume at Coachella, etc.) as well. In "This is How We Do" the subliminal messages in her entrance to the music video (her hair in a thick braided twist and eating a watermelon — a very racist stereotype of black people) were seen as undercover racism. Dressing in a way that Miley would describe as "urban" and wearing her hair in cornrows in another scene, Katy basically did everything on the "How to Appropriate a Culture" list. In her "Dark Horse" music video, she was seen as mocking Egyptian culture, too. C'mon, Katy! After hearing how her music videos and performances were being received she said to Rolling Stone, "Can’t you appreciate a culture? I guess, like, everybody has to stay in their lane? I don’t know.” We get that dressing up can be fun (Halloween is coming up!) but the simplest way to put it is this way: a culture is not a costume!
Photo: Capitol Records
Beyonce (with Coldplay)
MUSIC VIDEO: "Hymn for the Weekend" (2016)
Beyonce is actually the only woman of color on our list, but that doesn't save her from haters saying she was culturally appropriative in the music video she made with Coldplay. It was seen as showing a very simplified image of India and of Indian culture. Beyonce costumes herself in traditionally Indian dress, including henna. While some were unaffected by the vid, others found it deeply offensive. @my_desigirl took to Twitter after watching "Hymn for the Weekend" saying: "Just because it's Beyoncé, doesn't mean she's right. She is being offensive and appropriating our culture." That just about sums it up. Our love for Queen Bey remains, she's just got to be a little more thoughtful next time!
Photo: Parlophone and Atlantic Records
Lana Del Rey
MUSIC VIDEO: "Ride" (2012)
While most of this music video has a fun and carefree attitude, it was the portion where Lana gets all Coachella and problematically wears a Native American headdress that turned heads — and not for a good reason. Not only does wearing this war bonnet reinforce primitive stereotypes about Native American culture, but also these headdresses are traditionally reserved to be worn only by high elders and people who earned their right to wear it, and I'm not sure actual Native Americans would believe a young, white pop star would be worthy of such an honor.
MUSIC VIDEO: "Your Love is My Drug" (2010)
In this music video, Kesha basically did the same appropriative no-no as Lana, but to a slightly lesser extent. While she didn't don a huge Native American war bonnet, she did dress her body and hair in typically Native American cultural accessories. Since her music video also takes place in an unoccupied desert — there are a lot of undertones in her video that suggest the idea that she was using a culture simply for the aesthetics, ignoring their complex history and not really thinking about what the articles she is wearing and using actually signify.
Photo: RCA Records
MUSIC VIDEO: "Bounce" (2013)
While typically in her music, Iggy is accused of appropriating Black culture, in her "Bounce" music video, she uses a different heritage to make money. The vid, which takes place in India, features a traditional Indian dance with the backup dancers and Iggy herself wearing a Sari. At this point we already know it's not cool to wear a culture's traditional dress if it's not your own, but also Iggy was criticized for showing an idealistic perspective of India, seemingly ignoring the authentic culture and history of oppression in the area. When it comes to Iggy, she just keeps getting it wrong every time and doesn't seem to learn from or care about the criticism because she's still getting paid.
Photo: Def Jam Recordings
MUSIC VIDEO: I Blame Myself (2014)
In Sky's video, which she says is inspired by true events, the "You're Not the One" singer positions herself as a gang leader. She got heat for doing the same thing Miley did — while Miley was accused of using black women's bodies as props, Sky was seen as exploiting her Black male backup dancer's bodies to give her a "harder" image for the video. As if that weren't bad enough, the vid itself reinforced the violent, gang-member stereotype that black guys are so often subjected to. When hearing the criticism, Sky did take the time to respond to the comments but unfortunately didn't really own up to anything or even apologize. "The only thing I'm sorry for is if this post seems to come off self defensive." Clearly the singer didn't really hear that she offended people and her inability to see her own wrongdoings kind of just makes the whole situation more messed up!
Photo: Capitol Records
Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine)
MUSIC VIDEO: "No Light, No Light" (2011)
Florence's video just might be the most racist of them all. The basic jist of it is: a black man tortures Florence using a voodoo doll (WTF?) and then she is saved by white young men in organized religion. The song is called "No Light No Light" and ultimately, people saw it to mean that dark = bad. Furthermore, using voodoo dolls, which historically are connected to slavery, is yet another example of borrowing a cultural artifact without really knowing what it means or the history behind it, and using it to make the culture itself look barbaric and unsophisticated.
Photo: Universal-Island Records