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Katy Perry Geisha wannabe performance at American Music Awards called racist

Katy Perry at American Music AwardsEarlier this month, Katy Perry tweeted a picture of herself in a full Geisha ensemble posing with Geisha girls in Japan.

I simply commented at the time that “it wasn’t a good look” for the young pop starlet and some in the bloggersphere immediately jumped on me basically accusing me of being oversensitive.

Well, we now know why Perry tweeted the picture (which apparently has since been taken down from Twitter). She was just warming up.

Last night she opened the American Music Awards in a full Geisha outfit complete with background singers and dancers in complementary costumes.

As Jeff Yang wrote in his Speak Easy column for the Wall Street Journal, “Perry’s whiteface/yellowface performance was also a harsh reminder of how deeply anchored the archetype of the exotic, self-sacrificing “lotus blossom” is in the Western imagination.”

The headline on Time’s website about the performance asked “How Offensive Was Katy Perry’s AMA Performance?”

An article by Dr. Ravi Chandra in Phychology Today answers that question in its headline, “Yes, Katy Perry’s Performance Was Racist, Here’s Why.”

He writes “I’ve watched our cultures misappropriated and commodified time after time.  Frankly, many of us feel used as props to glorify White artists.”

As I said before, its often not the costume that someone wears, but what they do with the costume that can be offensive. In Katy’s case, she spent four minutes on stage striking the docile, submissive Geisha girl/China doll pose through out all while singing the song Unconditionally, a song about the unconditional love a woman has for a man no matter what.

It’s an over simplistic western interpretation of a Japanese art form. It’s one we could have done without.



  1. Re: Katy Perry geisha wannabe performance at American Music Awards called racist: I seem to be in the minority in my view on Perry’s performance. I’ve seen a lot of FB postings and comments by Asian Americans who say they enjoyed the spectacle and saw nothing wrong with it. I admit to being particularly disappointed to see a reasonable number of Japanese American men who don’t see what’s wrong. (sigh) I’ve done a few reality checks on myself in the last 24 hours because I don’t usually have knee jerk reactions to these sorts of things.

    HOWEVER, While I wouldn’t call it racist — I think that’s rather strong — I do consider it racially and gender insensitive. The fact that Asian cultures are, once again, represented in a mish mosh with Perry’s get up being something between a kimono and a cheungsam aside, why was a Japanese geisha chosen as the theme for a song about loving “Unconditionally”? Hm. Gee. A bit of stereotyping, don’t you think? After all these decades, I keep hoping that MAYBE that ideal subservient, submissive Japanese (or Asian) woman will just go away. But then, something like this comes up, and I’m reminded that … Nope, we ain’t there yet.


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