Katy Perry’s Geisha show

And the American Music Award for most racist performance goes to…

By Kate Leaver
Katy Perry

Oh, Katy Perry. She’s so bodacious and kooky and fierce - easily one of the most popular stars on the planet (48 million Twitter followers, anyone?). With sweeping, crazy influence like that, what she did today is all the more reckless.

Perry opened the American Music Awards dressed as some sort of Geisha. Her hair was black, angular and swept up, make-up done like a Geisha, costume a weird mix of Chinese and Japanese patterns, stage scattered with cherry blossoms. It was the visual, boppy, awards show equivalent of saying “It looks like fun to be an Asian!” without a scrap of cultural sensitivity. She pretty much just stopped short of sticky-taping her eyelids to her temples to make her eyes slant.

There are so many questions. At this huge global event, was there literally nobody on staff who thought to say, “Ah, Katy, you look a bit racist in that get-up”? Or worse, was she intentionally racist to court controversy like Miley did with her twerking at the VMAs? Is she aware that Japan and China are historically not exactly chummy, and therefore doing a mash-up of both cultures for a pop song is really weird and tactless? Or that paying tribute to Geisha culture, when it has such a long, morally complex history, could be really weird and inappropriate? Or that trading in on the sexual connotations of Geisha dress – even though she stayed fully clothed in her kimono – is a strange, senseless thing to do?

In answer to all of the above, I bet Katy will tweet out a statement clarifying that she’s not a racist / didn’t meant to offend people / only did it because she really likes cherry blossoms. And that’ll satisfy her fans. But it won’t make up for the offence she’s caused (check Twitter for a siege of outraged, hurt, and bewildered reactions) or the fact that she’s just joined the Racism Is OK As Long As It’s Got a Catchy Beat Brigade.

It’s yet another reminder that whether or not you intend to be racist when you do something racist, you are still being racist. Because when all that pale foundation is wiped off and the traditional oriental instruments are packed away, it’s not going to be up to Katy to decide whether her Geisha spectacle was racist. Just like it wasn’t Miley’s call on whether her twerking routine was offensive. Or Lily Allen’s call when she chose to use all black, scantily clad back-up dancers in the video clip for Hard Out There, which began as a sassy feminist rebuttal to misogyny in the pop industry and ended up being a creepy case of racism.

What do you think: Was Katy Perry’s Geisha-inspired performance super weird and racist? Did you find it offensive or disrespectful?