Podcast: We Need More Than A Just A Seat at the Table
FULL TRANSCRIPT (with timecode)
00:00:04;17 - 00:00:12;00
F1: You're listening to the Uptown Bourgeois podcast. I'm your host, Jefferey Spivey. Let's be weird, snobby, and intellectual together.
00:00:14;11 - 00:00:21;20
M1: This week, I want to talk about representation. Is it enough to get a seat at the table if you can't contribute to the conversation?
00:00:21;28 - 00:01:29;21
M7: So I'm 15 years old and I'm opening up a show in Hawaii called The Magic of Polynesia. I'm in front of a curtain and I'm singing songs. My job in that show was to entertain about a thousand people, a thousand tourists from all over the world. And I put together a set list like 10 to 12 songs and I'll be honest, I was incredible at 15. I was. And later on in life, I found out that those songs that I was singing were written by Babyface, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Teddy Riley. And with those songs, I remember seeing and I remember seeing it firsthand, people dancing that never met each other, from two sides of the globe dancing with each other ,toasting with each other, celebrating together. All I wanted to do with this album was that and all those songs were written with nothing but joy. And for one reason and for one reason only and that's love and that's all I wanted to bring with this album, and hopefully I can feel that again and see everybody dancing and everybody moving.
00:01:29;26 - 00:02:32;02
M1: That was a clip from Bruno Mars’ acceptance speech for the Album of the Year Grammy, one of six awards he took home at last Sunday's ceremony. He also won Record and Song of the year and swept the R&B categories. This win should feel good, right? Bruno is a person of color. He's Filipino, Puerto Rican, and Jewish, and a Hawaii native. We've been calling for more diverse artists to win big at the Grammys and with Bruno Mars, the Grammys have answered the call. He's a hardworking showman who dances with power, sings impeccably, and crafts well-made music. You know the hook from “That's What I Like” was stuck in your head for all of 2017. He even gave a fantastic high energy performance during the ceremony ,recreating the “In Living Color” vibe of the video for “Finesse”, with Cardi B in tow. This hardworking minority artist had a big night. So why are people so upset? Because in actuality, though Bruno checks the box for diversity, his music is anything but edgy, innovative, or forward-thinking, adjectives that could easily describe the other four albums in the category.
00:02:32;03 - 00:03:48;15
M6: But especially two of them.
“It's a nuance song, you know. It's like I'm specifically speaking to us and about who we are and how do you maintain the sense of self while pushing it forward, and holding us to have a responsibility for our actions. Because in America it is what it is. And this is a solution for us. If we had a power base together, we have a much different conversation than me having a conversation about myself. Trying to change America by myself. I come with 40 million people ,it’s a different conversation, right. It's just how it works. I can affect change and get whomever in office because this many people, we’re all on the same page, right. Right, so it was a conversation, it’s like I'm not rich, I’m O.J. First to get in that space and then disconnect from the culture, right. That's how it starts. This is what happens and then you know what happens, you're on your own, and you see how that turned out, OK.
00:03:50;02 - 00:05:44;25
M1: That was JAY-Z in a thought-provoking interview about his album 4:44. Here ,he was referencing “The Story of O.J.”, a scathing indictment of institutional racism and a call to arms for black financial wealth and knowledge. There are plenty of songs on 4:44 that delve into weighty social, political, or personal topics. He weighs the consequences of infidelity on the title track, reflects on his mother's lesbianism on “Smile”, and deals directly with his past on “Kill JAY-Z”. This album is one of the most introspective and potent of his entire career.
Kendrick Lamar plays with some of the same themes and spins them into a thumping, commercial juggernaut on DAMN. Songs like “DNA.”, “DUCKWORTH.”, and “HUMBLE.” Find him dealing with political enemies, musical enemies, and stories of his past. The album is simultaneously reflective, challenging, and accessible—Something that seems impossible. It was also an astounding sales success story.
That brings us back to Bruno. 24K Magic was crafted as an ode to New Jack Swing. It was a 90s R&B-fueled collection that reminded us of Teddy Riley and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. It was a feel-good album, one that made no mention of politics or really anything beyond love and sex. For everyone who wanted to block the world out and have a good time, This was the record for you. So, on one hand, it makes sense that his feel-good music won. We’re inundated with political news all day long. This is why Facebook is forcing us to read more posts from our families. Perhaps the voting members of the Recording Academy wanted a break just like the rest of us. But no, I won't give them the benefit of the doubt here because what they did this year is still indicative of a greater pattern. Even if they did give the night's biggest awards to a person of color. Think back to 2017 when Beyoncé’s LEMONADE lost to Adele's 25.
“My artist of my life is Beyoncé, and this album to me, the LEMONADE album, is just so...
00:05:44;28 - 00:05:48;29
M8: Monumental. Beyoncé, and so
00:05:50;20 - 00:06:16;27
M9: Well-thought out and beautiful and soul-bearing and we all got to see another side to you that you don't always let us see and we appreciate that, all us artists here. We fucking adore you. You are our light, and the you make me and my friends feel, the way you make my black friends feel is empowering and you make them stand up for themselves. And I love you. I always have and I always will.
00:06:16;27 - 00:07:33;16
M1: Even she felt she didn't deserve the award. And when we compare the two albums, one a sweeping genre-defying cultural statement about black womanhood in America, the other a less effective carbon copy of its predecessor, she was right. Queen B should have been on that stage but the voting members picked what most closely matched their antiquated view of quote good music end quote. 2016 Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly loses to Taylor Swift's 1989. 2015 Beyoncé loses to Beck. 2014 Kendrick loses to Daft Punk. See a pattern here? Kendrick and B have essentially taken turns pushing creativity to new heights and then being overlooked by the Academy. Each year, for the past five years now, they've lost to music that not only failed to impact the greater culture but that was safer, blander, and more generic. The Academy chose what ever played in the minivans of suburban moms, the malls of middle America, and top 40 radio. They continued to ignore the music that does what music is supposed to do: reflect the times and create an emotional connection. I want to hope that next year will be different. But I know it won't. So whatever albums you love this year, praise them, celebrate them, blast them, and know that they're worth your time regardless of what the Recording Academy thinks.
00:07:35;28 - 00:07:54;20
M3: It's a new year and this is a new podcast. Thus, I need new sponsors. If you like what you hear and you’re interested in helping make the show bigger and better, let's talk. Shoot me an email at Jefferey at Uptown bourgeois dot com. That's J E F F E R E Y at uptown bourgeois dot com.
00:08:02;11 - 00:08:07;27
M2: So what is representation? What does that mean? How do we get it?
00:08:08;07 - 00:08:39;09
F3: This past year has been one of the most rewarding and wonderful moments of my life. I was able to turn my pain and my trauma and my rage into work and into my art and I have been filled with gratitude so abundant that I can't even express how thankful I am. I'm eternally grateful and I’ll never ever take for granted for the way that people have lifted me and for my voice and power.
00:08:39;26 - 00:09:01;05
M1: That was Solange accepting her Glamour Woman of the Year award last year. In a sense, Solange has been instrumental in identifying and explaining what representation means. She wrote an essay called “And Do You Belong. I Do” in which she describes the racial undertones of a confrontation between her, her friends, and a group of strangers at a Kraftwerk concert.
00:09:01;28 - 00:09:04;18
M2: She writes, “You get there about 10 minutes late.
00:09:04;23 - 00:11:59;17
M3: But lucky for you, as soon as you walk to your box seats, the song that you just played for your son in the car is on. It's a song his uncle sampled, “The Hall of Mirrors”. You haven't even sat down yet because you just walked to your seat. You’re so excited to dance to this dance music song. Simultaneously, a much older black venue attendant comes over to your son and his friend and yells, “No electronic cigarettes allowed. You need to stop doing that now”. You are too into the groove and let your husband handle it and tell the attendant that the children are 11 years old and it's actually the two grown white men in front of you who were smoking them. You are annoyed and feel it's extremely problematic that someone would challenge their innocence but determined to stay positive and your husband has handled this accordingly. About 20 seconds later, you hear women yell aggressively “Sit down now. You need to sit down right now” from the box behind you. You want to be considerate. However they were not at all considerate with their tone, their choice of words, or the fact that you just walked in and seemed to be enjoying yourself.
You were also confused as to what show you went to. This is a band that were pioneers of electronic dance music. Surely the audience is going to expect you to dance at some point. You were planning on sitting down after this song as long as it wasn't one of the four songs that you really connect with and plan on getting down to. You feel something heavy hit you on the back of your shoulder. But consider that you are imagining things because certainly a stranger would not have the audacity. Moments later you feel something again, this time smaller, less heavy, and your son and his friend tell you those ladies just hit you with a line. You look down only to see the half eaten lime on the ground below you. You inhale deeply. Your husband calmly asks a group of women did they just throw trash here. One woman says, “I just want to make it clear I was not the one who yelled those horrible nasty things out” loud enough for you to hear. This leads you to believe they were saying things way worse than what you heard. You were not surprised at that part one bit. You're full of passion and shock. So you share this story on Twitter, hands shaking because you actually want these women to face accountability in some kind of way.
You know that you cannot speak to them without it escalating because they have no respect for you or your son and this will only end badly for you and feel it's not worth getting the police involved. So you were hoping they will hear you this way. You know when you share this that a part of the population is going to side with the women who threw trash at you. You know that they will come up with every excuse to remove that huge part of the incident and make this about you standing up at a concert blocking someone's view. You know that a lot of the media will not even mention the trash being thrown at you with your 11 year old son being present. You feel that the headline would be X Y Z goes to a concert and gets trash thrown at them if it were some of your other non-black peers in the industry. You constantly see the media having a hard time contextualizing black women and men as victims everyday even when it means losing their own lives.
00:12:01;03 - 00:13:20;02
M2: What this excerpt so elegantly illustrates is how certain groups of people have their opinions discounted or how their experiences are trivialized based on superficial characteristics. It's Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar losing at the Grammys for the last five years. It's people throwing things at Solange when she danced at a concert. It's people on Twitter using racial epithets whenever they feel threatened or to make themselves feel more powerful. It's hiring diverse employees at a tech company but never asking for their input or allowing them to share and contribute. Having a seat at the table isn't just about being there. It's about being recognized. It's about having the right to do work alongside everyone else and be taken seriously. Don't invite us to the party just so you can look cool. We're here as contributors not as trophies.
Before I go, I want to share this quote from the late great James Baldwin. “You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can't, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” I hope that all of us, the artists making great albums, the writers telling their stories, the employees who've made it to the boardroom ,that we all hold on to our power to change the world, even if it's just a little bit at a time. Happy Black History Month, y'all.
00:13:20;04 - 00:13:43;24
F1: Thanks so much for listening to the Uptown Bourgeois podcast. Check back for new episodes every week and subscribe on iTunes or SounCloud so you never miss out. If you love it, share it with your friends. If not ,shoot me an email and let me know what you'd like me to talk about. Until next week... The Uptown Bourgeois Podcast is written, produced, and edited by Jefferey Spivey and is an official property of Uptown Bourgeois ,LLC.
00:13:43;24 - 00:13:46;25
M3: All original music is provided courtesy of RMVD.
This podcast was transcribed with Simon Says.