Ke$ha, the headdress, and a trend that won’t go away

March 18, 2010 — 12 Comments
I don’t watch American Idol. But, this morning I woke up to a flurry of text messages and emails about Ke$ha’s performance last night–looks like another pop star decided donning a headdress would be an awesome way to show how “raw” and “counterculture” she was.

Here’s the selection (via MTV) with her sporting a headdress and face paint: UPDATE 2/25: MTV took down the link, so here’s a youtube version. The headdress comes out at 2:26.

After the jump, some more blogger’s thoughts, an Outkast flashback, and analysis.

I’m not the first to post on this today, fellow Native blogger Lisa Charleyboy has a post on Urban Native Girl Stuff here, Racialicious has an open thread going here, and most of the news bulletins about her performance mention Ke$ha donning a “Native American headdress.”

The thing that annoys me, besides the obvious, is that the headdress had absolutely nothing to do with the song, the performance, anything. The song is about picking up a guy at a bar, or something, and has such deep and fantastically well written lyrics as:

I dont really care where you live at just turn around boy and let me hit that.
Dont be a little b***h with your chit chat just show me where your d**k’s at.

So beautiful, right? The asthetic of the performance was more futuristic/technological, with dancing TV screens, silver, black, electrical chords, the like. Her dress is even metallic silver. So where does a headdress even come into play here?

There has been a lot of outrage from Native outlets, and rightly so, but this isn’t a new phenomenon. Anyone remember the 2004 Grammy’s? And this performance by Outkast?

That one still makes me mad. Think of how many layers of approval these performances have to go through–executives, publicists, set designers, lighting, performers–and not one person thought these might be offensive? That’s so troubling.

Headdresses aren’t traditional to my community (though many wanabees would have you thinking otherwise–so many “Cherokee Headdresses” out there. ugh), but when I see them in the mainstream media, it usually is associated with people who deserve deep respect in Indian country; Rick West (former director of NMAI) wore his at the opening of the museum, Joe Medicine Crow wore his when accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom…I could go on. Lisa Charleyboy pointed out that warbonnets like the one Ke$ha is wearing have true spiritual significance:

The significance of the war bonnet in traditional Native cultures is huge. It is used in ceremonies, and it is only worn by those who are awarded them after many years of effort, and usually only be men. No artist would dare don a kippah or a turban so the same respect should be given to Native peoples and their traditional, ceremonial wear.

It’s so true. We come back to it again and again…why is it deemed ‘ok’ to appropriate Native culture, religion, and spirituality, and not others?

The fact that this “trend” is catching on really bothers me. I was out at the mall in SF today (I’m on spring break!), and spotted the window displays at Juicy Couture. Their mannequins are wearing headdresses. They even had a tie-dyed tipi inside the store! I didn’t have my camera, and my cell phone pictures turned out horribly, but I’ll try to snap some tomorrow. I keep hoping this will fade out, but unfortunately it seems to be just catching speed.

Earlier Post: The Strange Case of the Hipster Headdress–http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2010/02/strange-case-of-hipster-headdress.html

Urban Native Girl Stuff: http://www.lisacharleyboy.com/2010/03/kehas-too-blah-se.html

Racialicious: http://www.racialicious.com/2010/03/18/open-thread-kehas-headdress-on-american-idol/

(Thanks Jenny Bean!)

Adrienne K.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14328347379621837240 Anishinaabekwe

    Great post!

    I don’t own a TV nor do I watch it. I was unaware of the Outkast performance so thank you for posting about this. I am against cultural appropriation 100%.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07027864578110352025 Lisa ~ Urban Native Girl

    Thanks for the props – I have never seen that Grammy Outkast performance so wow. I get what people are saying even more. Seriously do I have to watch that much TV to be relevant? I digress, great post – thank you for the conversation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16582934294897204422 Afreeqiya

    Ugh, no thanks. I’m always “pleasantly” surprised by new people appropriating Native culture, but I guess I shouldn’t be. You’d think this is do’s and don’ts common knowledge! Sheesh.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13020006502343127866 Katie

    Yesterday we had an assembly with Kid Davie (google him, magician/performer type guy, pretty lame in my humble opinion). One of his acts was to have 6 teachers come up and pretend to be a “band.” Then he decided they didn’t look like a band. So he started dressing them up as the Village People. He takes out a construction helmet, a police hat, and then a costume headdress… The kids obviously didn’t get it and kept laughing, but the adults looked at each other nervously. WHY on earth would you bring that to a school on an Indian reservation!??!?! Especially to a tribe where headdresses do hold such spiritual significance?!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04901157820779687718 Adrienne K.

    Katie, that is ridiculous! You’d think, since it’s a bit of a trek to get out there (to say the least) he’d have thought a LITTLE about where he was going?

    did anyone talk to him afterwards?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13020006502343127866 Katie

    Yeah, you’d think so! I hope someone talked to him but I doubt it…our principal tends to be pretty passive/distracted.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05641653632451265064 SoCoDivka Designs

    Way late in the game, but ended up on your blog after a few dudes in Austin in headdresses sparked a lively Facebook thread.

    Just wanted to chime in that the criticism of Outkast might be unfounded. There’s a long and rich tradition of African Americans dressing up as Native Americans–Mardi Gras Indians: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mardi_Gras_Indians

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/MrParkerEast Parker East

    Just google image search – celebrities turbans – and they are everywhere. People are going to appropriate your cultural symbols. Get over it! Do your best to educate them about the meaning and maybe they will treat them a little more reverently when they do appropriate them. If you start out with “What you’re doing is wrong.” they are never going to listen. These people did you a favor by giving you a chance to get over your uptight, controlling views on these symbols. I meditate regularly and have done extensive study of many different religious systems, but when I see that REI sells a “Zen” sleeping bag I don’t write them a letter or complain on the internet. I just don’t buy it.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/MrParkerEast Parker East

      P.S. 1/8th Cherokee plus a little bit of unidentified tribes on another side.

      • kwilder

        *gasp* You’re 1/8 Cherokee? Oh fuck… I guess you know EVERYTHING about what the Cherokee people have endured and continue to endure to this day then, don’t you? I mean, that completely validates your view that it’s okay to culturally appropriate a culture that has been almost completely wiped out and is almost completely ignored by society.

        Give me a fucking break. I have Cherokee ancestry too, but I’m not going to pretend I know shit about their culture or act as though I get to represent them and their views because of it. I also have some black relatives in my predominantly white background. Because of that, I think everybody should be allowed to do black face and make fried chicken jokes. I mean… I have black relatives in my bloodline!!!

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/MrParkerEast Parker East

    Just google image search – celebrities turbans – and they are everywhere. People are going to appropriate your cultural symbols. Get over it! Do your best to educate them about the meaning and maybe they will treat them a little more reverently when they do appropriate them. If you start out with “What you’re doing is wrong.” they are never going to listen. These people did you a favor by giving you a chance to get over your uptight, controlling views on these symbols. I meditate regularly and have done extensive study of many different religious systems, but when I see that REI sells a “Zen” sleeping bag I don’t write them a letter or complain on the internet. I just don’t buy it.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/MrParkerEast Parker East

    P.S. 1/8th Cherokee plus a little bit of unidentified tribes on another side.