On today’s Hollywood Minute, Amanda Head discusses singer Lizzo’s latest move that may or may not be desecrating American history:
Many of you who are familiar with my on-air presence know how much I love American history. Ironically, when I was growing up it was probably the subject in school that I cared the least about. However, over the course of the last 10 years, I’ve experienced a growing obsession with our Founding history, and the era surrounding the Revolutionary War. It began with Bill O’Reilly’s Killing England, which I highly recommend if anyone has not read it. It reads like a novel and will ignite a fire for history inside of you that you probably never acquired from any of your history classes or teachers. My obsession with American history has recently graduated from books to historic and antique art, which, as you can imagine, is much more expensive. Some people collect classic cars, some women buy pricey shoes… this just happens to be my expensive guilty pleasure.
Considering my love and reverence for our history, you can imagine my initial outrage when I saw the headline earlier this week that singer/rapper Lizzo played Founding Father and former US President James Madison’s crystal flute – the first and only person to publicly do so. The scene of the crime of the ostensible desecration was a Washington, DC stop on her musical tour. There’s a hefty dose of outrage over on conservative Twitter but was it desecration? In my opinion, I don’t think so. Allow me to explain.
If you watch the entire clip of her performance, before the flute even enters the spotlight, she gives a historical overview of the flute and its importance. She explains where it came from, why it was given, and a number of other pieces of information even I didn’t know. This is important because let’s be candid, her audience demographic is likely not the type of crowd to voraciously soak up or even have a passive interest in history. To expose these fans to American history, albeit briefly, is never a bad thing. What was also important is that she displayed a Lizzo-style reverence and caution in handling the flute. She remarks that the flute has to be brought to her on stage by the United States Secret Service and Capitol Police (and also Library of Congress staff) and comments that she’s “scared,” presumably because of the precious and delicate nature of the item which she’s about to be temporarily entrusted. Even down to her flat shoes-not heels, she was very careful with it. After producing the first note she became visibly giddy – regardless of the source of her joy, for young, adoring fans, it’s nothing but positive to witness those types of positive vibes surrounding American history. One of the “outrageous” aspects of this scene is that as she played her second note on the flute, she performed a very subdued version of twerking. Again, for her, it was very subdued. And frankly, it didn’t affect her ability to play at all. Speaking of her performance, Lizzo is a classically-trained flautist. In other words, she wasn’t making a mockery of it all. If there’s any current-day mainstream musician out there worthy of playing such an instrument, it’s her.
If you’re going to be outraged about this then you have to be outraged about musical mashups and collaborations. This was essentially a collaboration between modern-day culture and American history. Some of the greatest songs of all time have been mashups. There are hundreds of songs that have sampled classical music from composers like Chopin and Beethoven. Artists like Jay-Z and Kanye West are well-known for sampling classical music on their records, not to mention notable mashups between The Beatles and Jay-Z, Sting and Ben E. King, and Avicii and Rick Astley.
Everyone is entitled to feel a certain way about this. For me, there are much more egregious examples in our culture of our beautiful and complex history being bastardized. She gave homage to the history, handled it with care, and played it well. What else could we want to be brought to the youthful masses? Bringing history to people who may not care otherwise and may have never witnessed reverence for history…that’s never going to cause outrage for me. I’ll spend my emotional beans on something else.