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What makes a musician “unauthentic”?

I keep seeing articles about Iggy Azalea; most have the same complaint–she is not “authentic”. But when you dig deep, it looks like “authentic” is a code word for black.

Usually there is the complaint that she is from Australia, but drops her accent. This is nothing new. Most artists from other countries adopt our accent when they sing here. I have yet to hear anyone complain that the Beatles were not “authentic”. And Keith Urban is not from Texas, but no one complains that he is not “authentic”.

There is the complaint that she is trying to bring back ’88, but wasn’t even born then. But no one complains about Michael BublĂ© or Harry Connick Jr. singing in the style of older crooners. And they complain that she doesn’t write her own music. According to T.I., she does. But even if she did not, she would not be the first singer to sing someone else’s songs.

Another common refrain is that she doesn’t have the “real street” experience. They used to complain about Eminem, too. But they had to stop using the code word when it turned out that he had lived it. They seldom level the charge against black hip-hop artists that grew up middle class, in part because they never question those artists origins.

Iggy didn’t grow up in Compton or Atlanta, but America does not have the only “hoods”. She was lucky not to face the risk of being shot in the streets like American kids, thanks, gun lobby, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t have any challenges. She left home at 16 to pursue her art, and came to America to develop it.

But so what? Is art only real if the artist draws from personal experience? Can we have no empathy? If not, then nearly all of our art isn’t.

There is an extensive history of musicians borrowing beats, lyrics, and styles from each other. It is what made our sound of today. Without it, there would be little innovation. But Iggy is a white girl from Australia. So she must not be “authentic”.