I've read a number of good pieces lately about the hypocrisy and problematic racial overtones of Lorde, Macklemore, and Lily Allen's respective criticisms of "consumerist" musical culture. In particular, I liked Ayesha A. Siddiqi's take:
From Lorde to Macklemore, it's a sentiment that's galling for its popularity: white artists need to stop using the wealth signifiers of rap music to gesture at their self-important "anti-consumerism." What Allen misses as she washes rims in a kitchen decorated only with bottles of champagne is that it's not anti-consumerism when it only targets one type of consumer.
Rap owns a unique history soundtracking the triumph of financial success in a country that long barred black Americans from that success. It shouldn't be an opportunity for white artists to wax superior. Beyond poor taste, it's the myopia of latent racism that's more anxious about gold chains on a rapper than an Armani tie on a hedge fund analyst.
Reading this, I thought of something a friend who worked in advertising for years told me: that a lot of his job, at his firm, came down to "how do I sell this to the 'urban market,'" i.e. young black people. I'm going to state up front that I've never worked in advertising so I am going off of his testimony and that of others I know who have worked or do work in the same industry. But the impression I've consistently been given is that many major advertising campaigns focus on getting young African-American people to want to buy something, and that this used to leverage whatever product it is as "cool" to other (read: white) markets.
If this is even sometimes true, it adds another layer of problematization to this whole conversation — basically creates a double bind. White artists are criticizing the very consumerist culture that white advertisers kept hoping to create — if that's not a glaring example of white privilege, I don't know what is.
I'm consistently struck by how little credit is given to the conscientiousness of the (majority non-white) artists being "called out" in these songs. As Siddiqi points out, Rihanna's latest song is all subversion of the male gaze, and Nicki Minaj calls bullshit on a lot of gender-based nonsense, and has for a while. But those aren't the narratives with which these critical white artists engage — instead, it's the lazy stereotype about the flaunting of wealth, deployed by people who wield a privilege that most of the artists they criticize have never had claim to.
ETA: I want to stress: I am not trying to remove agency from non-white consumers. By pointing out a potentially common marketing strategy, I just want to illustrate the kinds of social pressures blatantly being applied to non-white consumers that are not taken into account by these artists' critiques.
Further, if someone with actual experience re: marketing and race wants to weigh in, I would be really interested in hearing your take.