Musicians don’t always shy away from using controversial subject matter, and most are pretty unapologetic when it comes to the use of any incendiary lyrics. However, there is certainly a difference between “tough” or “thought-provoking” and “totally tone-deaf.”
Recently, Nashville singer-songwriter Ashlee K. Thomas recorded a song about living on the east side of Nashville — or, as Thomas calls it in the song title, “The Ghetto.”
Yep. A middle-class white lady wrote a song about living in the ghetto (as though she were the second coming of Elvis Presley or something). It went over about as well as you’d expect.
It isn’t simply that Thomas is singing about the ghetto — it’s the fact that the song lyrics themselves are so trite, and so oblivious as to the obvious problematic undertones of the song, i.e., gentrification and harmful stereotypes, courtesy of white people.
As Samantha Grasso at The Daily Dot writes:
“Gunshots and sirens are the music of the ‘hood,’” Thomas opens in the first line. Then comes the grimace-inducing nitty gritty.
People with “flashy rims, low riders,” are “up to no good,” while transplant Thomas “doesn’t fit in.” But don’t worry, dear listener—”she’s good living in the ghetto.” She gets by with a flashed smile and a peace sign.
The song’s imagery doesn’t get much better. While one person pushes all their possessions down the sidewalk in a grocery cart, Thomas muses, another prays to God while standing in line at the welfare office. Thomas sometimes gets hollered at for some cash, but otherwise she manages to fit in among the milieu of smoke, discarded bottles, and random street fights.
It’s cringe-y just reading the lyrics, but the music video doesn’t do Thomas many favors, either.
Adding insult to injury, the video for the song features Thomas doing yoga in an empty warehouse. BECAUSE I GUESS THAT HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH LIVING IN THE GHETTO??
Not surprisingly, people were pissed about Thomas’ utter disregard for her privilege and her cultural appropriation. The music video received an influx of criticism, which Thomas took to Twitter to address.
Unfortunately, rather than simply apologizing, Thomas just made the whole thing worse.
Twitter users were quick to put Thomas in her place and tell her why the song is offensive to people.
Although one person did offer a fairly helpful suggestion.
However, Thomas apparently didn’t take any of these (accurate) corrections to heart. In the description under the YouTube video, the musician alluded to the controversy caused by the song, but still refused to apologize:
I have love in my heart, body and energy for the people deeply affected by this song & video. I am understanding and compassionate towards the chord this strikes and how difficult my bringing light to a very real truth and shrouding it in love and yoga, is.
Thomas added that she has no intention to apologize for the whitewashed song and video.
“I stand by this song and video,” Thomas apparently wrote in a YouTube comment, according to the Tennessean. “Aside from moving from the suburbs, this song is not about me. This song is an observation of what I’ve seen in Nashville, Memphis, India, South America and other places I’ve traveled. I do yoga in the video, because yoga helps me do better at living wherever I am.”
So, it looks like Thomas isn’t budging on what she perceives to be her “truth” — even though it’s actually someone else’s “truth” that she’s simply using as a convenient accessory for her songwriting.
But you know the most annoying thing about this whole debacle? The song and music video would still be terrible even without the controversial undertones.