Iggy Azalea, a born-and-raised rural Australian from Mullumbimby, is arguably the hottest pop-culture commodity in the world right now. Her hit single ‘Fancy’ has been #1 on the Billboard Singles Chart for six weeks, longer than any single by any female rapper in history. She’s smashed records and expectations, and not just records and expectations that have to be prefaced with ‘the first white/female rapper to do X’; she recently held the #1 and #2 positions on the Billboard Chart, a record equalled only by the gosh-darn Beatles.
So why don’t we, as Australians, really like her very much?
Tall Poppy Syndrome And The Cultural Cringe
Usually we love it when Aussie artists succeed in the U.S. — it’s such a source of pride that we’re even willing to pretend that successful New Zealanders are Australians so we can feel proud of ourselves when they succeed too.
Well, we feel proud to a point. At some stage, after years of loving and nurturing support from the Australian people, the poppy gets a bit too tall and we begin hacking our international stars back down to size. Barry Humphries, INXS, Germaine Greer, Steve Irwin — our nation’s schizophrenic relationship with stardom gets them all eventually.
Azalea hasn’t followed this course. She left Australia at 16 and found success in America before we as a nation even knew who she was; effectively, she’s skipped the stage in which we’re surprised by and chuffed with her success, and moved straight on to being eviscerated by our press. Take, for instance, this article in the Guardian Australia which makes the case that she’s “the least important thing to happen to Aussie hip-hop” before claiming that Azalea is a “truly rubbish rapper” and that “any one of a dozen artists could have made ‘Fancy’”.
If that’s not enough, check this Sydney Morning Herald piece that lists a series of attacks the press has made upon Azalea, and sort of defends her — though it’s also worth noting a quick search through the SMH‘s website reveals that the stories they’ve chosen to publish regarding Azalea have been overwhelmingly negative or critical.
The press isn’t disconnected from the word on the street; as a culturally aware, Coopers-drinking, flanny-wearing, twenty-something Australian, actually liking Iggy Azalea is simply not the done thing. Merely mentioning her name to one’s fellow culturally aware, Coopers-drinking, etc. peers is enough to make said peers wince, as though her nomenclature were a bad smell.
So why don’t we like her?
Cultural Appropriation And The White Girl Problem
Maybe it’s because we take umbrage with how she’s changed her accent to succeed overseas; we think this is culturally insensitive, and shows that she isn’t a credible artist. Maybe we believe that, because she’s made some insensitive remarks in the past, she really is a racist, and a sexist, and that she’s homophobic.
Those are all quite good reasons not to like somebody, but they’re almost certainly not the real reason we don’t like Iggy Azalea. As a nation, we still express tremendous warmth and enthusiasm for people who’ve said bigoted things. Also, changing your accent when you sing isn’t something we’re willing to actively condemn other Australian artists for (we like Sia, for Christ’s sake).
Maybe we genuinely don’t believe it’s appropriate for Iggy, a white woman, to shamelessly appropriate African-American culture. However, it’d be the first time since before Elvis that a whitey stealing from black culture had genuinely lessened this nation’s affection for an artist. Eminem? Macklemore? Vampire Weekend? Paul Simon? Ring any bells?
It’s Not Me, It’s You: Triple J And The Australian Indie Hype Machine
So what really, really, is the underlying reason that we’ve not warmed to Iggy Azalea?
My theory is that we’ve rejected her because she rejected us first, and our feelings are still hurt.
Azalea left Australia at 16, and moved to Miami to become a rapper. Why? Because, and she’s on the record about this, she didn’t like Australian rap music, and didn’t believe it was worth staying in Australia to pursue that dream; according to her, “a lot of the rappers in Australia…were so stereotypically Australiana that even I couldn’t identify with it. I think a lot of people thought that. It was trying so hard to be Australian that I can’t actually fucking take it.”
That was her original sin, for which she has not been forgiven.
According to JPlay.com.au, a website that documents Triple J playlists, Iggy Azalea has almost never been played on the station. While Iggy sometimes does get a run during House Party mixes and Mix Up Exclusives on Friday and Saturday nights, one would expect a female rapper with no record label push behind her, with a brand new viral, organic YouTube hit, rapping over dubstep when dubstep was a big Triple J thing, to get a bit more love from one of the biggest vehicles for Australian hip-hop in the last two decades.
All of this makes Iggy Azalea’s rise that much more interesting — as has been covered before, gaining indie cred in Australia without Triple J’s approval is virtually impossible. She’s breaking ethnic, cultural and gendered barriers not with the support of cultivated opinion, but in spite of it, and with its active detraction. She’s not received any advantage from the progressive press on behalf of personality-politics warriors, because personality-politics warriors and the progressive press really, really don’t like her.
And yet she’s still succeeding. Even when Azalea has been handicapped in Australia because the critical mass of ‘trendy’ opinion is monopolised against her, she’s still doing better, even strictly within this country, than virtually any Australian rapper before her. She’s not only the first Australian rapper to achieve any real success in America; she’s the first Australian rapper to achieve any real success in Australia without the active support of a taxpayer funded broadcaster.
Iggy Azalea has no indie cred at all, which means she has far, far more indie cred than anybody else.
James McCann is a a stand up comedian, and is the cowriter and composer of the multi-award winning ‘Wolf Creek the Musical’. His debut comedy album is available here.