What The Rise And Fall Of Iggy Azalea Tells Us About Cancel Culture
"Cancel culture largely disables us from looking at celebrities with nuance and context. We become so much more obsessed with the ‘what’ that we can completely ignore the ‘why’."
It’s hard to believe there was once a time when the biggest name in hip-hop was a 24-year-old white woman from Mullumbimby, but that is just one of the bewildering things about Iggy Azalea.
Just over five years ago she achieved worldwide domination with her Charli XCX-featuring ‘Fancy’. Within a year of its release, she was effectively cancelled — the Internet had deemed her too problematic, too controversial, and it expelled her from the charts she once conquered.
But, as her biggest song celebrates its fifth birthday, it’s worth taking a look back as to why she was ‘cancelled’, whether she deserved it and, ultimately, what we’ve learned since.
First Thing’s First, I’m The Realest
By today’s standards, Iggy should’ve copped a cancelling long before ‘Fancy.’ The term ‘culture vulture’, meaning to profit from a culture that one is not a part of or, frankly, doesn’t care about, has been thrown around a lot when talking about her.
We all know that no woman from Mullumbimby sounds the way Iggy raps, to the point where people who hadn’t seen her back in 2014 thought she was a black woman from Atlanta. But it turns out, rap wasn’t even her main forte — at least it wasn’t at one point. A few years, this video made the rounds of Iggy giving us a very generic, very auto-tuned pop song. Whether this was her own idea or a label move remains unclear.
Following her signing to T.I.’s Grand Hustle, she started gaining more notoriety and, in 2012, became the first ever woman to make XXL’s Freshman Class — interestingly the same year as Macklemore and Machine Gun Kelly.
Here’s where things started to take a turn. She released perhaps the most ironically titled mixtape of all time, Ignorant Art, which featured a song called ‘D.R.U.G.S.’ The song, which samples Kendrick Lamar’s 2010 track ‘Look Out For Detox’, includes the lyric: “When the relay starts, I’m a runaway slave master.”
The optics of a platinum blonde white woman saying she’s a slave master — while also comfortably miming a whip-motion in the accompanying video — is so astoundingly ignorant it makes you wonder how many people it went through for something like that to get approved. At least the song gave us this meme.
In a must-see interview in 2014, Azealia Banks, who had a longstanding beef with Azalea, referred to Iggy’s success as a “cultural smudging”, emotionally saying that institutions giving her the acclaim of ‘quintessential rap record’ are exploiting black culture.
“Y’all at least owe me the right to my identity, and not to exploit that shit,” she said.
Banks was right: It can be very easily argued that Iggy and her then label Def Jam were exploiting hip-hop and giving it a glossy pop makeover. Instead of just signing a southern black female rapper, Iggy — a white non-American — was a caricature of what she and her label thought that artist would sound like.
Between all that, her ‘blaccent’ and her long, long history of racist and homophobic tweets, it is astounding that her career ever took off in the first place. So why did it?
Bring The Hooks In
‘Fancy’ was a hit, and a bloody good one. The beat is to die for, Charli XCX’s hook is infectious to a clinical degree, and the shameless Clueless nostalgia that makes up the video keeps us going back for more.
But nothing Iggy did following that song really stood close to what the song achieved. Interestingly, it was around that time that the criticisms of her really started to gain traction, those old tweets started to resurface, and her career started to go downhill.
In that case, does one’s success determine whether they’ll be effectively cancelled? Well, in some ways. While it can certainly be said that criticisms become more relevant about someone that is popular, that popularity also shields them from any consequences because money talks louder than anyone on Twitter.
Let’s look at Eminem — another white rapper who continues to gain more followers with each album. But he grows no wiser with age, continuing to say horribly offensive shit all the time. In fact, he straight up threatened Iggy with rape in a leaked song ‘Vegas’ back in 2014. One week before that, he said he’d punch Lana Del Rey, who has spoken about her experience with physical abuse candidly. Last year, he apologised for calling Tyler, The Creator, who is openly queer, a “f*ggot” in Kamikaze track ‘Fall’ but then went and called Machine Gun Kelly a “cocksucker” last week.
Popularity also shields them from any consequences because money talks louder than anyone on Twitter.
This is someone who has openly admitted he knows better, but continues to make offensive remarks. Yet, he still broke the MCG’s live music attendance record last week. Of course, his career has been much longer and much more celebrated than Azalea’s, but that shouldn’t make him immune to criticism or being held accountable for his actions. He’s 46 years old.
Even bigger than Eminem is John Lennon, who once said he used to beat women, “any woman.” In an interview with Playboy in 1980, he explained his violent past, saying “it is the most violent people who go for love and peace.” Abuse is just about the one thing that’ll get you cancelled regardless of your status, and while Lennon can’t be cancelled or hold himself accountable for his actions because he is long dead, does that mean we can ignore his incredibly violent past, while his admittedly vast influence over modern music today continues to be appreciated?
Waters get muddied further when we talk about people like Kim Petras, whose success means great things for visibility of the trans community in pop music. However, she continues to work with Dr. Luke — accused of physically, sexually and emotionally abusing Kesha back in 2014 — and the Internet seems to think that’s excusable because she makes bops, despite living in a post #FreeKesha world.
With all that considered, it’s safe to say that cancelling an artist, by the majority of the Internet’s standards, only happens when the artist no longer does anything for us. When Iggy stopped giving us hits, the criticism intensified and her career slowed. But that doesn’t really do much for the premise of cancel culture, which is to make an example of people by saying “If you do X problematic thing, you will suffer the consequences.”
But that is ultimately a very broad, narrow-minded way to look at holding our artists accountable, and therein lies the inherent problem with ‘cancel culture’ — it’s simply not sustainable. Try as hard as we might, we are never going to be able to hold everyone to exactly the same standard.
It’s naturally much easier to stop supporting someone we casually enjoy as opposed to someone we’ve absolutely loved for years — that’s not anyone’s fault, that’s humanity. Not to mention, trying to hold others, and ourselves, to that standard is doing a complete disservice by us and expecting way too much.
Of course, some people find it easy to cut off support to artists that have done something problematic or offensive — and that’s fine, even admirable. But does that really mean we should condemn those of us who struggle to do the same? On top of that, it’s much easier to criticise someone who you’ve never met, but it’s much trickier to do the same to someone in your circle. There’s love and connection and intimacy in relationships we have with one another that simply don’t exist with artists.
Above all else, cancel culture largely disables us from looking at celebrities with nuance and context. We become so much more obsessed with the ‘what’ that we can completely ignore the ‘why’. Given, in some cases the ‘why’ is just because that person is a piece of shit — especially when it comes to some abusers, but in others, the ‘why’ can completely shift the lens.
Cancel culture largely disables us from looking at celebrities with nuance and context.
Would Kim Petras work with Dr. Luke if our patriarchal, largely transphobic society didn’t prevent her from working with whoever she pleased? Would Iggy Azalea rap the way she does if those around her — esteemed members of the hip-hop community — hadn’t said it was okay? We expect to be judged with nuance considered, but some of us struggle to do the same with the artists we listen to.
Is what Iggy Azalea did in her career worthy of criticism? Yes. Was it ignorant and offensive? Incredibly. Did she deserve to be cancelled? It depends on who you ask. But one thing that remains crystal clear is that fame is fickle, but cancel culture is ten times worse. It is rife with inconsistencies, with most of us engaging in selective cancellation and disregarding the fact that celebrities, at a base level, are human like the rest of us.
Cancel culture doesn’t allow for growth, despite all of us continuing to grow until we die.
Jackson Langford is a freelance music and culture writer from Newcastle. He is, actually, the realest. He tweets at @jacksonlangford.