Rock's answer to Eeyore, Magnetic Fields brainchild Stephin Merritt, was once accused of being racist for his professed love of the song "Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah" (from Song of the South, the insanely minstrely black sheep of the Disney catalog) and for not seeming too into black music. Well, two can play that game, as Merritt has called out Adele's legion of fans for some bigotry of their own in an interview with Dan Weiss for L.A. Weekly. Here's how it goes down:
Merritt: I like Adele, though I have some reservations about why people like her.
L.A. Weekly: What reservations?
Merritt: She really has a lovely voice, but I only get suspicious when people get excited about British people who sound like American black people.
L.A Weekly: That's fair.
Merritt: Basically she sounds like Anita Baker. And people are not, you know, wild and crazy about Anita Baker.
There is something unsavory about the way audiences sometimes disproportionately favor white artists making black music. Witness Eminem's repeated appearances on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks (now Alternative Songs) chart with songs sporting an unmistakably hip-hop bounce like "My Name Is" and "Without Me." The only way to explain his crossing-over to rock radio is his skin color. Yikes.
But a white woman singing soulfully (and not even to beat-oriented music the vast majority of the time – seriously, give this woman a break) is not a new or unique phenomenon, and wouldn't be any phenomenon if a black woman such as Whitney Houston didn't turn the gospel singing style into the standard for pop. And that was, by the way, around the time Baker was racking up platinum albums and taking home armfuls of Grammys. People were, in fact, wild and crazy about Baker (some, ahem, still are). The reason she's not a current hit-maker is because she's over 50 (the Top 40 has only grown more ageist) and she hasn't released a studio album since 2005's Christmas Fantasy.
Also, people don't listen to Lisa Stansfield anymore, and she's a white British woman who sings R&B. So where does that leave us? With some bad examples that don't take the complexity of taste and influence into account. Beyoncé, the biggest name in contemporary R&B, said her most recent album 4 was influenced in part by white Brit Florence Welch and, you guessed it, Adele. Before that, she covered Anita Baker in concert, though, just in case you were worried that Beyoncé was racist.
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