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accidental racist

Music Awards Racism Spot-Check: Katy Perry Edition

Katy Perry opened tonight's American Music Awards with a performance of "Unconditional." Flanked by women playing the shamisen, Perry came out wearing a kimono and proceeded to throw out a lot of Japanese cultural touchstones. There were geisha moves (danced by seemingly non-Japanese back-up dancers), giant fans, cherry blossoms, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, and much more. All this cultural appropriation brought to mind two recent performances that were quickly and racially tut-tutted: Selena Gomez's Hindu-referencing Billboard Awards performance and, of course, Miley Cyrus's VMAs performance, which our own Jody Rosen called "minstrelsy [with] a postmodern careerist spin." In an effort to recalibrate our collective racism radar, which has been getting overtaxed at music award shows as of late: Was Perry's Great Wave of Japanese signifiers offensive, simply stereotypical, or harmlessly deferential in an inert Katy Perry maximalist way? Watch the performance below and discuss.