Amateur creators need more than just creative tools and money to make it
Addison Rae is what happens when we encourage Black creativity but fail to support it with sustainable business models.
Last week, TikTok star Addison Rae appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon to promote her new single “Obsessed” and apparently Fallon’s producers thought it would be cute for Rae to “teach” the host eight different TikTok dances, including “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd, Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” and “Up” by Cardi B. It was a goofy two-and-a-half minutes of TV, mostly because Rae danced to instrumentals played by Fallon’s house band “The Roots” instead of the recorded versions of the songs to avoid copyright takedowns.
But it was also eye-roll-inducing because The Tonight Show failed to credit the Black creators who invented the dances the 20-year-old Rae, with her nearly 80 million followers, popularized through her videos in the segment. Alternatively, it posted the handles of the creator’s in the video description, which is only visible when you click the “Show More” link. (Here are the creators whose dances were featured in the segment: “Do It Again”: @noahschnapp; “Savage Love”: @jazlynebaybee; “Corvette Corvette”: @yvnggprince; “Laffy Taffy”: @flyboyfu; “Savage”: @kekejanjah; “Blinding Lights”: @macdaddyz; “Up”: @theemyanicole; “Fergalicious”: @thegilberttwins.)
This type of whitewashing has been well-documented over the past year with Jalaiah Harmon serving as the most visible example after The New York Times profiled her when she was ignored as the creator of the Renegade, one of the biggest internet dances of the past year-plus. It wasn’t for not trying though: After school and between classes, Harmon asked influencers to tag her and set up her own TikTok account with a video of herself in front of a green screen Googling the question “who created the Renegade” dance to correct the record. From Taylor Lorenz at The Times:
Though Jalaiah is very much a suburban kid herself — she lives in a picturesque home on a quiet street outside of Atlanta — she is part of the young, cutting-edge dance community online that more mainstream influencers co-opt.
The Renegade dance followed this exact path. On Sept. 25, 2019, Jalaiah came home from school and asked a friend she had met through Instagram, Kaliyah Davis, 12, if she wanted to create a post together. Jalaiah listened to the beats in the song “Lottery” by the Atlanta rapper K-Camp and then choreographed a difficult sequence to its chorus, incorporating other viral moves like the wave and the whoa.
She filmed herself and posted it, first to Funimate (where she has more than 1,700 followers) and then to her more than 20,000 followers on Instagram (with a side-by-side shot of Kaliyah and her performing it together).
“I posted on Instagram and it got about 13,000 views, and people started doing it over and over again,” Jalaiah said. In October, a user named @global.jones brought it to TikTok, changing up some of the moves at the end, and the dance spread like wildfire. Before long, Charli D’Amelio had posted a video of herself doing it, as did many other TikTok influencers. None gave Jalaiah credit.
Months later, Tanya Chen at BuzzFeed News profiled a group of Black TikTokers and their campaign to get the app’s most popular users to credit their work:
[21-year-old Atlanta resident Bryan] Sanon said in both his immediate community in Atlanta and among Black dancers on the app, it's common practice to give a nod to someone who created original choreography. He wants that to become widespread.
“Smaller creators definitely give dancer credit, and people in my own community — the African American community on TikTok — definitely lean toward that aspect of the app, but things change when you do something that someone thinks is hot,” he said. “They will definitely run away with it. And that sucks. It happens to a lot of people that I know.”
He believes most non-crediting he sees on TikTok is blatant laziness from big content creators "not doing their research.” He also thinks many of them play coy, or try to take credit for something by omission.
“It's the ‘play dumb’ aspect. People start asking questions and they [respond,] ‘Hmm? I don't know’ ... and it's like, ‘No, this is from over here,’” he said.
On Monday, Rae responded to the criticism, first explaining the difficulty of crediting and during the show while acknowledging that the creators were credited in the YouTube post. “But they all know that I love them so much, and I mean, I support all of them so much,” she added. “And hopefully, one day we can all meet up and dance together.” A spokesperson for the Fallon show was not immediately available for comment.
Alexa Lisitza at BuzzFeed wrote a sentence-by-sentence rebuttal to Rae’s response. She pushed back against the perceived difficulty of in-show credits by pointing out Fallon’s team could have added a graphic to the bottom of viewers’ screens with each creator’s name similar to when the show plays impression games. Lisitza also wondered why Rae didn't ask the show to extend an invitation to each creator if she was interested in collaborating with them. If the logistics were too complicated for that, then Rae could collaborate with creators via “duets,” a TikTok feature that enables creators to respond to, react or join in on another user's video and one that Rae often uses. Finally, Lisitza said Rae could have simply mentioned their names to her millions of followers instead of waxing poetic about how amazing they are.
To be clear, Rae won’t be the last cute white creator accused of profiting from marginalized Black creativity. From Rebecca Jennings at Vox:
“Mainstream audiences are only ever really going to have room in their brains for a handful of breakout stars. Even if Addison Rae gives you credit for your dance on her TikTok post (they’ve all been getting better about this!), that doesn’t mean much to a marketing executive or a talent booker who comes across her video as an example of why she’d be good at selling lip gloss. The same mechanisms of celebrity, the ones that favor “family-friendly” faces (a.k.a. young, beautiful white kids from middle class backgrounds), are still very much in play here, especially when that fame is largely driven by algorithms that serve people what they already want.”
This explains why it’s past time to address the structural challenges that prevent Black creators from monetizing their creativity and reclaiming the economic value that’s often captured by white creators who can exploit their privilege and family’s resources into opportunities that underserved communities don’t know exist in the first place.
Tech companies are proficient in introducing beaucoup features that enable creative expression. Just yesterday, for example, Instagram introduced its own duet-like feature. And today Twitter announced functionality to add stickers and GIFs to Fleets, the app’s take on the Stories format Snapchat revolutionized and Instagram cloned. But this overemphasis on creative expression paints a picture that creativity can sustain itself without a business model to support it.
I grew up in a middle-class family with a Dad who invests in the stock market and saves for a rainy day. But there were no entrepreneurs in my orbit to learn from. My parents didn’t have a professional network of movers and shakers for us to connect with. They were unaware of how to design a career from our creativity. In fact, for a while in my early to mid-twenties, my parents silently bit their thumbs whenever me and my sister’s creative ambitions took us outside of the corporate boundaries that offered them such stability. The principal reason I’m here is that I’ve been able to piece together a safety net from a generous support system until I figured this subscription media business out.
The good news is tech companies are now investing meaningful dollars to derisk the initial phase of a creator’s independent journey. But many of them provide few pathways to exploring management and representation for creators who are on the cusp of breakout fame but unsure of how to maximize it. Because when you think about it, it’s not dances that separate the Addison Raes of the world from the Black creators you’ll never hear from. It’s the economic advantages inherent to people who look like her that leave Black creators grasping for credit when they should be household names themselves.
Fingers crossed: SCOTUS looks like it’s on the verge of disrupting college sports 🙏🏾
My pro-creator stance is built upon the belief that the people who create the media, art and technology that moves the world forward should enjoy a fairer share of the economic value they generate. So yesterday I closely followed the oral arguments in a Supreme Court case that could determine if college athletes can get paid from their name, image and likeness. And so far it appears the SCOTUS is on the verge of disrupting college sports as we know it. From Adam Liptak at The New York Times:
“A ruling in favor of the education-related payments at issue in the case would be among the largest breakthroughs to date in the effort to pay college athletes, which has gained momentum in recent years as one state after another considers proposals to allow them to profit from their fame. It would also be yet another blow to the N.C.A.A., which has found its business model increasingly under siege and has argued that payments would effectively professionalize students.”
Last year, a federal appeals court ruled that the NCAA couldn’t limit educational benefits for Division I football and basketball players, which paved the way for payments on items like musical instruments, scientific equipment, postgrad scholarships, tutoring, study abroad and academic awards and internships. In an opinion for the unanimous three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals in San Francisco, Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas wrote, “Uncapping certain education-related benefits would preserve consumer demand for college athletics just as well as the challenged rules do.”
But critics agree with Justice Samuel Alito who argued that athletes are already paid “They get lower admission standards. They get tuition, room and board, and other things. That’s a form of pay,” he said. “So the distinction is not whether they’re going to be paid. It’s the form in which they’re going to be paid and how much they’re going to be paid.” And no matter what happens next, Dan Wetzel at Yahoo Sports argues the NCAA has only itself to blame for finding itself at the mercy of the court to begin with:
If nothing else, Wednesday morning showed how decades of ineffective leadership — both at the NCAA, in conference offices and on campus — have left college sports prone. Rather than evolve, compromise and change with the times, college sports has clung to the status quo via lawyers, lobbying and scare tactics. (Competitive balance! Academics!)
Watch this space as a ruling on the case is expected by the end of June.
Bloomberg preps itself for a post-cookie world
Third-party cookies have been a linchpin of the consumer internet for the past couple of decades. They’re used by ad companies to follow you ‘round the web to build a profile of you and your interests so they can target you with personalized ads. But Google, whose third-party cookies are on a ton of websites, announced early last month that it would stop selling targeted behavioral digital ads and disable cookies on its Chrome browser from collecting your data. In response, companies are investing meaningful resources into building out their own first-party platforms so they can sustain their businesses in this post-cookie world.
Take Bloomberg Media, a business and financial news publisher owned by billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, for example. Yesterday Mike Juang at AdAge reported that the company is developing Bloomberg Iris, an in-house advertising solution that would enable it to bypass third-party platforms:
Bloomberg Iris works by grouping information from signed-in subscribers into four broad categories: behavioral, contextual, personal and research data. Iris then processes this information to build deep insights of its audiences, something it currently nicknames, “contextual plus.” Iris creates segments that can be made available to all of Bloomberg’s direct or programmatic guarantee clients through the way they traffic and set up their campaigns, says [Bloomberg Media global head of digital Julia] Beizer.
This is likely to be money well spent, as the businesses and individuals who thrive in the new economy are those that own their creative work, own the relationships with their communities and own the value those assets generate.
In Other News:
— Consumers spent $32 billion on apps across both iOS and Google play in Q1 2021, up 40 percent from the previous year, according to analytics firm App Annie. [TechCrunch]
— Apple added two new voice options for Siri and will no longer default to a female voice starting with iOS 14.5 [9to5 Mac]
— The Pfizer coronavirus vaccine is still 91 percent effective against the virus after six months. [The Hill]
— As of last week, lawmakers in 47 state legislatures have introduced 361 restrictive election bills, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at NYU. [NBC News]
— Related: President Joe Biden said he would “strongly support” moving the Major League Baseball game from Georgia over the state’s new anti-voting law. [WaPo]
— But voting rights activist Stacey Abrams said that companies should “stay and fight” instead of boycotting the state. [USA Today]
— New York will end long-term solitary confinement in its prisons and jails starting next March. (Next up: banning the grim practice altogether.) [NYT]
— A new survey found that transgender and nonbinary people, Asian, Latinx and Indigenous people, and women reported an increase in harassment despite working remotely from their colleagues during the pandemic. [TheGrio]
— British artist Faye Toogood teamed up with Birkenstock on a stylish three-sandal collection full of muted tones and cool textures like felt, leather and canvas. [Vogue]