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Sir Mix-a-Lot’s Grammy-winning hit “Baby Got Back” may be 24 years old — but the song is still as relevant as ever.
With the ongoing conversation about beauty and body-type ideals, specific lyrics, as well as the general sentiment of the song (that some men like big butts and cannot lie), continually resurface in pop culture. Both Katy Perry and Khloe Kardashian, two women known for celebrating their curves, were praised when they cheekily referenced the line “L.A. face with an Oakland booty” on social media (Perry in 2012, Kardashian in 2015). However, when Blake Lively used the lyric to caption a photo of herself wearing a curve-hugging dress on the red carpet in Cannes on Wednesday, social media erupted with cries of racial insensitivity. Critics admonished the actress for being “disrespectful” toward women of color. “Another day, another rich white woman using WOC’s bodies as a punchline and commodity,” wrote one woman on Twitter.
A photo posted by Blake Lively (@blakelively) on
Sir Mix-a-Lot, however, believes that the criticism has been blown out of proportion. The rapper admitted that he was “surprised” when the controversy was first brought to his attention by a friend, noting that Perry and Kardashian, also white women, hadn’t incited such outrage. Instead, Sir Mix-a-Lot reveals that his 1992 hit was not about race, but rather the varying definitions of beauty.
A friend of mine, he said, “Dude, I know Katy Perry did this, one of the Kardashians did this, but I don’t understand, what did this girl do to make everybody pissed off?” So I checked it out, and looked at it and I was kind of … I liked it. You know, I like stuff like that, but I was a little surprised at the criticism.
Let’s rewind to when I wrote the song. And I am in no way trying to say that I speak for all black people. I think that people that do that need to be shut down pretty quickly because it makes us kind of monolithic, which is silly. But the reason I wrote the song was because I always felt that the African-American idea of what was beautiful was shunned. If you go back and look at 1990, 1991, you only saw African-American women and Hispanic women who were either a maid or a hooker. I watched a lot of Law and Order, Gimme a Break, Mama’s House and all those shows, and you saw the same thing. They were always my size: overweight, and that’s the way they wanted to see us. I don’t know who “they” is, but it seems like the powers that be in Hollywood or the heads of magazines or whatever wanted to see us that way.
Now at the same time, what was promoted as beautiful was kind of really waif-thin, borderline heroin addicts. I don’t mean that literally, I mean the look. That was kind of pushed at us, and we were told that it was beautiful, and what I started to see was some people of color either being ashamed of who they were or trying their best to assimilate. So I wrote “Baby Got Back,” not to say which race is prettier — which is silly, because there were white women with the same curves that were told that they were fat, too. There were people that were actually saying that Marilyn Monroe looked bad. They didn’t say that at her peak, obviously, they said it later on.
So I wrote this song not as a battle between the races. I wrote the song because I wanted Cosmopolitan, I wanted all these big magazines to kind of open up a little bit and say, “Wait a minute, this may not be the only beautiful.” I mean, I don’t look at Serena Williams as fat. I don’t think she has an ounce of fat anywhere on her. I didn’t want there to be one voice. I wanted to say, “Hey, us over here! What we feel like is this.”
What I meant by “L.A.” was Hollywood. In other words, makeup or whatever it took to make that face look good, they do it in L.A. But, as much as you can throw makeup on something, you can’t make up the butt. That’s what L.A. face and Oakland booty meant. You can put makeup on that face and make it look beautiful, but a butt is a butt, a body is a body.
Fast-forward to Blake Lively. For her to look at her butt and that little waist and to say “L.A. face with an Oakland booty,” doesn’t that mean that the norm has changed, that the beautiful people have accepted our idea of beautiful? That’s the way I took it.
Now let me do this, as far as the critics are concerned: I don’t want to come off like, “Oh, he’s an Uncle Tom,” because I’m not. If what Blake Lively meant by that comment was, “Oh my goodness, I’ve gained weight, I look horrible,” if that’s what she meant — and I doubt that she did — then I’m with the critics. But no one in the world is gonna tell me that a woman that wears that dress is thinking that she’s fat. No, I’m sorry, it just doesn’t happen. It sounds like to me like she was giving the line props.
I think she’s saying, “I’ve got that Oakland booty,” or “I’m trying to get it.” I think we have to be careful what we wish for as African-Americans, because if you say she doesn’t have the right to say that, then how do you expect her at the same time to embrace your beauty? I mean, I don’t get it. I think it’s almost a nod of approval, and that was what I wanted. I wanted our idea of beautiful to be accepted.
I think now not only is it accepted, but it’s expected.
That’s my thing. I’m not telling people what they can like and not like. That song was written with African-American women in mind, but trust me when I tell you that there are women out there with those curves everywhere, and they were once considered fat. And that’s what the song was about. It wasn’t about some race battle.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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