Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett has labeled her rendition of Kanye West single Black Skinhead “a misjudgment” after receiving online backlash from Fairfax Media. The History Eraser singer performed the cover as part of triple j‘s famed Like A Version segment, in which artists cover songs outside of their normal genre.
Barnett explained her choice for the cover to triple j hosts Tom Ballard and Alex Dyson, saying that despite her “wordy” lyrics, she isn’t a “hip hop head” and “thought it would be interesting to do [the cover], because it’s something [she] would never do.” Fairfax writer Clem Bastow however, took the view that she should never have done it at all, first taking to her blog to describe the cover as “one of the most infuriating and embarrassing things I have ever seen.”
Bastow followed up her comments by lamenting the fact that “a hell mouth that swallows up white indie artists doing earnest covers of rap songs and delivers them into a parallel dimension comprised entirely of flames” had not yet burgeoned and hoping the cover “gets pilloried online.” Bastow somewhat counterintuitively accompanied her comments with a YouTube embed of Barnett’s performance, contributing to the total views and overall profile of the video.
Barnett responded to the criticism in an interview with theMusic.com.au, saying “I chose this song because I wanted to challenge myself as a musician, that was my only intention. I respect and admire the original song and artist. My misjudgement was tackling the arrangement of this song without considering the wider context of the lyrics.”
Bastow further admonished the Melbourne singer in her Daily Life column, comparing the cover to the Hey Hey It’s Saturday blackface fiasco and insisting that “people will see and hear it that way.” Bastow took exception to Barnett’s failure to grasp the socio-political context of West’s “meditation on what it’s like to be a black man in America” and suggested “artists should tread carefully when choosing songs with an autobiographical or political theme to reinterpret if it is miles away from their own experience.”
The backlash comes not long after the internet community and artists such as Paramore singer Hayley Williams hit out at Miley Cyrus for her VMA performance, which they claimed contained detrimental racial overtones and exemplified “cultural appropriation.”
Watch: Courtney Barnett – Black Skinhead (Kanye West Cover)