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Katy Perry’s “geisha” performance was racist - here’s why it matters.



(TW: racism, sexual violence, rape)

tl;dr - Asian women are fetishized and sexualized to their detriment in our society. When Katy Perry puts on Asian culture to give her boring song performance an “exotic” flavor for a few minutes, she doesn’t have to deal with the the stigma of being an Asian woman for the rest of her life. She can take the metaphorical chopsticks out of her hair and resume life as a white woman immediately after the song ends. In those five minutes where she “played Asian”, however, she reified and normalized the white fetishization of Asian women and Asian culture. This fetishization harms the Asian women that are dehumanized as submissive sexualized objects, and has been proven to lead to violence against Asian-American women.

In this essay, I plan on making five key points: 

1. Katy Perry’s “geisha” performance tonight was culturally appropriative.

2. There is a long history of mistreatment and ill-will towards Asian immigrants and Asian-Americans.

3. Western culture “otherizes” Asians by assigning all Asians certain characteristics.

4. Asian women in particular are fetishized. This sexualization of Asian women causes increased sexual violence against Asian-American women. 

5. Racism against Asians is often swept under the rug because of the model minority myth, and that won’t change until we start to address racist acts head-on. 

1. What happened tonight?


Katy Perry performed at the AMA’s tonight with a “geisha”-themed display that included a sexualized “geisha” costume (which people have pointed out also resembles a cheongsam), stunted pseudo-Asian dance/walking, cartoon Kabuki makeup on her backup dancers, lots of fans, people in “Oriental” costumes beating drums, rice paper screens, and lots of paper umbrellas. Here’s video of her performance and more pictures. Perhaps the most perplexing part about the performance was the fact that the song she performed, “Unconditional”, has no ties to Asian culture or aesthetics. Ms. Perry, however, does seem to have a fascination with Japanese culture. In a recent interview with Jimmy Kimmel, she said “I’m obsessed with Japanese people though”, and, speaking about a Japanese person (in the same interview), “I’m so obsessed, I want to skin you and wear you like Versace.”

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