by Bradley Walker
A recent article, published in the Guardian, by Lola Okolosie has called out X Factor act Honey G, accusing her of being the equivalent of modern day blackface. The article slammed Anna Gilford (a.k.a. Honey G) for being a “symbol of how race operates in the UK”. But is Honey G really a symbol of post-brexit Britain’s views on race? Or is she more so a representation of the X-Factor’s zany and distanced approach to recruiting “talent”?
While it’s up for debate whether Honey G is a serious contender or, indeed, a serious rapper, it is clear that she genuinely intends to win the competition. Gilford soared through both weeks one and two of the competition sending other acts -that may have been deemed more talented by many viewers- packing. Is Honey G’s popularity steeped in the racial climate of the country, and as Okolosie writes “the demeaning obsession with Black bodies?” Personally I don’t think that’s the case at all.
Honey G’s popularity stems less from the appropriation of “blackness”, and more likely from Gilford’s poor caricature of a rapper, and the fact that she is probably not a serious “talent” act. The ridiculousness of Honey G’s place as a finalist in the talent competition are where this “new national craze [has] come from”. If Honey G signifies anything, it’s the questionable quality of Saturday night television and talent shows, not racist ideology.
Novelty acts have regularly been an integral part of the line-up on The X Factor, and regardless of Honey G’s intent, that is her role in the show. Her butchering of classics by Tupac and Biggie Smalls may not be held in high esteem by viewers as great covers, but instead they may be found entertaining as acts of comedy.
I do not think this act performed by a middle aged woman is a reflection of the publics attitudes towards race or cultural appropriation, but rather a reflection of how much the British public love watching people make a fool of themselves. Honey G is not -as Okolosie claims- a product of ‘post Brexit Britain’. The humour in Honey G’s act is not rooted in undermining the struggles of the black community. I think people are finding humour in Honey G’s apparent belief that she is a serious artist, and the fact that she is supposedly so oblivious to how bad she really is. Yes the fact she is so distanced from the type of culture she is trying to (poorly) emulate may add to this amusement, but it is at her expense we find this funny.
It’s interesting, however, to discuss the parallels Okolosie draws between minstrel shows and Honey G’s act. Okolosie insinuates Gilford’s performances aren’t just casually insulting, but deliberately racially offensive. If this was genuinely the case I would understand the comparison, however it has been repeatedly stated by both Gilford and the show bosses that she is at least attempting to pursue a career in rap.
If her ‘ten year career’ in the industry is legitimate then it’s probably fair to assume that during that time that she has obtained a fairly broad knowledge of rap and its roots. Regardless, the extent of her knowledge of rap and rap history is ultimately unknown to us as viewers, and to Okolosie as a writer. It therefore is inaccurate to dub the act a modern day minstrel show as the intent of the act is not to appropriate black culture, but to appreciate it.
Regardless of the intention of Honey G, her act has evidently caused offence, as demonstrated by Okolosie’s article. While from my perspective the act is not so much offensive as a signifier of the ridiculousness of talent shows, there is no doubt she has caused controversy.
Maybe then it should be the job of producers to intervene, on occasion, if an act is likely to cause continued offence to viewers. In this case, Gilford has proven popular with fans and thus it is highly unlikely that X-Factor producers will see any need to change the approach of Gilford in upcoming weeks; if anything Gilford will be encouraged to continue in the vein she has been.
Overall though, the main point I want to make is that it is irresponsible to dub Gilford a ‘modern day minstrel show’ as this is very serious accusation . If anything, Gilford is more of a sideshow act, not a caricature of black culture. She is just another character in a slew of untalented talent show fodder.