Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Aura Dione – Geronimo

So our editor went to Denmark last week..


Iain Mew: I like to think that the reason this song starts off with a poor Auto-Tuned rip-off of “Disturbia” is just so that the expansive and inventive pop journey that comes up afterwards has the element of surprise on its side. Though I suppose its nonsense “jeejeejojolalaromaromama” hook is there at the start too to give you a clue so, um, who knows. I’m too busy enjoying Aura’s Shakira-like inflections, “I paint my face with tear drop drops” and the way the drums skip up behind the big “do it all for love” statement to think about it too much.

Edward Okulicz: Tempting and obvious to say she’s a Faroe Islands Shakira but damned if I can’t also hear Lena Mayer-Landrut in there too. In other words, she’s a mess of vocal tics, awkward lyrics and cutesy immaturity, and is either going to delight you or get on your nerves. Fortunately, the song itself is catchy enough to give delight a respectable chance; it doesn’t so much build into a chorus as sweep you into it. If you close off that part of your brain that interprets words and stuff, your pleasure centres will thank you.

Alfred Soto: An odd one: Shakira making like Rihanna. All this and an acoustic guitar riff too. The verses faff around a bit, but the nonsense chorus is indelible: the artist earns the right to call herself “Aura Dione.”

Brad Shoup: Does the first Gaga album count as retro? I’m a little nervous about those drums in conjunction with that title, but as a whole, the song’s pleasant near-nonsense, spinning out stirring melodies and a modicum of AM mystery.

Katherine St Asaph: “Geronimo,” to lazily Americanize, is what would happen if Lady Gaga remained cocooned inside her “Just Dance” vocal processing after Adele cast her ballads into the heart of the charts: slow, slick vocals and canned guitars in a taste-test to see whose syrup cloys more. Dione does add percussion later, but it’s less clatter than Tedder. And all that’s before you even consider the conceit, asking listeners to believe that clubgoers would ever — ever — use “geronimo” as a close-the-pickup line.

Ian Mathers: The production and vocals seems a bit ersatz, I’m a little bit skittish around the use of “Geronimo” and the other lyrics don’t impress, and the whole thing never quite goes as nuts as it seems like it could or should. But I really like the bit in the chorus where she starts burping up syllables. Not quite enough to redeem the whole song, but it’s a start.

Anthony Easton: There is a Cherokee journalist and academic named Adrienne K who writes a blog called Native Appropriations. She spends a lot of time pointing out how hipsters who are worried about blackface or other casual racism(s) don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how the constant absorption and remixing of  images from Aboriginal cultures could be equally problematic. She would have a field day with the privileges assumed by this text.

48 Responses to “Aura Dione – Geronimo”

  1. I’ll give you weird and thoughtless, but where’s the insult/racism? It’s really not specific enough for that. I doubt Adrienne would call this something other than random, like the Pow Wow lipgloss from Lush. Also this is about a billion miles away from blackface in so many ways.

  2. Oh gee, thanks for letting us know what’s racist and what’s not, Andreas. Do you want to inform the minorities, or shall I?

  3. I think it was a legit question; Anthony and I were discussing this song earlier.

  4. I think it’s a legitimate topic of conversation. I held back on it because I don’t know whether Dione’s using “geronimo” as a figure of speech/second-language thing. Not that this would excuse anything, but for all I know, she or her songwriters could’ve known it only as an “olly olly oxenfree” type expression.

  5. Actually, the pow wow lip gloss from lush is the perfect example of what i am talking about.

  6. I was responding to the rest of the post, guys, not the question.

  7. It’s a shame; “pow” and “wow” are two of our funnest words. I bet there are 20 Archie Comics stories with those words in the title.

  8. Gee, Ian, are you part of the minority in question? So why is you claiming it is racist to me really not seeing it any different? It is easily as condescending. Also, as I have noted, nobody could really say what is specifically bad here. There’s more of a general unease about it than anything. And if the lip gloss is a perfect example then this isn’t racist (as in “condescending stereotyping”) but really just a bit odd.

  9. There was a lot of talk after Osama was killed in “Operation Geronimo Strike” about the appropriation of his name. This is obv a much lighter context, but I’ve never heard of or read an NA activist NOT disagreeing with non-NA people using it, many of whom probably not even knowing he was a real person. Just because Ian and Anthony aren’t NA doesn’t mean they aren’t aware of how huge the issue of appropriation is to that community, enough to know that this would obviously be a part of that; Anthony even provided a link.

  10. Native Appropriations doesn’t really address the use of Geronimo as such; someone commenting on one of her posts mentions the Bin Laden mission (which I suppose could have been called Operation Shoot a Man in the Head), there’s a mention of a “Geronimo” t-shirt but her stated problem is the juxtaposition of a stereotypically-depicted Native American’s head with the name of the clothing company (Make Believe), and she touches on Mardi Gras krewes that use “Indian” trappings but decides that a shared marginalization means she ultimately is sort of OK with it.

    If Cecil Adams is to be believed, yelling “Geronimo” as a way of steeling oneself toward bravery dates to Army parachute troops in 1940. They’d just watched a film that depicted Geronimo (probably 1939’s Geronimo, which seems to have presented him as a murderous, cunning criminal who had to be brought to justice.

    In summary: kind of gross. But he was, of course, a real person who had real connotations in the culture for decades, and we know, of course, that famous people don’t usually get to dictate how their reputation and name are bent by both the creative class and everyone else. (Catherine and I ate at Genghis Grill last weekend, for instance.)

    Meanwhile, according to interviews, Aura Dione was raised by globetrotting hippies, and moved to Australia when she was 17, where she says she was “very inspired” by aboriginal peoples. Did she actually make a meaningful connection, or did she observe from afar? Do any of her songs reflect this inspiration, or is she satisfied with cod-tribal drums and the invocation of a long-dead Native American leader? Does her presumably privileged European status preclude her from invoking Geronimo, or does her (again, presumably) liberal worldview grant her a measure of absolution? There’s a lot going on here, and there’s room across the “racist/innocent” opinion spectrum, as there often is.

  11. I dunno, hippie parents + “inspired” by aborigines sounds a lot like every hipster justifying their wearing a cheap headdress. Australian aborigines have nothing to do with Geronimo, which is sort of like that same hipster going “but I’m honoring your people!” and then the NA person going “but my people don’t have anything to do with that custom,” except we’re not even talking the same continent.

    That article explains the custom, but it doesn’t excuse it. In fact, As the chutes popped open, the guys on the ground could clearly hear a shout of “Geronimo!” followed by an Indian war whoop is really just… racist. They base it on his depiction in a western, and it took a very, very long time for westerns to actually portray NA people in a non-racist way; they’re still seen as being one of the biggest and most damaging contributors to the racist stereotypes today. Bunch of white people yelling “Geronimo” and mimicking war cries is not a good look in any decade.

    And no, famous people typically don’t have the power to control the interpretation of their legacy, but this is just as much about oppressive treatment of an entire people as it is about one man, and people certainly have a right to defend the dead’s memory. If suddenly a rumor spread that George Harrison was a mass murderer, there’d sure be a lot of folks coming to his defense. Arguing that someone who is a hero to a lot of people should receive more respect than he does by the masses who only know his name from a custom that had nothing to do with him or his culture isn’t all that irrational.

  12. I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying. And part of the reason I keep coming back to this is the fit I pitched about the tUnE-yArDs single that we reviewed on the same day. By comparison, the (even joking) tossing-off of gangsta tropes makes this seem pretty mild to me, somewhere in the range of saying “highbrow” despite its (nearly-forgotten) phrenological origins.

  13. By the way, my point wasn’t that aborigines and native Americans are the same people, or that Dione considers them to be, just that she may be aware of these sorts of minefields and has made her piece with the reference. Or that with her experiences, she should know better. I’m fine with either conclusion.

  14. This thread’s been educational. I’d no clue that “Geronimo” was such a charged word.

  15. Brad and I have had this conversation–and I think what makes this more racist than the tune-yards (and not much more, and it’s not a conversation that I believe strongly right now, one that I am being wrestled out of) is that the absence of historical referents and the use of first nation’s culture so shallowly is allowed because there is a genocidal blank. That we don’t know who Germonio is, and we feel free to use him in such capacities, is the problem.

  16. I am still a bit confused to be honest. Is this also racist just for using the name? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5C8AC6V2KQ&ob=av2e

  17. Dubious appropriation as found in this song is distinct from what the majority of people probably see as racism. People have different definitions of that. Don’t worry Andreas, nobody thinks you’re some kind of racist brute because you don’t find it a bit icky (at least I hope nobody does).

  18. is it a prarire/america thing?

  19. I’d suggest to any USAers/Canadians commenting that the racial politics surrounding Indigenous American culture are far more salient to people who live in North America. I can understand how this could seem much more innocuous to a Dane than to an American.

  20. that’s what i suspected, but I have always been a little nervous about the Karl May Cowboys and Indians schtick that permeates Northern Europe.

  21. The point is to make it more salient, and less innocuous.

  22. Sure, and it should be! But, really, how familiar with racial sensitivities in foreign societies are Americans? Two wrongs et al, but there’s something unpleasantly hegemonic in this expectation that people who don’t own that history should be as familiar with its discourses as those who do.

  23. That’s the problem and the joy of the jukebox, is poking other people’s hegemonies

  24. That is in fact one of my gripes with american race discourse – it tends to assume that their sensibilities are shared the world over. Germany for example does have Blackface, and so do the Netherlands; however Dutch blackface: kinda racist, German blackface: Not so much (In the Netherlands black face paint makes you svarte piet, Santa’s punishing left hand, violent, scary and wild – in Germany children who paint their face black are dressing up as one of the biblical three kings who brought Gold and Spices to Baby Jesus, and it’s not really considered a racist issue there)

  25. And about racism in this, its apparently a bit blurry and much more loaded than i had assumed. Bottom line is: I doubt that song will be published in the US, and it’s probably a good idea not to.

  26. So, again, whenever a bunch of (generally) white people get together and decide something isn’t racist, that’s good enough for you. Good to know.

  27. Well, it’s not like all Americans are super-sensitive to issues surrounding Native American appropriation — see the sports pages of the Washington Post, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for proof.*

    But ignorance is no excuse — liberal Australians of any race would be right to criticize white Americans who thought it was cool to appropriate Australian aboriginal culture, even though the issue has less salience here. And (bringing it tenuously back to music) bands like Beirut, Vampire Weekend, etc. have been criticized for making use of Roma or Ghanian musical traditions that aren’t their own — even when I don’t agree with the criticisms, I think it’s a good thing that the conversations are happening, if only to educate people on the existence of actual Roma and Ghanian music.

    *For the rest of the world: the Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, and Atlanta Braves are popular sports franchises, and both the names and the iconography of the clubs are racist as hell, but because it doesn’t involve black people most Americans don’t acknowledge it.

  28. And for further Braves background, turn here

  29. I am totally in favor of non-Americans learning more about the nuances of US culture. I think that’s important. But I also think that Americans tend to not realize that, particularly online, they Americanize neutral spaces. Even the discourse surrounding appropriation tends to acquire an American slant to it; Americans are far more likely to see it as an uncomplicatedly bad thing, a view which probably derives from the country’s specific racial history.

    So what we have here is a song sung by a Danish singer. She is singing in a language not her own, partly because American commercial power has made it the global lingua franca. She’s using a piece of cheesy American slang familiar to many of us non-Americans because American culture soaks through our countries. A piece of slang that America presented to us in a deracinated state, mind you. Yet when she repurposes this slang in a song released in her own country — not America — and we review in a non-American space, suddenly American standards become reasserted and its original Danish context is erased.

    Note also that she isn’t engaging in practices decried by Americans talking to each other on the Internet: Dressing up as Native Americans or using caricatures of them as mascots. She’s using a piece of foreign slang in the context that slang was presented by its original users. So, yeah, I think that while non-Americans should take the time to learn the nuances of bits of American culture that reach our shores, Americans should remember their cultural standards sometimes do stop at their borders.

  30. You make it sound like her/her songwriters just pieced together a bunch of random words from an English dictionary. They still had plenty of agency. And if they seriously decided to write a song and give it the title of “Geronimo,” it would be ridiculously short-sighted to not even give the word a cursory Wikipedia search and learn that it’s the name of one of a historically famous and respected Native American man. I’d lose my respect for them all over again.

  31. *she/her, minus “one of” etc

  32. The concept that songwriters do or ought to thoroughly vet the origins of slang words aside, it’s also possible that they did see it on Wikipedia or wherever, decided that it would be kind of cool to name-check a Native American leader while impelling people to just dance, go for it, etc. Maybe they thought it was a pop-cultural tribute to use the name. It’s very possible that even with the info we have, they ended up on the other side of an argument.

    Now, about those drums…

  33. I just realized that the song has a reference to “painting my face with teardrops,” which could totally be a WTF moment, and follows it with something about “underdogs” (if I’m even hearing that right) – a concrete reference to Geronimo? Who knows?

    I love everyone for keeping people honest/calling bullshit as they see it. As with Michaela’s comments on mixing, I’m a bit ore informed. Now I’m going avoid this post for, like, ever.

  34. “You make it sound like her/her songwriters just pieced together a bunch of random words from an English dictionary.”

    What makes you think they didn’t and is this a bad thing?

  35. All that I really have to go on is a bunch of mostly White guys saying it isn’t racist and another bunch of White guys that it is, or that’s what it seems like for either side. It’s not like I’m ignoring away an opinion by someone actually with personal stakes in this. But to call her racist outright based on really nothing but conjecture, well it does seem better to save the outrage for when it’s clear and it matters, no?

  36. Nobody is coming after Aura Dione with pitchforks, protests and cease-and-desist orders. I don’t see any outrage.

  37. The last thing I’ll say here is that the “x is racist”/”x isn’t racist” binary construction is really unhelpful and largely beside the point. (I say this as someone guilty of using that very shortcut just upthread.) It’s got nothing to do with The Hatred We Carry In Our Hearts, and everything to do with the effects of our actions upon others. Appropriation, commodification, erasure, and other four-dollar graduate-studies words aren’t about racism (i.e. hatred), they’re about a limited understanding of the world, and one’s effects on it.

    The worst thing anyone here can say about Aura Dione is that she sang a song that appears to be somewhat ignorant and insufficiently sensitive about a foreign culture. We should all be so lucky; I’ve no doubt done worse things since breakfast.

  38. I want to second the above and point out that nobody in any of the reviews has gone as far as saying “Aura Dione is racist”. Not even Anthony, who brought up Native Appropriations, actually said the R word as an accusation, or Ian, who took offense to Andreas’s posts.

    Let’s not put interpretations in each other’s mouths, k? At worst she’s guilty of passing on an unfortunately insensitive linguistic meme, and English is full of words of culturally offensive etymologies that aren’t going away, in many cases because people aren’t aware of their dubiousness.

  39. Yeah, I’m down with the Bogart Peace Treaty.

  40. ive been really impressed by the level of discourse here, though

  41. Yeah, and I’m not really into letting this die on this note that just seems to downplay casual racisms… it’s all very easy for us white people to try to decide what is and isn’t offensive despite having no personal reason to be “offended” (not a huge fan of that word). Andreas is somewhat right in saying that it isn’t our place to decide — this is about personal feelings, hurtfulness, etc — but the difference is that (I know) myself and Anthony and Ian expose ourselves to a lot of this discourse already, we understand that appropriation is not something to be downplayed and is one of the biggest factors in cultural genocide, and we’re at least familiar enough with the appropriations that various native people DO find hurtful to recognize this song’s usage of Geronimo as being, at the very least, questionable. The point in talking about it is to make people aware of the dubiousness (in Edward’s words), and it shouldn’t be up to only the marginalized person to do that.

  42. 1 x Norwegian says: I and everyone around me knew the “Geronimoooo”! word as a kind of “here goes!” long before I knew it had anything at all to do with North America; for years I always felt pretty sure it was Italian, oops…

    As for the idea of “why don’t look up on Wikipedia whether it may be construed as offensive” — well, it’s entered *our languages* as well, with local meanings; ie akin to Andreas’s point about European blackface upthread.

    I’m all for informing the globe and minimizing stuff that can be taken as pejorative to anyone anywhere, seriously. But America: even if we write in English, both pop and the internet are global, maybe (excellent) standards formed by *your* particular history shouldn’t always be used to judge the entire world?

  43. I have to echo Andreas’s point about Americans assuming that their own specific culturally derived sensibilities are shared the world over.

    I think of myself as reasonably knowledgeable about American culture, but for me, before seeing this discussion, Geronimo was just an Italian name (which it is, by the way, corresponding to the Latin Hieronymus). I doubt too many non-Americans would even know that there was a Native American leader named Geronimo, let alone identify him as the source for the exclamation. So I would never have suspected that this would be such a racially charged topic for Americans.

    There are plenty of racially charged words and expressions coming from very specific contexts in different parts of the English-speaking world that most Americans would be clueless about, “Bantu” in South Africa being one example. I’m all for educating people about what is considered offensive in certain cultures, but it is unrealistic to expect everyone else to know about all the specifics of your culture.

  44. “Oh gee, thanks for letting us know what’s racist and what’s not, Andreas. Do you want to inform the minorities, or shall I?”

    you go ahead, Ian. ;)

  45. Suggest Animal Collective cover this stat. Or remix featuring one of Das Racist.

  46. (um Brian — Hieronymus in Italian is actually Girolamo, not Geronimo, I think. But yeah, I’ve mixed those up a thousand times myself…)

  47. So any chance of this being a Bosch tribute is scuttled, then.

  48. Self-correction: Geronimo is indeed an Italian variant of Girolamo/Hieronymus/Jerome, and indeed a Spanish one (spelled somewhat differently), which Wikipedia tells us may be the source of how Goyaa?é got wrongly dubbed:

    “This appellation stemmed from a battle in which, ignoring a deadly hail of bullets, he repeatedly attacked Mexican soldiers with a knife, causing them to utter appeals to Saint Jerome (“Jeronimo!”). Americans heard this and thought his name was Geronimo, and the name stuck.”

    This sounds a bit folk-etymology to me, but what the hell do I know; it may well be correct.

    Also apologies to Ian about somewhat undignified dig in my post yesterday — probably happened because your original message managed to simultaneously be funny in *both* a good way (that is a COLD zing) and a bad way (that is a HIGH horse)…