I’m sure we all at least heard about the new, hip song “Earth” by the hip rapper Lil’ Dicky, which featured a whole bunch of hip celebrities talking about a hip topic: The Earth’s health.
Among the many hip celebrities in this song were vegans Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus. Typically, this would be just another (obnoxious) drop in the pool of celebrities elevating major issues for public awareness, but this song does present a problem for vegans that seems minor but has interesting implications for vegan advocacy. It raises questions about what qualifies something as an offense against vegans, how seriously we should take it, and what responsibility one has as a vegan.
So, let’s start with what the problem is. Early into the music video, there is a lyric “How’s it going, I’m a cow? You drink milk from my tits”. The cow then shoots milk from its utter into Lil’ Dicky’s mouth. There are two issues with this quick, seemingly inconsequential lyric. First is the line and scene itself, which grossly trivializes the process of consuming cows’ milk. There are no happy cows on open fields and we don’t drink raw milk directly from a cow’s utter. The next scene is with a “fat fucking pig” in a similarly unrealistic setting of being in an open field. These depictions perpetuate misconceptions about how farmed animals are treated and profoundly misrepresent the reality of their conditions.
The second issue is the implication that comes from this. The song is about the importance of nature and our planet, and how we need to think about and protect it all. So, in that context, the sentiment about how we drink cows’ milk as a natural phenomenon is wrong. Drinking cows’ milk is not “natural”, this is a pervasive misconception that entrenches people into this idea that we should drink milk from cows. This is utterly ridiculous, pun intended. Furthermore, dairy cows and pigs have virtually no protections and are horribly subjugated, despite these silly and thoughtless depictions.
Admittedly, this is a small scene in a longer (and much more obnoxious) song, but there are apparent issues in how the song and video depicts and characterizes consuming milk from cows. Given that, does this meet the threshold of being an offense to vegan principles and values? I believe it arguably does meet that threshold because it perpetuates the same problematic representations of farmed animals that keep people from seeing the truth about their plight. But are all misrepresentations and falsehoods equal?
On its merits, this isn’t the biggest deal out there because the misrepresentation is typical and its magnitude is miniscule. Moreover, this is just another annoying way hip celebrities stay hip, this happens all the time with all sorts of things. The big deal about this is that there are two vegans, Ariana Grande (the zebra) and Miley Cyrus (the elephant), who participate in this song.
Their participation in this song is arguably a tacit endorsement of its sentiments and statements, so it seems like they’re okay with these ridiculous and wrong depictions of farmed animals. Perhaps, if they were more serious about representing and promoting vegan values, they would either not participate in the song or work to change those lyrics and scene. Or is this asking too much of them? Should we expect all vegans, with varying levels of passion and conviction, to represent and promote veganism as advocates, or is it okay for some vegans to be quiet about the cause?
For Miley Cyrus, it might not be asking too much, because she frequently and vocally puts herself out there as a vegan advocate. One would think she would do something to address this, but alas, she was just “an elephant with junk in [her] trunk”.
On the other hand, it might be too much to ask from Ariana Grande, who doesn’t really use her hip celebrity powers to promote veganism. In fact, Grande recently “created” and endorsed the newly launched Starbucks Iced Cloud Macchiato, which is not vegan. It’s an espresso shot with milk and a few other animal products like butter, egg white powder, and non-fat dry milk (here are the ingredients). When she and Starbucks began promoting this drink, many vegans bought it because they thought it was vegan, you know, because she is vegan. She even encouraged people to try the soy version, which some vegans did, but that still isn’t vegan because neither the caramel sauce or the “cloud powder” (i.e. the foam) are vegan… This fiasco reflects an obvious lack of seriousness from Grande, so it’s not surprising to me that she’d participate in this song.
Ultimately, I think that vegans who advocate for veganism generally should push where they can. This is one case where they should’ve pushed because of the context around the song and music video; it does an injustice to cows and pigs to depict them in this way. The vegans in the song, especially Miley Cyrus, should have done more to promote veganism and not whitewash a very important message about global awareness. If the hip celebrities want to be serious about what they’re talking about, they should be informed and accurate in the details of their message. This is not some glib issue for people to sing about, this is our world and its inhabitants. It’s incredibly frustrating in itself because hip celebrities do this stuff all of the time, but this is especially sanctimonious because it’s a dire issue that is widely understood but not taken seriously enough.