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Deconstructing the Alcorn State/Fleetwood Mac mashup: Players only love you when they back that thang up

Combination of HBCU dance troupe and California classic rock is joyful but also illustrates the burdens on black creativity

Have you seen the video image of the Golden Girls of Alcorn State University dance troupe layered over the Fleetwood Mac song “Dreams”? If not, the “color guard” meme, as it’s called, is not hard to find.

The clip of the historically black college/university (HBCU) girls squad prancing into the stadium before their school’s opening football game in September was posted on Instagram in early March. A week later, the post went viral when a Twitter meme-maker set it to the music with the caption “Fleetwood Mac’s music is so boring, you can’t even dance to it.” By last week, the post had propelled the four-decade-old hit back onto Billboard’s Top 20 rock music chart.

The meme works because of the sheer joy of the mashup — once you see it, you cannot get that tune out of your head. But there’s a lot of other stuff going on here behind the music.

Part of what we’re looking at is the juxtaposition of cultural extremes. Fleetwood Mac is lily-white — 1970s classic rock white, to be precise; cue the guitars and the long hair, sans smoothing products, on both the men and the women. It’s the soundtrack of an era, and an evocation of a California dreaming Americana. In contrast, the Alcorn State Golden Girls are HBCU fierce. They hail from a pop it, lock it, drop it, back that thang up (But, hey! Keep it classy) tradition — an evocation of a Dirty South, you’d better work Americana.

The combination has a similar dynamic to the groundbreaking combination of rock and hip-hop that made the Run-D.M.C. cover of “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith a smash hit in 1986. It’s the reason white people doing black dances at wedding receptions are so enchanting to The Today Show.

The Alcorn State Golden Girls are HBCU fierce. They hail from a pop it, lock it, drop it, back that thang up (But, hey! Keep it classy) tradition.

And it sets up that familiar argument about cultural appreciation versus appropriation. The Golden Girls, whose moves were originally set to the 1993 rhythm and blues song “Stay,” are silent and recontextualized in the meme. Stripped of their bass line and set to the incredible whiteness of being lyricism of Fleetwood Mac, their moves appear more overtly sexual and newly centered in a white — which often means more judgmental — gaze.

Some of that is borne out by the commenters on the meme who don’t appreciate the thickness of the HBCU aesthetic and are perhaps not down with booty shaking.

The cultural and stylistic differences combine with the fact that Fleetwood Mac unwittingly benefited from the added music sales while the Golden Girls are neither credited nor directly compensated. It can be seen as part of the long, long history of white people exploiting, claiming credit for or being deliberately blind to the benefits that just seem to come their way from black labor and talent. If we were less historically uneven, then this is a different conversation.

That said, black creativity is insistent, has agency and makes its own assertions in this process. Elexis Wilson, captain of the squad and lead dancer in the video, has been heartened by the exposure. The sports management major, who hopes to start her own dance company, is philosophical about the borrowing without attribution, telling The Washington Post, “You know how the internet is.” She’s clear about her squad’s talent, the benefit of the video having gotten nearly 7 million views and exactly what’s at play. “Music is not boring,” she said. “A true dancer can make it work.”

And besides, who doesn’t love Fleetwood Mac? Let alone a mashup where the song is dubbed in a way that puts the dancers’ strutting, twerky moves in sync with the music. There is little more beloved/revered/demanded in the black performance tradition than being on beat.

Perhaps this portends more such pairings. One commenter put it like this: “As a former HBCU marching band member and fan of Fleetwood Mac, I am VERY DOWN with this mashup. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see it worked into some routines in the upcoming season <PUTTING ALL DRUM MAJORS ON NOTICE NOW>.”

At bottom, it works because creativity speaks to creativity. Some of that is the nature of our duality: being fluent in white culture and grounded in black. We know players only love you when they’re playing, and that’s why sometimes you’ve got to back that azz up. It is the perfect mashup.

Lonnae O’Neal is a senior writer at The Undefeated. She’s an author, a former columnist, has a rack of kids and she writes bird by bird.