Apple Promo Criticism Highlights the Complicated Relationship Between Ballroom and Mainstream Culture

The ad in question features a track using a “ha” sample.
September 8, 2016, 6:50pm
Photo via Apple

When Apple showed off the new iPhone model during its launch event yesterday, a collective Internet rage fueled over the company's decision to remove the headphone jack in favor of wireless headphones, but others are criticizing the tech giant's promotional material for bigger reasons.

A 107-second video posted on the tech giant's social media channels summarizing the event features a track using a "ha" sample (taken from Masters At Work's 1991 track "The Ha Dance," which itself samples from the Eddie-Murphy-starring film Trading Places), a harsh, industrial sound associated with ballroom culture.

Missed our big launch news? Here it is in 107 seconds. Don't blink. pic.twitter.com/zCdx8oDwgg
— Apple (@Apple) September 7, 2016

"So Apple is Using Ha's Now?" ballroom producer MikeQ said in a tweet sharing the video. What's more, the track in question, "Tiger Rhythm," is by Surkin, a non-ballroom artist from France who heavily utilized the sample throughout his 2013 EP Advanced Entertainment System. "And that's what happens when someone else is 'inspired' by your genre and gets noticed for it," MikeQ later wrote, adding. "But that's fine I'm just making note as it was brought to my attention… We will keep doing what we do."

His comments prompt yet another discussion of appropriation—in this case, it's about ballroom sounds being used outside of ballroom culture by both individuals and giant corporations who otherwise have no involvement in that scene. In addition, any money that would come from licensing a track to Apple isn't going to the ballroom community.

As a recent THUMP cover story with MikeQ details, ballroom has had many a strong look in mainstream culture. Seeing voguing for the first time inspired Madonna's 1990 classic "Vogue," and the scene was exposed on a national scale in Jennie Livingston's documentary Paris is Burning. Ballroom slang like "shade" and "yaaas" are weaved into everyday conversation, and artists such as Beyonce and FKA Twigs have worked with vogue dancers on various projects.

But despite its growing presence outside the subculture, it rarely sees monetary profits. A screening of Paris is Burning held last summer in New York City angered members of the community because no queer or trans people from the scene were featured at the event. Instead, a white musician with little known connection to ballroom was booked as the headliner. A Change.org petition encouraging people to boycott the event also accused Livingston of hoarding the film's profits while its stars lived in poverty.

When THUMP interviewed Surkin about Advanced Entertainment System back in 2013, the question was raised as to whether or not non-gay producers should be allowed to make ballroom.

"I kind of understand that. But like, house music was started by gay people, so you can't make house if you're not gay? I don't think it really matters," he replied. "I'm not trying to get into the ballroom scene. And it's not really ballroom music. It's just the same way as how the early ballroom tracks were influenced by Masters At Work. I don't think they were gay… I was always interested in different genres. I think it's totally stupid. It's just music in the end. I'd think a lot of those guys would be happy to know that people in France are influenced by them."