Better NYC ambassadors than Taylor Swift
NEW YORK — Taylor Swift will be welcoming you to New York for the next year, but many of the city’s residents are already wishing the megastar had stayed in Nashville.
Taylor Swift? What about Jennifer Lopez, Jay Z or even Jerry Seinfeld?
Named the city’s first Global Welcome Ambassador for its “Welcome To New York” campaign — she has a song of the same name — Swift is attracting criticism as a carpetbagger. She bought a $19.9 million apartment in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood this year.
It’s not exactly the act of a struggling artist from elsewhere, inspired by Frank Sinatra to roll the dice on the city that never sleeps. Or even a local girl from the Bronx riding the 6 train to make it in Manhattan.
Her lack of New York tenure led many to question why she’s qualified to define New York-isms like the bodega (corner market), the stoop (stairs used like a front porch) and how to say Houston Street (“how-stun”).
And picking a latte as the food of choice for the city? “Yes, we all know New York lattes — maple ones — hold special significance for Swift,” writes Tessa Stuart in the Village Voice, “but a latte is not like a slice of pizza, or a bagel, or a pickleback, which is to say it is not a quintessentially, or even an overtly, New York foodstuff.”
We are not questioning the power of her brand, her kindness to her many adoring fans or her uncanny ability to nail the breakup song. (Listen to “Mean” and “We Are Never Getting Back Together” and you’ll see.)
An ambassador to our country’s largest and most exciting and diverse city doesn’t have to be born there. But surely she needs to have done something there besides spend money and drink lattes.
Of course, she’s not selling the real New York, where working-class people struggle to find affordable housing (never mind buying a home); where rising retail rents are pushing independent bars, music venues and shops out for “one size fits all” chain stores. She’s selling the shiny, clean version that’s sanitized and easy and won’t snatch your wallet.
Maybe she’ll get her hands dirty, learn some tough lessons from the city — despite her money — and earn her title to represent those 8 million stories that rapper Kurtis Blow loves.
In the meantime, we prefer the real version, represented by native and transplanted New Yorkers we love. That’s why CNN nominates the following folks who have made a real mark on the city to be our New York global ambassadors.
We know J.Lo spent a cool $22 million to buy an apartment overlooking Madison Square Park, but really, the superstar singer/actress/dancer is a good Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx. And the Bronx, the birthplace of hip-hop and so much good food and culture, deserves its share of tourists.
Spike Lee knows New York. He grew up in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Fort Greene, his parents still live there, and he keeps an office there. And he’s angry that gentrification is pushing many African-Americans out while services are improving for the richer, often white, residents moving into the neighborhood.
This year at a Black History Month lecture, Lee said his father, a jazz musician, bought a brownstone 46 years ago. And the new neighbors “called the cops on my father. He’s not — he doesn’t even play electric bass. It’s acoustic. We bought the motherf***in’ house in 1968, and now you call the cops?”
DJ Kool Herc
Some pinpoint the birthplace of hip-hop as a rec room in the Bronx where DJ Kool Herc and his sister launched a back-to-school party in 1973. He has not made the millions that others have made off his creativity, but he gets the credit for a music style the put the Bronx on the map. And CNN’s own Anthony Bourdain thinks he’s cool.
New Yorkers recognize the Soup Nazi with his strict rules for how you may buy his food, the Postal Service that changes its rules on a daily basis, the lousy diner that stays open for some ungodly reason. Brooklyn-born comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who popularized these concepts, is already an informal ambassador to New York.
Seinfeld sold his twisted, grumpy, “Seinfeld” version of New York for nine seasons on NBC, and he became a multimillionaire as a result. See his 1990s New York on episodes in syndication and his favorite clips on his website.
Though we love noted writer and speaker Fran Lebowitz’s work, we admit there’s one slight problem with her nomination: She hates tourism. “Tourism as a number-one industry is a terrible, terrible idea for any city, especially New Yorker,” she told Paper magazine.
“If you were going to turn a city, which is a place where people live, into a tourist attraction, you’re going to have to make it a place that people who don’t live here, like. So I object to living in a place for people who don’t live here. As it became more and more intense, it became more and more a place where the actual citizens are pushed out to the edges.”
The Naked Cowboy
Who doesn’t love Times Square’s Naked Cowboy, known off-duty as Robert Burck? Our favorite cowboy isn’t totally clothes-free: For more than 15 years, he’s worn his tight white briefs, a cowboy hat and boots for his street performances. Pictures from all over the world crowd his Facebook page, showing lots of sequins and other decor on his derriere. Hey, every city needs a little sex appeal.
Yes, we know New York native Dunham is new besties with Swift. Maybe. Dunham’s boyfriend, Jack Antonoff (of the group fun.) co-wrote two songs on Swift’s new album, so it could be a mix of business and pleasure. But she works and breathes and lives her show, “Girls,” in the city. If she could just reflect a more diverse New York than the homogenous city that exists in “Girls,” we might move her out of the “tentative” category. In 2000, Brooklyn was about 41% white, 36% black, 8% Asian and 20% Hispanic (of any race). Time to wake up and smell the demographics.
Who can dispute Jay Z’s nomination after listening to his ode to the city that never sleeps? The city is in his bones.
“Me, I’m out that Bed-Stuy, home of that boy Biggie
Now I live on Billboard and I brought my boys with me
Say what up to TyTy, still sippin’ Mai Tai’s
Sittin’ courtside, Knicks & Nets give me high five.”