Is Elvis Presley too problematic to be embraced by young generations? † NOW

After the movies rocket man and Bohemian Rhapsody had brought the music of Elton John and Queen to younger generations, there is now the movie Elvis by Baz Luhrmann. But young people on TikTok mainly talk about the problematic sides of Elvis Presley, which are barely discussed in the film. Young people accuse him of cultural appropriation and grooming

“Absolutely spectacular”, “a brilliantly told true story” and “a film that beautifully captures the essence of Elvis”; these are just some of the superlatives Presley’s ex-wife, daughter and granddaughter used for the film Elvis talk about.

While the family was not directly involved in the making of the film about Presley (played by Austin Butler) and his relationship with manager Colonel Tom Parker (played by Tom Hanks), they will be attending several promotional events surrounding its release.

The Presley family’s approval seems to automatically mean that serious critical notes about ‘The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ are missing from the film. That is the criticism of young people on TikTok. They talk about cultural appropriation (the adoption of elements from another culture, often by a dominant culture), which Presley is said to have committed, and the fact that he started a relationship with his eventual wife Priscilla when she was only fourteen. years old.

‘The King’ would have appropriated black music

In Elvis shows how Presley grows up in a neighborhood where mainly black people live: this is where his love for ‘black’ music originates. The artist can be found on Beale Street, a Memphis street known for its many iconic blues bars. Discussions have been going on for decades about Presley’s use of musical elements traditionally owned by the black community.

Presley wrote little of his own music throughout his career, recording many songs originally performed by black artists, who had a much smaller reach. The artist broke through at a time when the United States was still divided by racial segregation. Black artists certainly didn’t get the same opportunities as white musicians.

So became Hound Dog, previously recorded by black recording artist Big Mama Thornton, became a major hit when Presley ventured into it. Critics – over the years and now on TikTok – say that Presley routinely ran off with the music of black artists for his own gain, without giving them enough credit for it. But the film shows that Presley had great respect for the musicians, whose music he also presented to a white audience. Moreover, he maintained good contact with the artists.

Musician Dara Tucker, who also teaches music history on TikTok, points out that Presley never portrayed himself as the ‘King’ of his genre. In a 1957 interview, he said he certainly did not invent rock and roll and said that no one can interpret the genre as well as black artists.

Professor Michael T. Bertrand, who wrote the book Race, Rock and Elvis wrote, says there can be no doubt that Presley has benefited greatly from the music of black Americans. He adds that it was especially the music industry of the time – at a time of racial segregation – in which Presley was honored as the one and only, while his black colleagues were nowhere near the credit they deserved.

Austin Butler plays the role of Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s film Elvis.


Austin Butler plays the role of Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann's film Elvis.

Austin Butler plays the role of Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann’s film Elvis.

Photo: BrunoPress

Young generation falls over age difference and grooming

In the film, the beginning of the relationship between Elvis and Priscilla is mainly presented romantically. Director Luhrmann deftly sidesteps naming the age difference between the two. When Presley is in Germany for military service at the age of 24, Priscilla is only 14 years old – a fact that the younger generation of TikTokkers cannot ignore.

“I would like to see the film, but Elvis met his wife when she was 14. (…) I know the man is dead, but I can’t go see the film because of this,” writes a young TikTok user, who gets several million views and more than 250,000 likes for her post.

There are more users who describe the history between Elvis and Priscilla as grooming – building a bond of trust with a minor and then exploiting it. For example, friends of Presley said at the time that he admitted to styling her into his ideal image in terms of clothing, makeup and hairstyle, in order to prepare her as his bride. Priscilla later called herself Presley’s “personal, living doll” in an interview.

Criticism does not affect streaming and cinema figures

The fact that there are quite a few comments online about the way Presley is honored in this film does not mean that Elvis not a commercial success. The film has already grossed more than 124 million dollars worldwide (more than 122 million euros).

The effect of the film can also be seen on music streaming services: a week after its release, the streaming figures of Presley’s music went up according to billboard up 53 percent from the previous week.

So there is a renewed interest in the music of ‘The King’. But also especially interested in who Presley actually was.