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Cultural Appropriation in Pop Music Goes Past Gwen Stefani

  • Gwen Stefani lately got here below hearth for saying “I am Japanese” in a brand new interview.
  • Stefani is only one of many pop stars who’ve been accused of cultural appropriation over time.
  • Insider spoke to consultants on race and advocacy about this offensive pattern in pop music.

Pop music has a cultural appropriation downside, and we had been reminded of it once more this week by Gwen Stefani.

Stefani introduced the subject once more to the fore by telling an Asian American journalist in a current interview, “I am Japanese.”

Throughout an interview with Attract journal, Stefani was requested to mirror upon her Harajuku period within the early aughts, which has obtained criticism for co-opting Japanese aesthetics and objectifying her backup dancers—4 Japanese and Japanese American girls referred to as the Harajuku Women. Stefani has additionally been criticized for appropriating African, Indigenous, and South Asian cultures prior to now.

“If [people are] going to criticize me for being a fan of one thing stunning and sharing that, then I simply suppose that does not really feel proper,” she instructed Attract’s senior editor Jesa Marie Calaor.

Pop music is a ‘repeat offender’

Robert Buscher, a lecturer on the Asian American Research Program on the College of Pennsylvania and chapter president of Philadelphia’s Japanese American Residents League, instructed Insider he was “horrified” by Stefani’s newest feedback. He was additionally fast to notice that she’s removed from the one offender.

“Pop music, on the whole, appears to be one of many repeat offenders so far as an artwork type that tends to commercialize and applicable Asian cultural aesthetics for the aim of profiteering,” Buscher stated. “We see this time and time once more.”

Certainly, Nicki Minaj’s 2018 music video “Chun Li” was accused of parroting an “insulting Asian fetish.” Coldplay and Beyoncé introduced India as “a white particular person’s fever dream” in 2016’s “Hymn for the Weekend.” Main Lazer’s “Lean On” (2015) and Iggy Azalea’s “Bounce” (2013) have confronted related scrutiny. The listing goes on.

Buscher particularly referred to as out Katy Perry’s efficiency of “Unconditionally” on the 2013 American Music Awards, which noticed her carrying a kimono, holding a parasol, and performing dainty choreography.

“The lyrics are speaking about loving somebody unconditionally, after which she dressed up considerably much like what a Japanese geisha appears like,” Buscher defined. “[She’s] reinforcing these concepts about Asian girls being submissive and demure. Objects.”

Katy Perry

Katy Perry performs on the 2013 American Music Awards.

Christopher Polk/AMA2013/Getty Photographs for DCP

Reinforcing adverse and harmful stereotypes

Very like Perry’s 2013 efficiency, Stefani’s employment of the 4 Harajuku Women performs into “this concept of ​​a sexually accessible, commodified Asian feminine physique,” Buscher stated.

Whereas the Harajuku Women would often flank Stefani at purple carpet occasions and photoshoots, the ladies by no means spoke in public; Korean American comic Margaret Cho described their function as her in Stefani’s life as ”a minstrel present.”

In a single 2004 efficiency, the dancers will be seen forming a circle round Stefani, bowing on their fingers and knees.

“Simply from physique language and bodily gestures, it actually describes visually what the hierarchy is in that scenario,” Buscher stated. “This can be a form of white supremacy — Gwen being this blonde-haired, blue-eyed pop idol within the heart and utilizing this Japanese aesthetic to, I assume, have fun that in some methods.”

An ‘alarming stage’ of racist abuse

The fetishization of ladies of colour can have harmful penalties.

As Insider’s Kristie-Valerie Hoang beforehand reported, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have been going through “an alarming stage” of racist abuse and violence because the begin of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, a string of shootings at Atlanta-area spas left eight individuals lifeless, together with six Asian girls. The shooter reportedly yelled, “I need to kill all Asians.”

Though a pop star’s illustration of Asian girls does not carry the load of those horrific crimes, Buscher clarified, it could contribute to a sample of anti-Asian racism and misogyny that has existed within the US because the nineteenth century. “It is simply one other manner of pushing that ahead into the following technology,” he stated.

Different pop stars have additionally been accused of treating marginalized girls like props, together with Miley Cyrus, whose 2013 album “Bangerz” was deeply rooted within the sounds and aesthetics of hip-hop, a style created and carried by Black artists.

In music movies and performances round this time, Cyrus would typically twerk and encompass herself with Black girls, typically grabbing their butts or different components of their our bodies. Buscher described this as “egregious objectification.” (She later apologized for her “insensitive” habits from her.)

miley cyrus 2013 vmas performance

Miley Cyrus performs on the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.

Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic

The stakes of cultural appropriation are excessive, notably given the historical past of colonialism, imperialism, and slavery Black girls on this nation have confronted, stated Riche Richardson, a professor of Africana research at Cornell College.

“What’s at stake when one is just not actually part of that tradition’s historical past — doesn’t share its traumas or the burdens which are related to that id — is the potential for commodification and profiteering” on the expense of the people who find themselves the unique creators within the tradition, Richardson stated.

The distinction between inspiration and appropriation

Some pop stars have responded to accusations of appropriation by insisting they merely “admire” the tradition, or claiming their actions are born from “love and appreciation.” “[It] needs to be okay to be impressed by different cultures as a result of if we’re not allowed then that is dividing individuals, proper?” Stefani instructed Attract.

Many artists have been in a position to categorical that “love and appreciation” efficiently and respectfully. Beyoncé’s 2022 album “Renaissance” has been celebrated for incorporating queer themes and genres in a respectful manner, despite the fact that she is a straight lady. The singer additionally paid homage to many cultures inside the African diaspora in her visible album “Black Is King.”

“This will get into the thought of ​​elevation, which I say makes the cultural trade happy, versus placing on a fancy dress and doing issues which may outline the sanctity of the tradition it is drawing from,” Ruka Hatua-Saar White, an assistant professor on the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, defined.

Of Beyoncé’s current works, White stated it is clear she did “her due diligence.”


Beyoncé in “Hymn for the Weekend” (2016) and a press photograph for “Renaissance” (2022).

Coldplay/YouTube; Mason Poole

“Objectively, I feel that there is nothing flawed with that form of cultural trade so long as the one who is doing it’s given permission to try this, and that it is a prepared trade by each events,” Buscher added. “It turns into a extra difficult situation when one particular person or one group inside that dialog holds much more energy and privilege than the opposite.”

Cultural appropriation happens when somebody borrows practices, concepts, or any factor of one other tradition for one’s personal fiscal or materials achieve, White defined. However an artist can use their celeb of her to raise and produce consciousness to a marginalized tradition.

Madonna, for instance, profited from the ballroom scene with the discharge of “Vogue.” Nonetheless, the track additionally elevated the group by her help of her, giving a platform to ballroom homes and performers and donating to Black and LGBTQ causes.

In Stefani’s case, it is apparent that she’s profited from Japanese tradition by her quite a few Harajuku clothes strains, merchandise, and hit singles, nevertheless it’s unclear whether or not Stefani’s adoption has given something again to Japanese tradition.

“It is about elevation, acknowledgment, and honor inside cultural exchanges,” White stated. “The query is, how are you giving again?”

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