The "365" singer received significant backlash for cultural appropriation on multiple occasions, but the most publicized example was when she dressed as a geisha at the 2013 American Music Awards. As she sang her hit song "Unconditionally," she donned a Kimono with a colorful umbrella and heavy makeup, surrounded by dancers who shuffled across the stage and bowed like servants. Katy mentioned that she only wanted to celebrate Japanese culture, but her well-intentioned tribute came off as offensive because she clearly didn't understand the historical roles of geishas.
The singer, who also stirred controversy because of her hairstyle in "This Is How We Do," has since apologized for her actions and explained in an interview: "I will never understand some of those things because of who I am. But I can educate myself, and that's what I'm trying to do along the way."
Just recently, Harper’s Baazar China released an issue with a cover photo that features Rihanna looking a lot like a geisha. According to the magazine's Instagram, it's meant to show when "western style icon meets eastern aesthetic." She was styled by Chinese stylists and shot by a Chinese photographer, whose photos were then approved by Chinese editors. So some argued that this doesn't count as cultural appropriation. However, many fans who were put off by it took to Instagram and Twitter, calling it "offensive" and a "smack in the face of Asian culture."
Ariana stans were all for her "7 Rings" music video, but Black viewers were understandably not that into it. Many quickly dubbed the video a rip-off of "Trap House" by 2 Chainz, especially considering how similar her 7 Rings house looks to the infamous Pink Trap House. Some were able to point out influences from other artists, including Soulja Boy, Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Princess Nokia - who literally played her song "Mine" along with Ariana's and pointed out some striking similarities. So yeah, it's safe to say that the song is a remixed version of several Black songs put together.
The Universal Society of Hinduism was NOT happy about Selena's Hindu-inspired performance of "Come and Get It" at the 2013 MTV Movie Awards. In a statement, they said that the bindi she wore is an "ancient tradition" with "religious significance," and that it's "not meant to be thrown around loosely for seductive effects or as a fashion accessory aiming at mercantile greed." Fans have also spoken up and called it offensive.
But none of it seemed to bother Selena, who stood by her actions. She explained that her song had a Hindu, tribal feel, and she wanted to translate that. She added: "I’ve been learning a lot about my seven chakras and bindis and stuff. I’ve learned a lot about the culture, and I think it’s beautiful. I think it’s fun to incorporate that into the performance." Okay then.
Remember the good old days, when Miley couldn't keep her tongue in her mouth? It was right around then when she released her music video for "We Can't Stop," where she rocked grills and kept twerking. People quickly called her out for exploiting hip-hop culture, and she was pretty dismissive. But then she went on to diss the entire genre after distancing herself from it for some time. She said: "I can’t listen to that anymore. That’s what pushed me out of the hip-hop scene a little. It was too much 'Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my c*ck' — I am so not that." Must be nice to wear Black culture and then toss it when it becomes inconvenient.
Back in the day, Gwen had a group of Asian backup dancers that also served as her entourage at public events. They were known as the "Harajuku girls," and they esentially followed the singer everywhere like her minions. Gwen also gave them the nicknames "Love," "Angel," "Music" and "Baby" (like her album title), but it doesn't end there. The singer also launched fragrances called "Harajuku Lovers" and started the Harajuku Mini fashion line.
Aside from one hilarious MADTV skit that poked fun at her racism, there wasn't much backlash against the singer for her appropriation of Asian culture at the time. However, when she made her comeback in 2014, a few fans and bloggers brought up her blatant racism and even demanded an apology. We've yet to hear one, though.
In 2013, Avril pulled a Gwen Stefani by using a group of Japanese women as her props in the music video for "Hello Kitty." Fans, YouTube commenters, and bloggers alike started to voice their concerns over the video's portrayal of those expressionless women of color. Plus, people were put off by Avril's attempt at a Japanese accent. But on Twitter, Avril laughed it off and said: "RACIST??? LOLOLOL!!! I love Japanese culture, and I spend half of my time in Japan. I flew to Tokyo to shoot this video." Hmmm...
Rapper Earl Sweatshirt once pointed out that Taylor's music video for "Shake it Off" was "inherently offensive and ultimately harmful," and for good reason. Not everyone was amused by her attempts at twerking and breakdancing because it only made her complicit in perpetuating Black stereotypes for entertainment. Earl tweeted that this was made for "the same demographic of white girls who hide their prejudice by proclaiming their love of the culture." And unfortunately, the same can be said for Taylor's unoriginal BBMAs performance of "ME!" Aside from copying Beyonce's entire Coachella performance, she borrowed an art form without acknowledging or honoring the history behind it.
In the first few moments of the rapper's music video, "Bounce," we see bits of an impoverished neighborhood and a random guy using a cricket bat. Then it cuts to Iggy wearing a Bindi and bridal lehenga surrounded by Indian women who serve as her backdrop. The inspiration for this video shot in India was apparently to show "fantasy and escapism," but that reasoning doesn't really hold up, seeing as how India is a real place with real history.
Aside from appropriating Indian culture, the rapper has also been called out for stealing from Black culture while ignoring the issues that affect Black people. She defended herself against these claims, saying that she does care about race issues. She also added: "I’m marrying a black man and my children will be half black – of course I care about these things." Um... Okay.
Pharrell teamed up with Adidas to create the "Hu Holi Powder Dye Collection," which included colorful clothing that was inspired by Holi, a Hindu spiritual festival. Pharrell wanted to honor the tradition, and according to the brand, these products were meant to showcase his "creative flair for celebrating human diversity." Fans didn't see it that way, though, because it felt more like an attempt to capitalize on a Hindu holiday.
Hindu statesman Rajan Zed called for an apology and said: "Inappropriate usage of Hinduism concepts or symbols or imagery for commercial or other agenda was not okay as it might be painful to many devotees. Hindus were for free artistic expression and speech as much as anybody else if not more. But faith was something sacred and attempts at trivializing it hurt many followers." Still, Pharrell and Adidas stood their ground, claiming that they had created a "global platform to inspire positive change."
Lady Gaga has worn burqas as a fashion statement several times without much criticism, but when she released her song "Burqa" in 2013, fans got vocal and said that she crossed a line. The singer minimized the significance of the Burqua and sexualized Muslim women, suggesting their garments were sexy outfits worn for fun.
One Muslim writer, Umema Aimen, explained: "Contrary to the portrayal in 'Burqa,' I, like most other Muslim women, cover myself because I am not interested in flirtation. I do not want to e sexually solicited. However, 'Do you wanna see me naked, lover? Do you wanna peek underneath the cover?' implies that no really means yes." Talk about disrespectful.
Madonna has stirred up so much controversy that trying to keep up with it all is giving us whiplash. From appropriating drag ball culture to altering the images of historical figures to promote her album, she's caused quite a bit of outrage. But the singer saw nothing wrong with her actions. Regarding the critics who accused her of appropriation, she said: "They can kiss my ass. I’m not appropriating anything. I’m inspired, and I’m referencing other cultures. That is my right as an artist. They said Elvis Presley stole African-American culture. That’s our job as artists, to turn the world upside down and make everyone feel bewildered and have to rethink everything."
With a response like that, it's no wonder why she showed up at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards in traditional Berber clothes, which seemed to be carelessly put together. She never opened up about why she chose this outfit, but people have called her out for mimicking the Berber culture only to make a fashion statement.
The white rapper's song, "Gucci Gucci," talks about smoking blunts, having swag, and stealing b*tches. Meanwhile, the music video is littered with black men as she walks around in California, donning giant necklaces, huge earrings, and a traditionally African American haircut. From her ethnic stage name to her attempt to sound Black, fans have called her out for appropriating aspects of Black and hip hop culture. The rapper, however, dismissed all the criticism and said: "For people to say, like, someone is supposed to act a certain way because of their race or they're not supposed to act this way because of their race — I think that's racist. ... Is there a class I'm supposed to take to learn how to be white, you know?"
Her music video for "Hard Out Here" featured Black and Asian women twerking and slow-mo shots of champagne getting poured on them, but Lily insisted that her video was not racist at all. It was meant to be empowering and feminist, but according to several fans on social media, she missed the mark.
After initially denying the claims, in a follow-up statement, Lily said: "I was guilty of appropriating when I did a video called ‘Hard Out Here.’ The intention behind it [was], I definitely wanted to make a feminist statement. But I was guilty of assuming that there was a one-size-fits-all where feminism is concerned." Kudos to Lily for owning up to her mistake, unlike most artists.
If you've seen Sky's music video for "I Blame Myself," you probably scratched your head a few times and wondered why a young white girl would lead a gang of grown Black men. In the video, the guys serve as her entourage and her backup dancers, making them look more like her props. But when Sky caught wind of people calling her racist for this, she failed to grasp why this was so problematic.
She said: "No, I did not use black back-up dancers as "props." I never have and never will look at any human being as a prop. That's disgusting. It's also an idea that has never crossed my mind, which is what I find questionable of the people telling me that I did so. Dancers are objects?!?!?! How dare you! Dancers make things come to life." ...Well sure, but having good intentions doesn't dismiss the fact that an action is racist.
We'll admit it: This song is catchy as hell. But if you're familiar with Bollywood music, then it probably sounded more like a cheap knock-off of the genre. The song itself has absolutely nothing to do with Indian culture, and, to make matters worse, the music video showcased a scantily clad MØ doing way too many pelvic thrusts, which isn't even considered appropriate in India. Plus, who could forget the dancers who moved around MØ like they were her props? It may not have led to MAJOR backlash, but a few fans have definitely called MØ (and Diplo) out on this.
First he posted a picture of himself wearing cornrows on Instagram, and quite a few Beliebers were not happy about it. But the backlash didn't seem to faze him at all, because only a few months later, he debuted his blond dreadlocks - a black hairstyle that's usually worn as a form of resistance. After Justin got hit with all the angry fan responses, however, he basically shrugged it off with a tone-deaf response, claiming that it was "just his hair." But see, locs isn't just a fun and trendy hairstyle for people to try - especially when people of color often get penalized or judged for wearing them. There's history behind it and it makes a powerful statement regarding European standards of beauty.
Like Bieber, Demi Lovato also tried her hand at rocking dreads (or at least, what looked like dreads?) and received tons of backlash on social media. She wore the hairstyle for her music video "No Promises," and some fans expressed disappointment that she wasn't "woke" enough to realize that this was cultural appropriation. Demi, however, tried to get everyone to calm down as she tweeted: "They were twists not dreads. #relax" and "Btw they looked f*cking rad anyway." ... It looked a lot like dreads to us but, the point is, Demi could've definitely handled this better by acknowledging her fans' concerns or at least educating herself on the history of dreads to understand why they reacted that way. Saying "#relax" doesn't sound very thoughtful.
We all grew up seeing the former N*SYNC member sporting cornrows and bandanas like he invented them. But as he went solo, he took things up a notch by releasing songs that borrowed from Black artists and capitalized on Black pop culture. He got away with doing it for years and continued to gain popularity in the music industry, even though he never once showed concern for issues facing the Black community. So when he praised Jesse Williams for his 2016 BET Awards speech (which actually addressed cultural appropriation), Twitter users clapped back with a vengeance, pointing out he's actually part of the problem.
Not surprisingly, he played the victim and responded with we're "all the same." And when that didn't go over too well with the fans, he said that he felt "misunderstood" and apologized to anyone who felt he was "out of turn."
Yes, even Queen Bey has been called out for carelessly appropriating aspects of another culture. In the 2016 music video "Hymn for the Weekend," which was done with Coldplay, the singer wore a gorgeous sari and henna. There were mixed responses to this: some argued that Beyoncé was only celebrating the culture while others noted that she wore her Indian garments like fashionable accessories. Quite a few fans also called the singer out for perpetuating harmful stereotypes, but Beyoncé never responded to the controversy.