How to separate cultural appreciation, appropriation in music


Artists are crossing cultural lines with music, as evidenced by recent Billboard Hot 100 hits like Post Malone’s “Wow.,” Ariana Grande’s “7 rings” and Cardi B and Bruno Mars’ “Please Me.” 

But when they break these boundaries and take on genres from other cultures, some fans wonder if artists are practicing cultural appreciation or cultural appropriation. 

Cultural appropriation is when a person takes elements from another culture without paying tribute to their authenticity and value, said Timothy Welbeck, an Africology and African American Studies instructor.

Post Malone, Ariana Grande, Bruno Mars and Iggy Azalea, all non-Black artists, are known for performing music like R&B and hip-hop influenced by Black people and culture. 

Azalea’s performances, particularly the voice she uses while rapping, is an example of appropriation, Welbeck said. Azalea uses a “blaccent,” an imitation of a Black accent by a non-Black person, while rapping, he added. 

“When she raps, she sounded like a poor imitation of a Black woman who lived in an urban area in America,” Welbeck said. “But then when she spoke, she spoke in a dignified Australian accent.”

When an artist tries to profit from the music style without showing respect to the culture, they also demonstrate cultural appropriation, said Gabriella Duran, a freshman global studies and political science major. 

Justin Bieber’s inclusion on the remix of “Despacito” stood out to Duran as a bilingual track that disrespected Spanish culture and helped Bieber profit.

“Music is an art form, and we can learn so much from it when it’s done correctly,” Duran said.

But distinguishing between cultural appreciation and appropriation in music isn’t always easy to define. Fans of Bruno Mars debated whether or not the artist respectfully represented Black culture in his music last March, Vice reported.

Mars was accused of cultural appropriation by Seren Sensei, a writer and activist, but Black celebrities defended him on Twitter. 

Sensei accused Mars of using “his racial ambiguity to cross genres.” In response, celebrities tweeted he has paid homage to Black culture and helped bring back certain aspects of the culture’s sound.  

Mars, whose father is Puerto Rican and Jewish and mother is Filipina, often credits Michael Jackson and other Black musicians as inspirations.

“The situation is complicated, but the point is that there is a lot of misunderstandings and not enough conversation,” said Dynas Johnson, a junior English major.

Johnson is a fan of K-pop, a genre originating in Korea that blends together sounds and styles from around the world including R&B, jazz and hip-hop, which are music forms created by Black people. 

K-pop uses these forms of music as inspiration, but Johnson is skeptical of the intentions of the genre as a whole. K-pop often uses important elements of Black culture, like locs, a hairstyle worn by Black people, in aesthetic form, Johnson, who is in Temple’s K-pop club, added.

“It hurts to listen to a group and become invested when you know they don’t respect your culture,” she said. “If they’re problematic, I won’t listen to them.”

MAMAMOO, a female K-pop band, faced criticism for wearing blackface in a video for a cover to Mars and Mark Ronson’s song “Uptown Funk” in 2017, Pop Crush, a pop music and celebrity entertainment news site, reported. The group issued an apology, but it is not the only band from the genre to appropriate another culture. A members from the K-pop group Blackpink wears locks in a music video for their new song, “Kill this love,” which was released on April 4.

Still, that’s not to say all musicians who cross genres do so disrespectfully. 

“I’ve never heard Bruno Mars making music and saying that it’s all him,” said Hannah Gómez, a senior advertising major. 

Finding ways to honor the culture they are crossing into can be a way for artists to avoid appropriation, Welbeck said.

Eminem, a white rapper inspired by Black music, showed respect to Black culture by diverting attention from himself when receiving awards and praise for his music, Welbeck added.

“People would look to him as an innovator,” Welbeck said. “He would be quick to signal people’s attention to the fact that the things that he was being praised for, other people have done before him and he was a beneficiary of the types of things that they have done and the techniques that they introduced.”

“Any outsider entering into a culture that is not their own should first understand that the culture derived from elsewhere,” Welbeck added. “They should respect the culture and the people who are in it.”

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