COMMENT:

When someone wears blackface, it's a scandal. When Taylor Swift decided to start "rapping", she was mocked to no end. When Katy Perry wore cornrows and grills, she was slammed.

Yet Ariana Grande is blackfishing for her life and the scandalised headlines are few and far between.

Blackfishing describes a white person -usually, for some reason, a woman - who drastically changes her look to appear racially ambiguous in order to appeal to a black audience.

Advertisement

From her hair, to her skin colour, to the way she speaks, to her music, Ariana Grande is undeniably guilty of this, yet we've all cut her an inordinate amount of slack.

Full disclosure: This includes me. I am a huge Ariana Grande fan. I think she is insanely talented, I listen to her songs daily, she's beautiful and smart and is always on the right side of an internet debate, preaching for the empowerment of women, equality, love and acceptance.

But with her latest album Thank U, Next, it's harder than ever to ignore her problematic behaviour.

What you need to know is Ariana Grande is white. Her family is Italian-American and early in her career, Ariana was a lot paler than she is now.

She has darkened her skin to the point where she appeared on stage with Nicki Minaj - an African-Trinidadian woman - and was a shade darker than her.

She's adopted a stereotypically "black" accent - aka. A "blaccent" - in both her music and her speech, using a new hip hop slang.

Her music has become increasingly hip hop influenced, leading up to what could ultimately be called a trap album, with Thank U, Next.

She's embedded herself in hip hop culture, dating a string of rappers and collaborating regularly with Nicki Minaj as well as Big Sean, Asap Ferg, Future and more.

Each of these things would be acceptable on their own. I know many women who tan themselves much darker than they are, the "black" vernacular has permeated pop culture to a point where I hear people using it every single day, and genres of music certainly shouldn't be limited to ethnic groups.

Advertisement

But when you tie it all together it becomes problematic and even more so when you consider the fact that Ariana is using all of these factors to make a profit off other people's culture - and all this is without even mentioning that Japanese tattoo-gone-wrong.

Again, this has always been a problem, but then 7 Rings dropped and suddenly here Ariana was rapping about money and bitches, using a trap house (a halfway/drug house) as an aesthetic, and singing about a weave - fake hair which black women have long been judged for wearing.

Princess Nokia was one of many black artists who commented on the her hit 7 Rings, saying it plagiarised her song: "Ain't that a little song I made about brown women and their hair? Sounds about white," she said.

There's a question over whether Ariana's Italian heritage makes her a person of colour. I don't know, but I do know it doesn't matter because even if it does, it still doesn't make her black. Just as my Māori heritage doesn't make me a part of black culture and like any other brown or black culture cannot claim to be a part of te Āo Māori simply by the colour of their skin.

Then there's the even bigger issue of how Ariana has whitened her skin again for bigger promotional opportunities, appearing incredibly dark and throwing up rap hands in her videos, but appearing pale, blonde and freckled on the covers of Vogue, Elle and Time.

I wish I were the kind of person who can consume art without paying too much heed to the politics at play behind it but I'm not. For the same reason I can no longer support Kevin Spacey or Brian Singer, I'm struggling to remain an Ariana fan.

The problem, of course, is that music is much harder to avoid than films - it's everywhere you go whether you're seeking it out or not. It's easy to avoid the likes of Chris Brown and R Kelly because I wasn't seeking them out in the first place, but Ariana Grande is one of my favourite artists.

And in the wake of Kevin Hart being ousted from the Oscars over some homophobic jokes he made years ago on Twitter, the question I have now is: What do missteps like this mean? When it's not quite the level of Weinstein but isn't quite the level of Taylor Swift twerking either.

Black and brown cultures have obviously become a major driving force in general pop culture, but does that mean those groups have to surrender their culture to the zeitgeist?

I don't have answers. But I do know that Ariana has long since crossed the line and as a fan, I have to wonder if it's time to say Thank U, Next.