The Grande problem with appropriation

Let me get one thing out of the way, right now: I love Ariana Grande’s music. I think it is some of the finest stuff of the 2010s, and her evolution as a post-Nickelodeon starlet to international pop diva is one of this decade’s most inspiring triumphs.

However, one thing I do not love, especially as of late, is her cultural appropriation to sell her music.

In anticipation for her upcoming album, “Thank U, Next,” she has released three singles, one of which being the titular track, along with two others: “Imagine” and “7 Rings.”

Now, the title track’s single cover art is “Mean Girls” – like in its nature – various newspaper clippings that inform the listener of the song’s name, doused in her signature pink, with a deep red lipstick mark on the upper left to top it all off.

“Imagine,” her next single, adds a “fascinating” new characteristic to her cover art game: simplified Chinese characters that translate to the title of the song.


It doesn’t even end there – along with a Parental Advisory label in English, a sticker that’s no stranger to Grande songs of the “Sweetener” era, there is also a Parental Advisory label in Japanese Katakana.

“7 Rings,” Grande’s latest single, also does the same thing with the Parental Advisory labels, but “7 Rings,” as you’re about to learn, is a circus of cultural appropriation.

The music video for the single introduces a title card sequence with a music video exclusive logo for the song, with a mix of Japanese Katakana and Hiragana.

Note how I haven’t made a single mention of the song itself, just the visuals.

Then, the pop diva goes into a trap-inspired number.


For those of you keeping score, that’s five counts of Asian languages and one big use of a genre innovated and dominated by African American rappers to promote her brand.

I suppose that now’s a good a time as any to remind you that Ariana Grande is, in fact, white.

It is completely understandable as to why one would think otherwise, as Grande herself has acknowledged her Hispanic-sounding last name. But Grande said it best during her 2016 episode of Saturday Night Live, “That’s a very common mistake, I’m actually just very, very Italian.”

The question now becomes: “Why?”

Why is she doing this for “Thank U, Next?”

She didn’t have to do this for any album prior, so what’s the reason for doing it now?

She’s an international pop star with a massive Japanese following – in which she has a Twitter account, @ariana_japan, to communicate with that part of her fanbase – which is just ridiculous in my eyes.

Yet, the appropriation does not end there.

Grande’s latest run-in with cultural appropriation happened at the end of January, after getting a tattoo in Japanese Katakana to tribute the success of “7 Rings.”

However, the tattoo artist incorrectly translated seven rings so the tattoo read “Barbeque grill.” Grande, in an effort to correct the mistake, added on additional Japanese characters which created “Japanese barbeque finger.”

Truly a double whammy of our time.

If anything, this should be a warning for Grande.

There is no need for her to do these things to sell her music. Summer 2018’s “Sweetener” was a smash hit, and not a hint of appropriation can be found. It made it all the way to the top of music charts across the world.

“Thank U, Next” is another album in Grande’s continued journey to recover from the rough patch that summer 2017 created, with some updates to her sound to boot, but if she wants to avoid criticism from the likes of Princess Nokia and music scene veterans such as Soulja Boy, she better go back to her old ways sooner, rather than later.

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