ariana grande found her new era in a culture she knows nothing about
By Wanna Thompson
January 22, 2019
After the massive success of “thank u, next”, Ariana Grande released a video teaser earlier this month for her highly anticipated follow-up single “7 Rings”. Fans speculated and anxiously counted down until the video made its debut on January 18th. The 3 minute visual directed by Hannah Lux Davis is an ode to opulence and grandeur as pop star Ariana Grande and a flock of girls in her “crew” flaunt their riches in the trap-assisted single being pushed as a “women empowerment” anthem. Spray painted cars, neon lights and diamonds glare in the technicolor video whilst Grande exudes a carefree, bad bitch energy, further separating the entertainer from her days at Nickelodeon.
Despite the applause from her legion of stans, “7 Rings” sparked a much-needed debate on white artists and their reliance on Black culture and why emulating Black women and their likeness for social and financial gain is the epitome of white privilege.
Debuting at #1 on the Spotify Global Chart with 8.5 million first day streams and smashing the record for a female artist, “7 Rings’ bites several flows and lyrics that many have pointed out since the video’s debut. Touting an obvious interpolation of “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music” and a nod to the Notorious B.I.G’s “Gimme The Loot”, Grande also borrows Soulja Boy’s cadence on “Pretty Boy Swag” which appeared on his album The DeAndre Way in 2010. “My wrist, stop watchin’, my neck is flossy/ Make big deposits, my gloss is poppin’.” (Others have noted that the flow also mirrors 2 Chainz on “Spend It’ during the bridge.)
Coincidentally, Soulja Boy has ignited several discussions in the last few weeks after appearing on The Breakfast Club and vocalizing his long standing influence in the music industry. Following the release of Grande’s single, he later responded to the singer in a series of tweets over the weekend to give him the credit he rightfully deserves. The comparisons didn’t stop there either, NYC rapper Princess Nokia called out Grande on Twitter insisting that “7 Rings” plagiarizes flows and words from Nokia’s song “Mine”, which appears on her 2017 mixtape 1992. Posting herself listening to Grande’s new single (in a now deleted video), the rapper says, “Ain’t that the lil song I made about brown women and their hair? Hmmm… sounds about white.”
While the song bares notable similarities to both Soulja Boy and Princess Nokia, the visual also borrows rapper 2 Chainz’s art direction from his infamous pink Trap House installation which he rented to promote his album Pretty Girlz Like Trap Music in 2017. The site quickly became a tourist attraction and was later used for notable community efforts highlighting the rapper’s philanthropic efforts including a free HIV testing center and a “Trap Church” that welcomed a Pastor and his congregation. In contrast, Ariana and her squad gleefully parade around a pastel trap house in 7 Rings as the singer mimics the braggadocios flare often heard in Rap/Hip Hop.
The imagery which symbolize drugs and poverty fail to connect with Grande’s image due to her occupying a space she never experienced. Her presence near the house speaks much larger to white women wanting to insert themselves into a narrative that they don’t identify with solely to sell an image of the “ghetto fab” identity they desperately desire. While using the residence and Black women as props to assert her ‘coolness’, she becomes yet another white pop star clinging onto marketable imagery of the hood to push her “bad girl” persona.
Continuing with Black songwriters Tayla Parx and Victoria Monèt after their involvement with “thank u, next”, Grande’s attempt at reinventing her image after her public split with Pete Davidson, echos Miley Cyrus’ cringeworthy ‘breakup phase’ a few years back. During this phase, the singer utilizes a traditional formula that relies on black aesthetics to project an overtly-sexualized image. The white pop star then abandons their safe persona and utilizes trendy aspects of Black culture, coupled with raunchy, suggestive lyrics and incorporates the “I don’t give a f*ck”, unapologetic attitude. It is not complete without the co-signs of cis-hetero Black male figures in the industry and relies on the usage of AAVE to finalize the process. The privilege that Grande and various others have is that they are allowed a dual space in the industry, in which their Black counterparts will never be able to access.
Despite the overwhelming amount of receipts and distaste for “7 Rings,” highlighting Grande’s missteps have been met with incredible resistance and vitriol towards black women on social media. Black women are being insulted and harassed en masse for speaking out against cultural appropriation and the commodification of the ghetto. The music industry’s knack for lifting “inspiration” from Black culture has been a normalized practice which has allowed the likes of Post Malone and the Bhad Bhabie’s of the world to see more success and opportunities than their Black counterparts with very little repercussions.
What Ariana Grande is doing in “7 Rings” is no different than what Iggy Azalea and Miley Cyrus have done in the past, as it’s clear that the singer’s aesthetic directly emulates and relies on Black women’s likeness to position herself in a space that she has no business in. While many have noted that Grande’s association with “Urban” sound isn’t new, it doesn’t excuse the fact that her privilege has allowed her to co-opt a space that wasn’t constructed for her. Inevitably, with the singer’s rise, more critiques will follow in the wake of her newfound superstardom. Unfortunately, “7 Rings” will not be the last display of a white pop star’s need to attach themselves to Blackness for financial and social gain, only to later abandon the direction after the thrill has ran its course.
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