Bruno Mars, a “racially ambiguous” artist, has been a topic of conversation after a video from The Grapevine TV’s Youtube channel, suggested that Bruno Mars actively appropriates black culture.
If you haven’t seen the video you can watch it below:
Let’s Define Culture Appropriation!
Culture appropriation is “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture” according to Cambridge Dictionaries. Here a few examples of what that looks like:
2. Tutti Frutti by Patt Boone, 1955. Which is known Little Richard song was stolen by Patt Boone and who tried to convince everyone it was his. Click here for receipts.
3. Miley Cyrus trying to break the internet by posting a picture of herself with a black booty. Check that out here.
Now that we got that out of the way!
In the viral video, a lot of attention goes to panelist, Seren Sensei Aishitemasu. Seren Sensei Aishitemasu repeatedly makes this statement
“Bruno Mars 100 percent is a cultural appropriator. He is racially ambiguous. He is not black, at all, and he plays up his racial ambiguity … to cross genres.”
She continues to say that, “Bruno Mars is not an original artist in the same way that Michael Jackson was an original artist and the same way that Prince was an original artist. What Bruno Mars does, is he takes pre-existing work and he just completely, word-for-word recreates it, extrapolates it.” She then argues that “Prince never won an Album of the Year Grammy…Bruno Mars got that Grammy ’cause white people love him…and a huge part of that is because people have realized that they prefer their black music and their black culture from a non-black face.”
The Break Down of Why this Argument is Flawed.
This is true, Bruno Mars has a Filipino mother and a half Puerto Rican and half Ashkenazi Jewish father! Yet, there is no evidence that Mars has branded his self as racially ambiguous for profitability and especially to sell “black music”. In an interview with Latina magazine, he states, ‘There are a lot of people who have this mixed background that are in this gray zone. A lot of people think, ‘This is awesome. You’re in this gray zone, so you can pass for whatever the hell you want.’ But it’s not like that at all. It’s actually the exact opposite”. Bruno Mars actually struggled in launching his music career because of this ambiguity. Mars style of music and look does not easily fit in one box. Mars is not responsible for his audience finding his music more digestible because they did not research his ethnicity.
The second argument regarding that Mars is not an original artist and takes pre-existing work word-for-word and recreates it holds some weight. Bruno Mars music style does have undertones of 90’s R&B, Funk, Jazz, and New Jack Swing. Which, can equate to Bruno Mars music not sounding original or authentic. Yet, there is a difference between not being authentic and appropriating. In the definition above, it states, “the act of taking…without showing that you understand or respect [the] culture”. Bruno Mars makes a point in crediting his influencers. From his Grammy acceptance speech to his interview with Latina magazine where he gives credit to black musical pioneers who influenced his career. He states ” I’m a child raised in the ‘90s. Pop music was heavily rooted in R&B from Whitney, Diddy, Dr. Dre, Boyz II Men, Aaliyah, TLC, Babyface, New Edition, Michael, and so much more. As kids, this is what was playing on MTV and the radio. This is what we were dancing to at school functions and BBQs.
I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for these artists who inspired me. They have brought me so much joy and created the soundtrack to my life filled with memories that I’ll never forget”.
This isn’t the first time Bruno Mars has been accused of cultural appropriation but it should be the last. Despite the argument being flawed, it does nothing to elevate our culture or the climate of music. This argument receives so much energy because it is a fun headline to debate and because often times black artist does not receive the credit they deserve. Yet, we cannot put that responsibility on Bruno Mars. Until Bruno Mars claims he created this style of music with no influences, does not give credit, or begin shaming/degrading artists who create similar music. This argument should be canceled!!!