Ariana Grande has been putting out a stream of hit songs and videos about her very public relationships, breakups and more. 7 Rings, one of her latest songs that soared to number one of Billboard’s Hot 100, is only the latest in a line of songs that everyone seems to be listening to. Her success, however, has also come with a lot of negative attention.
When watching the 7 Rings video for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to see the classic melody from The Sound of Music brought back into a new and relevant context. Rewatching the video made me realize that Ariana had meshed together a number of things to create the song. Borrowing from The Sound of Music, Princess Nokia, Soulja Boy and 2 Chainz, her lyrics and beat all sound vaguely familiar. This mix of originality and imitation was both problematic and impressive. The ability to take things already widely known and remake them into a newly relevant hit is admirable. The concept of the song is also undeniably a power move, which makes it all the more inspiring.
The less admirable aspect of the video is Ariana’s borrowing of other cultures to create an aesthetic that some would argue she has no right to. Controversy has been surrounding lyrics about her hair and the Japanese culture invoked. The controversy surrounding her use of Japanese characters is a bit more laughable than that of her hair. She recently got a tattoo on her finger that mistakenly read “Japanese Barbecue Grill” instead of 7 Rings. While definitely an issue of misrepresentation of Japanese characters, that part of the story has a twist that is impossible to not laugh about. The real issue was the lyrics about her hair, when she raps, “You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it”. Ariana has certainly trademarked her high ponytail, which is the work of lots of extensions. When she sang about it in 7 Rings, it was taken by a lot of people as a rip-off of Black women talking about their weaves, but gentrifying it. The reason this particular line hit so hard was that it is reminiscent of the idea that when a person of color and a caucasian person do the same thing, it is taken in two very different ways.
Does Ariana have a right to take advantage of a cultural norm that has been the result of a long and complicated history of African Americans and use it to make a hit song? Or is she taking a popular topic, Black hair, and making it her own in a way that boasts originality? The whole point of the song is showing Ariana’s confidence and cockiness. She raps in the song that anything she wants, she can get. Does this also apply to whatever part of culture she wants to borrow from?
There is a fine line between appropriation and appreciation. What one person may think of as appropriation another may think of as honoring and taking an interest in that culture. Ariana definitely tip-toes along that line in 7 Rings, and cultural appropriation or not, the song is at the top of almost every chart. But does it really matter if Billboard deems it a success if she offended major parts of her fanbase by recording it?