Ariana Grande's tan is dark as hell in her just-dropped "Breathin" video. I have to cackle. Grande has faced numerous accusations about brown/black face and I have never known what to make of them. A part of me doesn't feel as though Grande is being deliberate about these choices.
Still, for literal years at this point, people have been calling her out. I mostly ignored those claims because I felt they didn't entirely add up. Then I saw the "Breathin" video.
Ariana Grande dropped the official video for "Breathin," and she is looking uncomfortably black AF.
Black people, who invented hip-hop, jazz, and rock and roll, have long been tastemakers of American cool. In many ways, fashion, music, and slang are dictated by black people no matter how little credit we get for it.
“Our research shows that black consumer choices have a ‘cool factor’ that has created a halo effect, influencing not just consumers of color but the mainstream as well,” said Cheryl Grace, senior vice president of U.S. Strategic Community Alliances and Consumer Engagement, Nielsen. Thus, presumably, if you want to be cool and sell records, you ought to start acting black. In fact, it's great if you're not black and act black because you get the benefits of being cool without the baggage and limitations of being subjected to racism.
There's a reason why Eminem still outsells most black rappers even though he is still dropping gay slurs in 2018 as a 46-year-old man, and it's not because he is culturally relevant. His appearance matters to consumers.
The best example of this is the talentless Iggy Azalea's quick rise and fall. Azalea adopted a caricature-like "black American voice" despite her Australian origins and accent.
Calvin Harris, born Adam Wiles, famously chose the stage name because it sounded more black.
"My first single was more of a soul track, and I thought Calvin Harris sounded a bit more racially ambiguous," Harris said. "I thought people might not know if I was black or not. After that, I was stuck with it."
Before making Elvis famous, record producer Sam Phillips famously said, “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.”
Amandla Stenberg, Zendaya, Tessa Thompson, and Yara Shahidi who are black and look black, but are mixed race, have all highlighted how they benefit from colorism and anti-blackness because they don't look too black.
When Grande first launched her music career, the comparisons to Mariah Carey, a mixed-race woman, were rampant.
I don't believe musical genres should be confined to race, but Grande's music is largely influenced by hip-hop and R&B, meaning that in order to build a fanbase, she needs to court listeners (ahem, black folk) with those musical preferences. It's not impossible to do this respectfully (look at soul singer Adele).
Grande also adopts African-American vernacular, but most young people do because black Americans often dictate American popular culture.
I am not sure how to feel about all this.
Thus, for years, Latinx women have been sounding the alarm: Grande is doing brown face. Look at her tan. Look at how she speaks. Look at her music.
The verdict? I don't have one for you. I don't know what her intentions are to be frank. All I know is that when I saw the "Breathin" video, in certain scenes she looked so cartoonishly black, I laughed out loud at my desk. Whether Grande is an evil mustache-twirling genius or not, she is still benefiting from the perception that she isn't white.
While it may not seem like a big deal to you, any person of color knows that this only a) highlights how unfair it is to actually be black and talented without any of the success of white impersonators b) trivializes the very real institutional and systematic oppression actual black people experience.
Most of us don't get to pick and choose which parts of blackness we get to have — only white folks seem to have that luxury.
Watch "Breathin" and decide for yourself.