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  • Su Shen Ooi

Ariana Grande and Cultural Appropriation

I love Ariana Grande’s new hit “7 Rings” as much as the next person, but I couldn’t help but feel discomfort when watching the music video. After following Ariana Grande’s tattoo fiasco, I felt fully compelled to write a blog about Ariana Grande’s appropriation of the Asian culture. In the “7 Rings” music video, there are several instances where kanji symbols (Japanese characters) appear.

While the use of kanji symbols would have been appropriate in a culturally appreciative video, the use of the Japanese language in the “7 Rings” music video is clearly just for the aesthetic.

At first I decided to simply brush off the appropriation sentiments in the music video as I’ve heard that Ariana Grande has been culturally appreciative towards the Japanese culture before. However, after her inaccurate Japanese tattoo, it became clear that she actually didn’t understand or appreciate the culture.

Ariana Grande got a tattoo in honor of the popularity of “7 Rings” with the intention for the kanji symbols to mean 7 rings. However, her tattoo was not quite accurate and actually translated as “shichirin,” a small Japanese charcoal grill. After finding out about her mistake, Ariana Grande tweeted that she didn’t care too much about the inaccuracy because the tattoo was already so painful with just the two symbols and she still thought it looked cool. Many people began criticizing her and accusing her of cultural appropriation as she didn’t seem to care about her mistake because it still “looked cool” to her. She used a language just for the aesthetic as she didn’t properly research an accurate translation or care too much when she found out about her mistake. The nonchalant response to the inaccuracy of her tattoo shows a lack of respect for the Japanese culture.

Ariana Grande later consulted with her Japanese tutor and received edits on her tattoo. Her tutor told her to put a character between or above the two symbols she already had tattooed in order for the characters to really mean 7 rings. However, Ariana Grande ignored the specific instructions of her tutor and put the character below the other two. Her current tattoo now translates as “Japanese BBQ finger.” Even after receiving specific edits from her tutor, Ariana Grande still prioritized the aesthetic of her tattoo rather than the real meaning of it by putting a new character in the wrong order and adding a heart.

Ariana Grande has also previously sold merchandise goods with Japanese characters on them. The characters on the sweatshirt mean “Thank you, next,” referring to her other recent hit. Her album cover for her song “Imagine” also had kanji symbols decorating the picture. Profiting off of another culture’s language is a clear example of cultural appropriation. She’s just using the characters for their “aesthetic” and because she thinks they look cute. Her song also has no relation to Japan at all, so I personally don’t understand her choice of using Japanese characters on her sweatshirt for them. After much backlash, Ariana Grande stopped selling sweatshirts with the Japanese characters.

As a fan of Ariana Grande and her music, I hope Grande realizes that she is actively partaking in cultural appropriation when she uses a culture just for the aesthetic and profits. As a popular artist, she also influences many young fans, who may start appropriating Asian cultures as well.

Go check out Jamison’s article discussing Ariana Grande’s appropriation of black culture!

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