Always somewhere in the midst of the public eye, pop singer Ariana Grande has recently found herself once more in its center after displaying a photo of her latest tattoo online. Written in Japanese, the tattoo was meant to pay homage to her most recent single, “7 Rings;” however, according to her many followers who are fluent in Japanese, the characters inscribed onto the palm of her hand actually translated to “shichirin”, or “small charcoal grill”. Even after an attempt to correct the error, it now roughly reads as “small charcoal grill finger.” This unfortunate blunder has sparked much controversy on the internet, with many mocking Grande and others accusing her of cultural appropriation.
In the thick of all this upheaval, Grande has fought back, taking to Twitter in order to defend her own name. However, her entire response to this issue has been rather childish, as she evades a true apology, choosing instead to victimize herself – showcasing her privilege and a disappointing lack of empathy.
Cultural appropriation is undoubtedly a volatile subject nowadays. Everyone always has their own idea of what that phrase entails, but in general, it is defined as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect it.” This is supposed to differ from the other ill-defined term, cultural appreciation, which refers to the acceptable use of another culture due to the honoring of its source. Some argued that the tattoo mishap and her self-proclaimed lack of Japanese language ability coupled with her seemingly random usage of these characters in her latest music video, promotion photos and merchandise constitute an act of appropriation. The accusations are not without reason, in that Grande is undeniably picking and choosing certain features native to Japanese culture in order to fit her aesthetic purposes, like the “kawaii” qualities of “7 Rings” or the arbitrary use of the written characters. And despite her purportedly earnest wish to learn the Japanese language, it is clear that she still has a true lack of knowledge when it comes to kanji, a fundamental part of it – thus making her self-proclaimed interest seem incredibly shallow.
The situation becomes even worse when one considers her past actions concerning other Asian-interest topics such as the Kris Wu debacle. A prominent Asian actor, singer and songwriter in China, Wu released his debut solo album and subsequently, its traction overtook that of Grande’s hit single “thank u, next.” Despite the lack of solid evidence, fans of Grande were outraged, declaring him guilty of cheating and making use of bots in order to boost his music’s popularity. In turn, Ariana Grande did nothing to curb her dedicated fans’ xenophobia-tinged disparagement of Wu, even taking it upon herself to like one of their tweets, thereby encouraging their contentious behavior.
Of course, Grande did not appreciate any such accusations being levied against her, and replied with a now deleted series of tweets about her intentions being pure, declaring a genuine appreciation for the Japanese culture. Perhaps this would have been a bit more admissible if she had simply stopped there, but she pertinaciously continued, making statements that were plain attempts to garner pity from others. In a response to someone’s expression of disappointment for the reputed cultural appropriation, Grande tweeted “imma stop taking (Japanese) lessons too. it’s literally just something that brings me joy and that i’m passionate about. i legit wanted to move there one day. but all good. have a good one.” This is only a singular example, but all of her other tweets regarding the whole ordeal retained the same air of martyrdom. She even went as far as to mention her “crippling anxiety,” somewhat ironically claiming that no one ever actually considers feelings other than their own.
This is the crux of the problem with Ariana Grande. Rather than admit that she may be at some sort of fault and simply apologizing, she decides to be sullen and paint herself as the victim, showcasing behavior that is reminiscent of a child’s: refusing to hold herself accountable and understand the criticism that is surrounding her. She claims that her fans from Japan always loved it when she showed interest in their language and customs, but in saying so, she is erasing the multitude who evidently do find some wrong in it, while simultaneously failing to recognize that simply expressing gratitude in their native tongue does not equate to taking certain aspects and using it for aesthetic purposes and profitable means. So while claiming a real love of Japanese culture is perfectly fine, the words become markedly empty when accompanied by clear petulance and an unwillingness to comprehend. Matters are worsened by many of her hardcore fans and their tireless devotion. As such, they encourage her, and excuse any and all potentially problematic behaviour solely because she is their favorite artist, buying into her victim gimmick; shortly after she deleted her Twitter tirade, she was seen liking some of her fans’ defensive tweets.
Although it is unfortunate that she is the target of ridicule or censure, Ariana Grande has chosen to deal with it quite gracelessly. Instead of issuing a straightforward apology, or even admitting to culpability, she has captiously clung to the notion that she has been the one wronged. This displays a remarkable inability to look past herself in spite of the fact that this issue is, and should be, much larger than her own feelings.