While I robotically scrolled through social media one day, I landed on a post that made me halt; a video from a random user viciously making clear their hatred for United States’ pop singer, Ariana Grande. Being a fan of her music, my heart immediately sank with the video’s harshness. Though, given the normalcy of bitterness that our generation has become accustomed to in combination with Grande’s 350 million followers, this one dissatisfied content creator seemed to have no impact on Grande’s success. Yet as I continued to mindlessly twiddle my thumbs and scroll, more posts began surfacing, all of which were voicing their disappointment in Grande. I wondered, “What could the singer have done to upset such a large uproar over social media?”
One of Grande’s series of Instagram photos recently gained attention from a crowd greater than just her fans. She quickly became the target of cultural appropriation criticism as a result of her image in the shared photos. The makeup and clothing in the photos led many to believe that they were designed to make Grande look Asian, thus, sparking accusations of ‘Asian-fishing’.
‘Asian-fishing’ is the term used to describe a non-Asian person dressing or acting to appear as though they are East-Asian by highlighting specific aesthetic features, whether that be through makeup or photo editing. These enhanced features are frequently stereotypical depictions of East Asian individuals that non-Asians affiliate with the Asian community. With Grande’s over-exaggerated eyeliner, slimming her eyes, in combination with her choice of paler shades of face cosmetics, there leaves room for many to question her intentions and debate whether or not she is appropriating Asian cultures. Considering this is the second time Grande has been accused of race ‘fishing’ after previous allegations from the Black community, Grande has received more backlash as this recurrence alludes to the idea that it is sheer ignorance that prompts her to continue changing her appearance.
Behind the fairer makeup and softer articles of clothing, there lies the misrepresentation of East-Asian women being submissive, hypersexual, and ‘exotic’. Asian women have historically been scrutinized under the male gaze where they have had to endure years of misinterpretation and objectification as a result. However, their features have begun to become romanticized and have been deeply embedded into pop culture, leading celebrities such as Grande to mimic them. In doing so, it has created an uproar of criticism as seeing non-Asians being influenced by the appearances of the hypersexualized Asian women contributes to questions regarding the fairness of taking inspiration. How can smaller eyes, which have been the feature leading to years of oppression and racism against the East Asian community, only be deemed ‘beautiful’ when their oppressors decide to celebrate them?
Some have understood Grande to be trying to mimic the style of K-pop idols, who have dominated the music industry in both Western and Asian countries. In the photos, Grande is wearing an oversized blazer jacket, which is a large trend that can be seen being worn by countless South Korean singers and celebrities. Many Twitter fans came to defend Grande, reasoning that it is understandable that she adapted to these trends as K-pop idols are taking over the entertainment industry; it is only natural for her to embrace the trends.
As a result of these adamant Twitter fans, there has been a divide amongst the Asian community where both sides debate if it is simply Grande’s exaggerated filter and her clothing that sparked these ‘wrong’ accusations or if she is truly appropriating Asian culture. Some users demanded an apology from the singer for her supposed appropriation as they do not want the notion of the West fetishizing and glamorizing East Asian features and culture to be spread even further. Other people, who are a part of the Asian community, defended the singer, stating that it is her job as an A-list celebrity to take part in global trends and the photos should not be overanalyzed; TikTok influencer Brandon Hsiu argued that Grande “just stopped tanning and had angled eyeliner”.
Grande has yet to make a statement, only taking quiet action by removing the post from Instagram immediately after the backlash surfaced.
Last year, senior Hogan Riccio saw how little the Asian community was being represented and acknowledged at Darien High School. When talking to Riccio, he said that the lack of representation fully became apparent to him specifically during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May of 2021 where, unlike Black History Month and Pride Month, the school did nothing to celebrate and uplift this community. Because there had not been a club for Asian American students at DHS, there were no efforts to recognize the Asian population, despite the hatred the community received that year from the pandemic. Deciding that this was unacceptable, Riccio created the Asian American Club, where the club is currently dedicated to the goal of celebrating Asian culture and informing others about the beauty of the continent.
When asked about his opinion on celebrities such as Grande taking inspiration from Asian appearances, Riccio said that “there is a difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Culture appreciation is when someone seeks to learn about another culture and connects it with their own”. Whether Grande had understood the cultural significance of her new makeup look is unknown, however, Riccio hopes that with the accusations the singer is facing, the members of DHS learn how to properly appreciate and celebrate different cultures.