Pop music and cultural appropriation usually go together like Katy Perry and kimonos, but record labels may finally be wising up to the fact that there’s a difference between appreciating and appropriating a culture. Or, at the very least, they’re concerned about being perceived as culturally insensitive.
That seems to be at the heart of a new controversy involving M.I.A. The singer took to Twitter to criticize her label for refusing to release her latest music video because of “cultural appropriation.” Given that complex, nuanced topics don’t meld well with Twitter’s 140-character limit, it’s hard to get the full story. But apparently M.I.A. filmed a one-take video in the Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa that features a dancer who is “the best in the wide world.” It’s not immediately clear if the dancer is also from the region, but M.I.A. claims it took her two years to locate him. Now, however, she’s been told the video is offensive.
Considering the video hasn’t been released, and potentially never will be, it’s impossible to know whether the record label is being extra cautious or if the video really does cross a line. For what it’s worth, M.I.A.’s music video for “Bad Girls” also sparked a little bit of discussion about whether the singer—who is of Sri Lankan descent—was appropriating Arab culture. (It was also praised for empowering women, however.)
M.I.A. has been retweeting supporters who point out there’s a way to share other cultures without being offensive. She also promised that if the music industry were to let an African artist break through on an international level, she would gladly give him (or, presumably, her) the music video “for free.”
The full series of tweets is below: