Today is only my second full day as a Mocha Grande — the official name for Black fans of Ariana Grande — and life is coming at me really fast. Yesterday, I found out the meaning of “god is a woman” and my newfound love for her deepened in an instant. Today, it was brought to my attention that Grande is being called out for using blackface and a blaccent in the weeks since the release of her highly anticipated “Thank U, Next” music video. But before I returned my Mocha Grande membership card to sender, I needed to see the evidence for myself. My final verdict: I think claims of cultural appropriation are a bit of a reach.
Claims that Grande is using a “Blaccent,” where she intentionally mimics the language and dialect of African American vernacular, were brought forth after a Billboard video was released earlier this week. In the clip, Grande is presented with series of baby and childhood photos of herself to comment on them. About two-and-a-half minutes into it, she remarks on specific photo that her younger self was the “shadiest” and offered the following commentary: “I’m like, bitch, that’s my cookie. That’s my juice. Okay? Carry on.” She also threw her own new tagline in the mix. “Thank you, next. That’s what this baby picture says.”
Not only am I a Black person, I have a blaccent. This deserves clarification because, surprise, not all Black people speak in the same way. Anyway, as someone with a Blaccent, I didn’t identify with a single part of Grande’s tone in that video. I hardly think “bitch” is exclusive to Black vernacular. There’s a chance that she said “this my juice” instead of “that’s my juice,” with the absence of a verb lending itself to a more Black-leaning verbiage, but I’m certainly not offended by that, either. Had there been some continuity throughout the Billboard clip or any of her other interviews, I’d be willing to reconsider. But this isolated incident word play in the middle of an otherwise normal interview isn’t much of a case.
When Grande dropped the visuals for “Thank U, Next,” there were murmurings about the colour of her skin as she re-enacted Mean Girls’ Regina George doodling in a burn book. Sis was undeniably really bronzed, and noticeably darker than she usually appears in photographs, videos, and in person. But I’m not sure I’d call Grande’s tan an attempt at blackface. Aesthetically, racial ambiguity has always been preferred over the assumed neutrality of whiteness and the assumed undesirability of Blackness. The Kardashians have mastered the art of blurring the lines of their own racial identity to do everything from sell hair extensions to Black women and butt lifting jeans to white women. This kind of skin alteration has made headlines recently with a slew of Instagram influencers being accused of “blackfishing” or portraying themselves as Black for financial and social gain on the platform. There is a dialogue that needs to be had about racial exoticism as a beauty technique — one that Grande’s glam team probably needs to be part of — but blackface it is not.
I’m calling these accusations a reach and continuing my Mocha Grande introduction course as planned.