Is Bruno Mars guilty of cultural appropriation?
On Friday there was a raging debate on Twitter (what’s new.) This one was interesting. It was centered around one of the most popular singers in pop music: Bruno Mars.
The debate can be distilled to this; is Bruno Mars guilty of cultural appropriation?
What he’s doing is karaoke, basically. With “Finesse,” in particular, I think he was simply copying Bell Biv DeVoe. I think he was copying Babyface. And definitely there were some elements of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis back when they worked with Human League. I feel like there’s just all these threads running through there, but not in a genuine way.
Then, writer, YouTuber, and activist Seren Sensei appeared on The Grapevine and let her views be known. She felt like Bruno was a cultural appropriator. Twitter user hannahmburrell ripped the video and put it on her timeline:
— hannie (@hannahmburrell) March 9, 2018
The reaction to her video was swift and divisive. Some feel like she made good points:
I don’t even hate Bruno Mars, but I agree with every black ass word that queen spoke.
— Small Freedia (@KidFury) March 9, 2018
Wait. Where’s the lie though? We culturally prefer to ingest Black culture from non-Black people. I guess that’s irrelevant when the pop star is someone we like e.g. Bruno Mars. I like Bruno Mars—a lot—and this bigger point about systemic erasure still stands. https://t.co/ZZZYrUNUsO
— Evette Dionne (@freeblackgirl) March 9, 2018
Others thought she was wrong:
Do these clowns recognize that most of the credited songwriters & producers of Bruno Mars album are African American? I know because I am one of them. Get a life people
— C. Martin (@CarlMartin360) March 9, 2018
The debate went on for hours; Bruno Mars was a top trending topic in the United States for basically the entire day.
Here were some more interesting/insightful/funny tweets:
Me watching you guys argue about Bruno Mars while happily listening to Bruno Mars pic.twitter.com/GLKZUDkYjp
— Robert Littal (@BSO) March 9, 2018
Bruno Mars: *breathes*
‘Woke’ Twitter: pic.twitter.com/HCbtg2Uzbb
— E. (@emrexprogress) March 9, 2018
Someone called Bruno Mars a culture vulture meanwhile Drake walks free after stealing every song on every album, having an entire album written by The Weeknd, sampling old hit songs on EVERY SONG he does, and doing fake accents to fit in with different genres…
— PFV (@mattPFV) March 9, 2018
Puerto Ricans helped create hip-hop. Re: Bruno Mars.
— 🌹 Ferrari Sheppard (@stopbeingfamous) March 9, 2018
She’s not wrong.
When can a Black artist be experimental with Black music? Black artists of today are stuck in a particular sound. Black artists MUST be innovative to be recognized. https://t.co/sXmRzo7tjX
— Charlie da Casanova (@bigsexydraws) March 9, 2018
bruno mars ain’t even from mars, the planetary vulture
— Rembert Browne (@rembert) March 9, 2018
Cultural appropriation isn’t when a nonblack person involves themselves in black culture. Its when they come in without permission & don’t pay homage. Thats Lil Xan & his comment about 2Pac not Bruno Mars who thanked black ppl for his Grammys
— New Account They Suspended Me Over An Obama Tweet (@JohnLoveIAm) March 9, 2018
Bruno Mars: Next Super Bowl performance in ATL should only have BLACK rappers performing.
Vegan w/ Chicken Gravy Twitter: CULTURAL APPROPRIATION!
Anyways, lemme mind my business n go back to work pic.twitter.com/ECvYRmqwLk
— Villaz (@ChrisVillaz) March 9, 2018
Yeah, she makes a valid point about the appropriation of blackness and how it is now lucrative rather than taboo. Bruno Mars as an example is an awkward one because he has paid homage but that doesn’t discredit that he can still benefit from the ambiguity.
— Chanté 🇩🇲🇯🇲 (@ChantayyJayy) March 9, 2018
Bruno Mars is literally the LEAST problematic musician out here and y’all want to bash him for making Bops that everyone and their grandma can dance to? I mean all that energy can be used for calling out ACTUAL culture vultures but… 😒 pic.twitter.com/iBfm4OR32m
— Tara A N G E L 🗝☮⚛ (@TaraAngel94) March 9, 2018
Complex was able to sit down with Seren Sensei, who isn’t backing down from her comments:
I feel like it’s great that he recognizes his influences. It’s great that he pays homage, but I personally don’t think that’s enough. I have an issue with Bruno being an unoriginal artist, he’s not a unique artist, he’s not a creative artist. I’ve also said this in my own videos on him. The video he did for that song “Finesse,” it’s like, this whole song sounds like a word-for-word creation of a TLC song; the video is a complete recreation of In Living Color.
This is why people say he’s a karaoke artist or he’s a wedding singer, because he’s not doing anything unique. He’s not doing anything creative, or original. He doesn’t take inspiration; he basically does a recreation of things that already exist. So to me, if you’re gonna be a real artist, an Album of the Year award-winning artist, you need to just stop blatantly copying. I don’t know when it became okay to just blatantly copy, but if you’re gonna be a musician, he needs to No. 1: stop copying.
Sensei also said that Bruno Mars fans got her blocked from Twitter for seven days so she can’t respond to any of the comments.
Where do you stand?