‘There’s a difference between appropriation and appreciation,’ said Ariana Grande following the raucous of internet backlash following her misspelt Chinese tattoo on social media this week. There is a fine line to be deciphered here, is it clumsiness? Is the star, who is the epitome of pop right now, innocent of harm? Is the 7 rings singer merely appreciating, or is this a case of cultural appropriation? Perhaps it veers a little deeper, deeper than the glamorous and glitzy pop-culture of Ariana Grande. It is more to do with the West’s obsession with tattooing themselves blindly with exotic languages. Grande is not the pinnacle of this phenomena, it is unfair to stigmatise her; but she is part of something much larger.
I cannot speak for Grande personally; for all I know, she may have a personal connection with Chinese calligraphy, a Chinese heritage, or a real love for the food – a real appreciation. But despite this distant possibility, she is part of a culture which idealises the language, as a pretty picture and not much else. Now, I am not saying that there is a set of criteria one must get before tattooing an ‘exotic’ language on their skin, since it is indeed their skin, but I am saying that there should be more care for the cultures in which they involving themselves with. In this world of inherent racism which finds itself at the very top of society, (not very discreetly too, see Trump!), it is careful to not trip over what would seem like small details. It is ridiculous to reduce a whole language to an aesthetically pleasing tattoo, no matter how pretty, or ‘Tumblr’ it looks. Ariana Grande, it would appear, endlessly sympathises and cares for the world, her ‘One-Love Manchester’ concert was a heartfelt and moving ceremony, yet it is significant that even she trips up over such small, yet consequential details.
Though all being said, I think it is important not to overlook the media’s role in this whole debacle. Whilst it is helpful in highlighting the existing exoticism of the East in the West, it also adds to the layers of media attack on Ariana this past year. While she has no awards to her name (as of yet), she attracts a world-wide following and the Telegraph have recently stated she is paving the way to a new era of pop. Her staggering frenzy of support allow her to be an evolving epitome of pop and she is indeed her own women. The tabloid nit picking at her skin is in itself an issue. I sympathise with her as she lives her life under the relentless lens of criticism and tabloid headlines, yet in this case, it has perhaps opened up to a much larger issue.
Returning back to Grande’s words, it is important that we appreciate language and culture, that we don’t exploit it to fit the latest insta trends. Collectively, we should try to understand others’ cultures, not just brand them aimlessly on our skin. Mistakes are mistakes, though at least there is humour in it, Grande is a vegan…with ‘little bbq grill’ tattooed on her palm!