‘Blackfishing’ Is More Than A Fake Tan and Curly Hair. Here’s Why

Former Little Mix bandmate Jesy Nelson’s new song, ‘Boyz’, has been doing the rounds this week, but arguably not for the right reasons.Since releasing the video for the track – her first solo single since leaving the girl group – Nelson, 30, has been accused of being a Blackfish.

The term might be relatively new to some, but as a week of discussion on social media has shown, it’s at the centre of pop culture discourse right now – and not just what it means, but whether the word itself is even the right one to use.

Coined by Canadian journalist Wanna Thompson, Blackfishing is when a white woman trying to emulate the appearance of a Black or mixed-race woman. She might do this by adopting an extreme fake tan, lip fillers, curly hair, even a BBL (Brazillian butt lift). But being a Blackfish is about more than just appearance.

It denotes a form of cultural appropriation, especially where there is a chance of making financial gain. The way you speak and the music you make all can all add up to the impression that a white woman is trying to play at being Black.

In ‘Boyz’, Nelson samples P-Diddy’s ‘Bad Boy 4 Life’, a popular hip hop song. The video is also heavily influenced by Black culture, from the clothes she is wearing to the choreography. This borrowing of Black culture feels questionable – while Little Mix make some RnB-inspired songs, they’re a pop band.

Of course, Nelson is not the only musician to have been criticised for dabbling in Black music when she feels like it – others like Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande have also been accused of appropriating Black music, while contrasts have been drawn with the likes of Amy Winehouse and Adele who more openly and easily acknowledged its influence on their work from the get go.

After watching Nelson’s new video this week, author Natasha Mulenga, writing for Teen Vogue, pondered what left her feeling uncomfortable.

“Was it the white guys in poorly done cornrows? Was it the concept – the mostly white neighbourhood of “Perfectville” being disrupted by people dressed as if there was a B2K reunion with a white woman from Dagenham, Essex, leading the charge?” she asked. “Or was it that the same white woman who I had seen win X-Factor in 2011 as one-quarter of Little Mix, was now the same complexion as her featured artist Nicki Minaj?”

As Mulenga reflected: “It’s not just a tan.” And when Minaj joined Nelson for an Instagram Live on to promote their track, things got even more complicated.

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