12 times celebrities landed in hot water for cultural appropriation

Beyonce in the new Coldplay Video 'Hymn for the Weekend' (Source: Youtube) Source: YouTube

Coldplay and Beyonce received widespread criticism for cultural appropriation in their new video but they’re not the first personalities to be slammed for such insensitivities.

By now you’ve probably heard that Beyonce and Coldplay have collaborated together on a new track, ‘Hymn for the Weekend’.

Within minutes of the video hitting the web, the high-profile British and American musicians were also widely criticised for appropriating Indian culture:

It’s not the first time a celebrity has been accused of unnecessarily stealing from a culture that’s not their own. Here are some of the other most high-profile controversies from recent years.

1. When Michelle Williams wore “Redface”

Featured on the cover of fashion title AnOther magazine in late 2013, Michelle Williams appeared to don a braid, feathers, and face paint in the traditional style of a Native American, which quickly led to a widespread outcry for insensitivity.

2. When Lady Gaga donned a Burqa

Known for her bold fashion choices, Gaga might have pushed the boundaries a little too far when she walked the catwalk for Philip Treacy in 2012 at London Fashion week.

It wasn’t just her outfit choices that saw her criticized at the time though. She’d also hinted that she planned to drop a song called ‘Burqa’ on her then-upcoming album ‘Artpop’.

Lyrics on the track included: “I’m not a wandering slave I am a woman of choice; My veil is protection for the gorgeousness of my face”

Perhaps sensing the backlash, she then changed the song’s title to ‘Aura’ for the album’s release, although it seems to have still featured most of the original lyrics, including: “Do you wanna see me naked, lover? Do you wanna peek underneath the cover? Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura?”

3. When Rihanna tried to make ‘Niqab swag’ sexy

Riri posed for a photoshoot at a mosque in Abu Dhabi in her own, highly sexualized version of a Niqab and was reportedly promptly asked to leave the religious venue. That didn’t stop her from sharing the snaps to Instagram though.

4. When Katy Perry opened the 2013 American Awards as a Geisha

One critic, Phyllis Heithan wrote at the time for Mic: "Between the lack of Asian women on stage, the heavy-handed use of bowing and shuffling around in the choreography, and the ethno-confused set and costume design, Perry presented her viewers a one-dimensional Eastern fantasy drawn by a Western eye."

It’s not the first time Perry’s been accused of coopting Asian cultures either – she’s a serial offender.

5. Pretty much every Katy Perry video clip ever

….There’s the time she went Egyptian for video clip ‘Dark Horse’

And her apparent caricature of a black girl in her video ‘This is How we Do’.

6. Taylor Swift’s caricature of hip hop culture in ‘Shake it Off’

Tay Tay's exaggeratedly ‘ghetto’ appearance and use of twerking black back up dancers lead many to accuse the pop princess of parodying black culture.

7. The Victoria’s Secret Catwalk Show

The star-studded annual lingerie parade has been deemed offensive for countless other reasons, not least because of its ridiculous portrayal of female bodies and sexuality. It’s also repeatedly accused of not representing diversity on the catwalk, but perhaps the parade’s most famously insensitive moment was when Karlie Kloss walked the runway in 2012 in a full length Native American headdress.

8. When Miley Cyrus ‘Twerked’

This was the one that lobbed the concept of cultural appropriation from the academia to mainstream public discussion. In 2013 she was desperate to shake off her vanilla public image, and decided to do so by shaking her butt right into the groin of Robin Thicke.

As twerking originated in black hip hop culture, many prominent critics including Jay Z and Azaelia Banks were quick to call Miley out for using it, both onstage and in her video for We Can’t Stop. Many also pointed out that, as a slender white girl, she was also not very good at it. 

9. When Kylie Jenner debuted cornrows on Instagram

With cornrows the follicular equivalent of blackface, Kylie Jenner was met with a maelstrom of criticism after posting this picture to her Instagram:

Probably her most high-profile critic was Hunger Games star Amandla Stenberg whose comments on the post quickly went viral:

Kylie didn’t seem particularly apologetic though, posting the following response.

This prompted Amandla to explain exactly why cultural appropriation is so offensive, in a long post to Twitter.

10. When Ab Fab did ‘yellow face’

The highly anticipated big-screen adaptation of Jennifer Saunders’ popular British TV comedy has not even been released yet, but after Scottish actress and comedian Janette Tough was spotted on set in the streets of London filming scenes dressed as a fictional Japanese fashion designer Huki Muki, prominent Korean-American comedian Margaret Cho took issue:

11. When Beyonce was slated to play Baartman


Although nothing was ever publicly confirmed, a report recently emerged that Beyonce was planning to both write and star in a film about the life of Saartjie Baartman. Baartman was an African historical figure, who was dubbed “the Hottentot Venus” and paraded around Britain by showman Hendrik Cezar in the early 1800s to white audiences who came to gawk at her unusually large buttocks.

The outcry was swift from those who said that as a privileged, slender, wealthy and light-skinned American woman, Beyoncé had no place to tell her story.  

Jean Burgess, a South African chief of the Ghonaqua First Peoples, told South Africa’s News 24  "She lacks the basic human dignity to be worthy of writing Sarah's [Saartjie's] story, let alone playing the part."

“I can only see arrogance in her attempt to tell a story that is not her’s to tell."

Possibly because of this public backlash, the singer later denied any involvement in the project, with a representative for the singer telling US website GossipCop “Beyoncé is not connected to this project, but this is a very important story to be told.”

12. Pretty much everything Iggy Azalea’s ever done

Australian rapper Iggy Azalea has been slammed by celebrities and everyday music fans alike for making a career profiting from a culture that’s not her own. Many critics say that the faux ‘blaccent’ she adopts on all her tracks is beyond parody. Case in point: this viral vine of her indecipherable ‘freestyle rap’. Can you understand her?

Not content with just ripping off African American culture though, similar to Beyonce, Iggy also got accused of parodying Bollywood with her videoclip for Bounce: