Jesy Nelson ‘blackfishing’ controversy: How to appreciate – not appropriate – black culture


Former Little Mix singer Jesy Nelson has discovered herself on the centre of ‘blackfishing’ allegations after releasing her first solo music video, Boyz.

The video – that includes Nicki Minaj – exhibits Nelson with what some individuals are calling a darker pores and skin tone than ordinary and massive curly hair, in addition to carrying one other type with braids.

During a current Instagram Live the 30-year-old credited her tan to a current vacation in Antigua and added: “I personally want to say that my intention was never, ever to offend people of colour with this video and my song because like I said, growing up as a young girl, this is the music that I listened to.

Jesy Nelson (Yui Mok/PA)

“These are the videos that I watched and thought were the best. For me personally, ’90s/2000 hip hop, R&B music was the best era of music. I just wanted to celebrate that. I just wanted to celebrate that era of music because it is what I love.”

The feedback got here after experiences Nelson’s former bandmate Leigh-Anne Pinnock had warned her about blackfishing.

Kubi Springer, CEO of SheBuildsBrands (, describes blackfishing as “where somebody who is not of the ethnicity they are replicating, and do not give enough kudos and credits to its origins, and try and mimic it rather than being inspired by it”.

Blackfishing is commonly decreased to having a darkish tan, but it surely’s wider reaching than that. “If we take it to Jesy’s video, one could argue it’s the braids in her hair, it’s the Afro extensions,” explains Springer. “She’s not in the video as a pale-skinned, brown-haired white lady – she’s in the video as a tan-skinned, Afro-haired white lady.”

Nelson’s track additionally strongly attracts on hip hop and R&B – genres created by black musicians. For Springer, who has labored with P Diddy, Beyoncé and Mariah Carey over her profession, blackfishing will be damaging “because historically, particularly in the music, entertainment and fashion industries, blacks and ethnic minorities who have maybe been the birth of the art form don’t get the credit necessary”, she says.

“We have seen this time and time again, where it’s on the fringes of pop culture when it’s a dark-skinned person – but it becomes mainstream when it’s [someone who is] lighter-skinned and definitely commercially successful when it’s somebody who is white that does it.” Springer provides the instance of Elvis Presley bringing rock and roll to the mainstream, when it originated from black musicians.

Another challenge Springer raises is how black culture can get misrepresented when not championed by black individuals. “It is generally seen that the more overly sexualized side of black art is picked up and then commercialised,” she explains.

“It could be argued that’s because that is what it’s believed R&B and hip hop is all about, but actually R&B – whilst there are music videos with people booty shaking, which is what we see at the beginning of Jesy’s video – R&B also had people like Jazmine Sullivan, Snoh Aalegra, Lauryn Hill, Nas and Common – who are very conscious in their lyrics, and very thought-provoking in their lyrics, and it’s not about flashy cars and Rolls-Royces and booty shaking.”

For Springer, it’s “frustrating when black art is taken, and that’s the side that is seen as a representation of black art, and the side that then becomes commercially successful”.

She suggests issues are totally different for the youthful era, who’ve all “grown up on R&B as mainstream culture – for a lot of them, they don’t necessarily in their experience see it as a black thing, because they’ve experienced it from birth and therefore see it as their thing”.

Jesy Nelson on the NTAs 2020 (Ian West/PA)

(PA Archive)

However, Springer nonetheless has recommendation for the youthful era on how to appreciate black culture – as a substitute of appropriating it. “I would encourage young people growing up to just respect the origins of it,” she says. “You can enjoy it, you can utilise it, you can work with it, you can recreate it – but respect the origin.

“And when you do it, be true to your authentic self. I think if Jesy had created an R&B song and just been true to her authentic self, being in the video as she is and as her personal brand should be represented – one, she would inspire white girls everywhere, rather than now making white girls feel like they need to wear Afros to be sexy and cool. And secondly, she would be respecting black girls who have Afros naturally. I think in this day and age, we just need to stand in our truth.”

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