Music, Pop Culture

Ariana Grande’s excessive use of fake tan is ‘blackfishing,’ and that’s a real problem

As a white woman, Ariana wants to be seen as white when it helps her, but she’s brown or black everywhere else.

Ariana Grande and her excessive fake tan has been sweeping the internet lately.

Yes, fake.

Contrary to popular belief and what she may have us believe through coded behavior, Ariana is Italian. This comes as a shock to many, who often assume she’s Latina or mixed. Ariana is, by lack of a better definition, white. Caucasian. She’s not racially ambiguous, she just uses a lot of fake tan and make-up. This should be abundantly clear to anyone who has seen pictures of her in her teens or on ‘Victorious’, in comparison to now.

Ariana wants her skin to appear darker. This picture of her and Nicki Minaj standing side by side that speaks louder than words. Nicki Minaj is a black woman and Ariana is not, and somehow, their skin tones are the same.

Two women with brown skin and light hair are performing on stage. One is wearing a pink visor cap, with a pink choker and white bralet co-ord. Paired with a headset microphone. The other performer is wearing a pink latex leotard and holding a sparkly microphone.
[Image description: Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj standing on a stage, both wearing pink] Via Thea Wargo on Getty Images for MTV.
Overuse of fake tan is a thing.

Ariana is not the only person guilty of it. Thousands of people who have naturally paler skin use it, without any cultural implications. However, a global artist who should know better and tries to pass as a different race is all kinds of wrong. Ariana is guilty of something else entirely.

Blackfishing’ is a phrase coined by culture critics such as Wanna Thompson, to describe those who are giving off the façade that they are black. Blackfishing goes beyond pretending to have dark skin. The people who do this also have cornrows or traditionally black hairstyles like locs.

There have also been allegations about white influencers getting plastic surgery to enhance their bodies in order to make them similar to black women.  Whilst it can be regarded as a form of cultural appropriation there are other issues arising from this. The other problem that stems from seeming to appear as black/brown is the fact that many influencers and celebrities profit from it. The evidence to prove that Ariana is doing this is compelling, like with her continuous use of AAVE (African American Vernacular English) in her recent single ‘7 rings’.

There’s also the issue of Ariana appropriating Hispanic/Latinx culture. Her Quinceanera comment at Billboard’s Women in Music Awards could be seen as a light joke, but should also be a nod to what her image has subtly shifted to.

Everyone from the Kardashians to Iggy Azalea have changed their skin complexions, outfits, facial features, bodily features, and even mannerisms to appear black. If, historically, blackface started with white actors painting on brown and black face paints for the purpose of mocking black people, ‘blackfishing’ could be seen as a modernized version of it.

Whilst continuing to look at the broader spectrum around race and race discussion it is intriguing to acknowledge Grande’s skin color on her Vogue cover.  It shows her in her white, pale skin. Publications like Vogue have a history of lightening the complexions of darker-skinned people. Ariana’s cover showed her without her fake tan.

As a white woman, she wants to be seen as white on an acclaimed publication, but she’s brown or black everywhere else. The argument about the fact a prestigious magazine like Vogue doesn’t show her fake tan, implies that she is, in fact, using blackface.

A woman in blue hoodie, smiling and holding the hood around half her face
[Image description: Ariana Grande in a blue hoodie, smiling and holding the hood around half her face.] Via Craig Mcdean on Vogue
The problem of white privilege arises when celebrities “cosplay” as black people for fun. Celebrities like Grande who profit off of black culture have the luxury of ignoring or dismissing the inherent racism of the act. Not addressing the problem means that they agree they did nothing wrong or simply do not care. Continuing to ignore it shows how much privilege she has.

It is also worth mentioning that Ariana has exploited the LGBTQ+ community too.

A known straight ally, Grande recently released a single called, “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.” If you haven’t seen the video, Ariana flirts with a woman multiple times and then kisses her (Grande’s explanation of the song was self-love, claiming that she was the ‘girlfriend’). She has been accused of queerbaiting and profiting off the LGBTQ+ community. Pretending to be LGBTQ+ for shock value and views is wrong and exploitative.

Grande should do better. She will also be headlining Pride this year, taking the opportunity away from less known queer artists.

All this is in no way dismissing all the good Ariana has done and how great of an artist she is. But her actions should not be excused just because of her talent, especially at the height of her career.

Opinion is still divided about whether the use of fake tan can actually be seen as controversial.

Whilst many want to tan their skin for aesthetic purposes, people of color still have to bear the burden of oppression because their skin is darker.