Jesy Nelson from Little Mix is the first member to leave the girl group in pursuit of her solo career. Her debut single “Boyz” is concerning and has landed the star in a blackfishing scandal.
By Isabelle Delostrinos
At the end of 2020 British girl group Little Mix reached a turning point in their career when a member publicly announced their parting from the group. Since their formation in 2011, Jesy Nelson decided that her time working with Jade Thirlwall, Perrie Edwards, and Leigh Ann Pinnock had come to an end. After 9 years, Nelson called it quits to pursue her solo career. Little Mix joins groups like Fifth Harmony and One Direction, where a single member takes a leap to make it on their own. But it looks like Nelson’s career differs from Camila Cabello’s or Zayn Malik’s in the sense that her debut single “Boyz” has already received backlash.
Little Mix was put together by Simon Cowell on the competition show, X Factor. This strategic move proved Cowell’s expertise in the industry as they became the first group to be a champion of X Factor. Little Mix used the win as momentum and has been entertaining the world ever since. In an interview with Vulture, Nelson dived deep into her intentions of leaving the group, explaining how her personal style and passion never really aligned with the group’s brand. From auditioning as an R&B solo artist to making it in the industry as part of a pop girl group, Nelson felt constrained and stuck doing something that never suited her. Now, Nelson hopes to finally immerse herself into a genre she loves and express herself as she truly feels.
Nelson released her debut single “Boyz” on October 7th. Only a few weeks after its release, the music video has already hit over 13 million views on Youtube. Her attempt at incorporating her hip hop and R&B passions into her music backfired as the video instantly received backlash, accusing Nelson of blackfishing.
Coined by writer Wanna Thompson, blackfishing is a term used to refer to instances when white public figures adopt styles and aesthetics to appear Black. For example, Nelson first appears in her music video wearing afro-like hair, multiple diamond chains, and a grill, a style originated from Black culture. The male actors and backup dancers are also constantly seen covered in tattoos, durags, and sagging shorts while their mannerisms suggest that they come from the “hood”. Nelson’s lyrics also include problematic lines like “so hood, so good, so damn taboo” when referring to her ideal partner. As a white British person from London, Nelson’s creative direction is concerning.
Unfortunately, blackfishing has been and continues to be an issue in the music industry. White public figures gain fame and make profits off of the styles and concepts that originated from Black culture. Meanwhile, Black creators are never acknowledged or taken seriously when they partake in a culture they created. In response to the instant criticism, Nelson defended her work as a celebration of the music she grew up on. What makes matters worse is the blackfishers inability to realize how their positionality and actions affect communities of color. For instance, Australian rapper Iggy Azalea has received backlash regarding blackfishing and cultural appropriation since she entered the scene in 2014. Yet in a recent interview with Cosmopolitan, the rapper avoided questions on the topic stating that there will always be people who don’t like what she does, and there will be people who do.
To simply sum up a topic that could go on and on, we need to continue to hold artists and public figures accountable for blackfishing and cultural appropriation. Our generation’s ability to utilize social media as a platform for awareness will only progress our culture and societal norms. In the future, I am interested to see how Nelson recovers her solo career from this single.
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