But he does appeal to white America.
At this point, nearly everyone has either seen or heard about Seren Sensei’s viral video claiming that Bruno Mars is appropriating Black culture. Her passionate remarks about Mars’ palatability to white America are valid, yet the rest of her claims are broad and sweeping in their generalization of Bruno Mars creating music by taking advantage of Black culture. He may sample from different genres, as do many artists, but he is not “tak[ing] pre-existing work and completely, word-for-word recreat[ing] it.” If this is the standard for cultural appropriation then Drake and his ghostwriters would be the main culprit.
Bruno Mars has done two main things that prove he is not culturally appropriating: He cited his sources and has made donations with his revenue, which is generated by Black culture, to the Black community. The main concern of cultural appropriation is that Black culture is assumed by non-Black people, only to be discarded at convenience without any regard for the Black community that it mimics and commercializes. But Bruno admires the Black people that he mimics and acknowledges their importance in his life and in the world. During an interview with 60 minutes in 2016, Bruno says, “The artists that I look up to [are] Michael, Prince, James Brown. You watch them and you understand that they’re paying attention to the details of their art. And they care so much about what they’re wearing, about how they’re moving, about how they’re making the audience feel. They’re not phoning it in. They’re going up there to murder anybody that performs after them or performs before them. That’s what I’ve watched my whole life and admired.” Citing his influences and giving them credit for the impact they have had on his life and his career circumvent any and all claims of cultural appropriation on the grounds that he references and reveres the Black culture he used to create his music.
This acknowledgement, however, does not erase the fact that he is still making millions off Black culture, which belongs to the same people that often can’t afford the sticker price of his concert tickets! While it’s great that he doesn’t discard Black culture at convenience like real cultural appropriators do, it’s even better that he is not cash cropping their culture in a way that only benefits his bank account. Bruno Mars is actually giving back to the very community that he is inspired by: In 2017, he donated $1 million to Flint, MI to aid in the water crisis. His donation was funded by the wealth that he has made using Black culture. How many other “cultural appropriators” have tangible evidence of using their commercialization of Blackness for Black communities?
Which is a bit ironic because Bruno crediting his sources of inspiration and donating to a Black community are the only two concrete examples that support him as an artist and not as an appropriator— and neither negate the fact that his profits vasty surpass what he’s giving back. The issue of Bruno Mars being a cultural appropriator is about money and who is able to generate it from a culture that is frequently denounced for the very attributes being appropriated. If Bruno were white, and some argue that he is, then hands-down he would be a cultural appropriator.
But here’s the thing: he was born in Hawaii and his mom and dad are Filipino and Puerto Rican respectively. Yet, Bruno Mars is not Black and continues to commercialize our culture. And honestly, I don’t care that he’s not Black. I don’t. I care that he is a solid example of what intersectional solidarity looks like. Intersectional solidarity is folks from different historically marginalized identities supporting each other in a crusade to flip the current matrix of domination known as racism, sexism, and pretty much every other -ism. Another example of intersectional solidarity is when Adele stated that Beyoncé should have won the 2017 Grammy for Album of the Year during her acceptance speech of the award; a white woman was able to credit a Black woman for “making such relevant music for [so] long of a [time] period, and still affect all of us…what the f*** does she have to do to win album of the year.” Adele stood up for Beyoncé because she is a fellow female artist and because Adele recognizes that a Black woman with such an enormous impact on this country deserves to be honored.
Both Adele and Bruno alike demonstrate intersectional solidarity and it is one of the many actionable steps that can lead to liberation for all minorities, especially racial minorities. This solidarity becomes particularly important when it comes to colorism. Now, I’m the first to admit and recognize that Bruno has won awards because of his racial ambiguity and its appeasement to white america. But this is an issue of colorism, which ultimately stems from racism, which is one of the -isms that intersectional solidarity works against. So there you have it: The current “controversy” around Bruno Mars culturally appropriating isn’t controversial: He is not. What he is doing, however, is using the platform given to him by Black culture to support Black communities.