‘Sounds about white’: Why Ariana Grande needs to apologize for ‘7 rings’ controversy

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It’s the general consensus that Ariana Grande is one of America’s sweethearts. Most know and love the young pop star from when she acted as Cat Valentine on the Nickelodeon TV show “Victorious.” And since her release of Dangerous Woman in 2016, she has grown to produce music that consistently tops charts, with “God is a woman” and “thank u, next” defining the recent pop-culture landscape.

So what do we do when one of America’s sweethearts makes a mistake?

The jury is still out on how to address the plagiarism within Grande’s latest single “7 rings.” We’re not talking about the obvious connection a song from “The Sound of Music,” “My Favorite Things,” or her paying homage to late rapper The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Gimme the Loot.”

Rather, Grande is accused of plagiarizing songs by Black artists Princess Nokia, Soulja Boy and 2 Chainz in “7 rings.” And while this shouldn’t necessarily equal her being canceled, we’re still waiting on a formal apology.

Grande’s latest single was released Jan. 18 and broke the Spotify all-time record for the most streams in a 24-hour period. The idea of success is intricately woven into “7 rings,” in which Grande parades her wealth and sings, “Whoever said money can’t solve your problems must not have had enough money to solve ’em.” The song is about how Grande drunkenly went to Tiffany’s and bought rings for her and her six friends.

This is not the first time Grande has discussed her success in a song while trying to raise up other women, the song “Successful” off her latest album Sweetener being another example. At face value, Grande did it again: She empowers women to boldly wear their success, and the song is seemingly inspiring. And as many artists do, Grande built upon existing art with this song, and there’s a beauty to that.

Composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, who created the soundtrack for “The Sound of Music,” are given credit as the inspiration for Grande’s song; thus, when we hear the familiar melody from the musical, with a play on the lyrics, we can fondly remember other pop songs that build on old tunes, such as Gwen Stefani’s “Rich Girl.”

The “no tears left to cry” singer’s misstep exists in the undeniable similarities between the refrain of the song “I want it, I got it, I want it, I got it / I want it, I got it, I want it, I got it / You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it” and Princess Nokia’s “Mine.” After hearing Grande’s “7 rings,” Princess Nokia posted an Instagram video, which was later deleted, of her listening to Grande’s song and then playing her own 2017 single “Mine.” She tells her followers, “Does that sound familiar to you? ‘Cause that sounds really familiar to me. Ain’t that the little song I made about brown women and their hair? Hmm… sounds about white.”

And the rapper is right. The similarities are striking. Of course it gets a little more messy. After Princess Nokia spoke out, both 2 Chainz and Soulja Boy also expressed that both Princess Nokia’s and Grande’s songs sampled from their own melodies. This controversy has resulted in many critics trying to determine whether or not the song was directly stolen or simply influenced by these other artists. Lauren Michele Jackson, in a piece for Vulture, discusses the ambiguity between appropriation and appreciation here — after all, don’t all artists use inspiration?

Yes, inspiration is necessary to create beautiful art. But we know Grande is appropriating Black artists here because she did not give them credit and has used their rhythms to uphold her own privileged message. As writer Spencer Kornhaber of The Atlantic writes, 2 Chainz’s song “Spend It” is about his experience dealing drugs as a teenager, and Princess Nokia’s song “Mine” addresses how Black and brown women are derided for their weaves

“Grande’s hair lyrics, by contrast, are about her famous ponytail and the extensions she buys to create it,” Kornhaber writes. “That’s certainly a reference that’s authentic to her, but also one that draws a shaky connection to former drug dealers having escaped poverty and to women of color showing pride in the face of marginalization.”

With this lens, “7 rings” becomes an overt ode to privilege, to being rich and to getting drunk and buying your friends rings from Tiffany’s. When we think about the message of Grande’s song, this mistake feels egregious.

In addressing this controversy, one of Grande’s followers posted, “White women talking about their weaves is how we’re gonna solve racism,” which Grande reposted and responded to by saying “so much love.”

While it is unclear whether or not the original post was sarcastic or not, Grande received backlash for her response. Addressing this, Grande later apologized: “Hi hi. I think (the follower’s) intention was to be like… yay a white person dissociating the negative stariotype that is paired with the word ‘weave’… however I’m so sorry my response was out of pocket or if it came across the wrong way… Thanks for opening the conversation and like… to everyone for talking to me about it. It’s never my intention to offend anyone.”

This kind of miscommunication is why it is dangerous for a white artist to appropriate Black art. White women are not going to solve racism by talking about their weaves, by plagiarizing Black rappers or by posting incomplete apologies in the comment section of an Instagram post.

So should we stop listening to Ariana Grande? No, but we must accept that this beloved pop star has made a mistake. Grande needs to apologize publicly and formally to Princess Nokia, 2 Chainz and Soulja Boy — and maybe buy them a couple of rings.

Malini Ramaiyer covers culture and diversity. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @malinisramaiyer.