Ariana Grande’s new song “7 Rings” was out for only a few hours before it began to draw numerous comparisons to other artists’ existing songs. Princess Nokia flat out accused Ariana of co-opting her 1992 Deluxe song “Mine” in a video posted to Twitter, while Soulja Boy fans — perhaps energized by his wild week of over-the-top interviews and loud reminders of his own influence — linked “7 Rings” to Soulja’s 2010 hit “Pretty Boy Swag.” Still other fans pointed out similarities between Ariana and Nokia’s songs and the 2011 2 Chainz mixtape single “Spend It.”
About the only influence anyone can agree on is the interpolation of the melody of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound Of Music, the only directly credited song aside from “Gimme The Loot” by The Notorious BIG. The issue has once again rekindled the cultural appropriation debate which has dogged pop music singers since pop music became a widely recognized musical genre dating back to the 1960s. However, this time, the furor surrounding “7 Rings” does more to highlight how much more complex and nuanced that debate has become — and how much thornier it stands to get in the very near future. As hip-hop becomes pop — and vice versa — the discussion will need to encompass plenty of new facts that may make its participants more uncomfortable than ever.
The way we debate practically any issue online strips the idea of nuance away from almost any discussion. Everything feels increasingly polarized; you must take a position and stay there, pulling as hard as you can to convince others to join your “side,” whether the issue is as multifaceted as politics or as silly as pineapple on pizza. In the case of cultural identity and appropriation, it can seem as cut and dry as “don’t wear Native headdresses as your festival costume” or as obvious as “white people shouldn’t say n—- at rap shows.”
However, when the discussion wades into murkier waters like the influence of hip-hop on pop music, it can become difficult to hash out just where the lines are — or if there are any at all. For example, just a little under two years ago, Miley Cyrus’ then-recent about-face on using hip-hop to sell records, resulted in plenty of places calling her out for discarding her “love” for hip-hop with a poorly described, ignorant dismissal of the genre that proved her appreciation for it had been surface level at best.