Does Bruno Mars Appropriate Black Culture?

Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS

A new video has sparked a heated debate

In a video for The Grapevine—a roundtable-type web series focusing on topics like entertainment and politics from the black millennial perspective—writer and YouTuber Seren Sensei explains why she thinks Bruno Mars appropriates black culture, and how that contributes to his success in a world where people "prefer black culture" from a "non-black face." Since the clip went viral, a lot of people are now debating whether or not Mars, who is Filipino, Puerto Rican, and Ashkenazi Jewish, is guilty of being a "culture vulture," or if his success is evidence of a larger systemic prejudice.

“Bruno Mars 100 percent is a cultural appropriator,” Sensei says in the video. “He is not black, at all, and he plays up his racial ambiguity to cross genres.” She went on to say that she feels artists like Michael Jackson wouldn't be able to get to the level they did if they were around today, because "people have realized that they prefer their black music and their black culture from a non-black face." 

Since non-black musicians are now "much more willing to step into 'black genres,'" Senei says, they've been getting more accolades than black artists. She cites Mars and his Album of the Year Grammy as an example. "What Bruno Mars does is he takes pre-existing work and he just completely word-for-word recreates it," she says. "Bruno Mars got that Grammy because white people love him because he's not black. Period." 

Sensei's clip has sparked a heated debate about whether or not Mars is appropriating black culture. Some people agree with her, with

, "She’s not wrong. When can a Black artist be experimental with Black music? Black artists of today are stuck in a particular sound. Black artists MUST be innovative to be recognized."

Others defended Mars, saying that the singer always gives credit to black artists that influence him.

, "Bruno doesn’t dismiss the culture - in fact he gives credit to origin. He’s not claiming he invented or revolutionized it." (For context, Mars also once told Latina Magazine that America doesn't give enough credit to black musicians.)

Some people

that musicians like Miley Cyrus or Justin Timberlake, who've also been accused of cultural appropriation, are different from Mars, because they don't give black artists "due credit and respect."

A lot of fans also

, saying that he doesn't have to steal to be successful. 

Bitch Media's senior editor Evette Dionne

about systemic erasure. 

Wait. Where's the lie though? We culturally prefer to ingest Black culture from non-Black people. I guess that’s irrelevant when the pop star is someone we like e.g. Bruno Mars. I like Bruno Mars—a lot—and this bigger point about systemic erasure still stands.

"Bruno Mars makes phenomenal music," Dionne continued in another tweet. "He also benefits as a non-Black musician in a system that maligns Black artists. Can’t both of those things be true and valid and worth grappling with?"

You can watch the full debate on The Grapevine below. 

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