Cancel culture has made pop star Justin Timberlake its latest target. Timberlake appeared on a recent episode of Saturday Night Live to promote a new album and single created in collaboration with rapper Tobe Nwigwe. The song, however, features a gospel-rock climax that has been denounced as “cultural appropriation” by social media critics.
A Twitter user, Jon Paul, who adds “they/them” pronouns on his bio, tweeted a clip of the performance and wrote, “When all else fails, appropriate black culture.” The tweet sparked a debate, with many people coming forward to allege that Timberlake has continuously appropriated black culture yet had not been called out on it before. One person wrote, “He’s good at appropriating! He’s done it all his career!”
Others, however, pointed out that Timberlake comes from a Baptist background, growing up in Tennessee, and critics should learn the “difference between appropriation and appreciation.”
Sociology and psychology experts describe “cultural appropriation” as using elements of a non-dominant culture in a way “that the non-dominant culture views as exploitative.” American historian and cultural theorist George Lipsitz described it in the 1990s as occurring when “an element of culture is adopted from a marginalized group without respect for its cultural meaning.” More recently, social media users and others often associate it with so-called “wokeness,” and several celebrities have faced criticism for it.
British singing superstar Adele, for example, came under fire when she posted pictures online wearing a bikini top in the colors of the Jamaican flag and her hair tied into tight knots. She wore the items to mark Notting Hill Carnival, an annual festival in her native London that celebrates Afro-Caribbean culture. When she posted the photos, some immediately accused her of cultural appropriation, with one person tweeting, “This officially marks all of the top white women in pop as problematic.”
Other celebrities, including Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, and Zac Efron, have faced similar accusations. Zac Efron wore dreadlocks “for fun” but was soon reprimanded.