Cross-Cultural Appropriation of Pop Songs
by Brianni Nelson — University of Texas at Dallas
May 04, 2016 – 00:00
Nearly two decades ago, Next, a male R&B group, released a catchy song called “Too Close.” The song reached the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1998. Today, in the right venues and on the right radio stations, the song is still recognizable to those familiar with Pop R&B from the 1990s and 2000s. However, if you visit the Wikipedia page for the song today, after the initial overview, the first thing discussed is the recent parody of the song in the 2015 “Why You Always Lying” Vine by Nicholas Fraser. The initial Vine became a full length music video and reached other social media platforms including YouTube, Instagram, and SnapChat. It is not a new phenomenon for pop culture to sample and recall things from the past. Look no further than the prank of “rickrolling;” its roots tied to Rick Astley’s 1987 song, “Never Gonna Give You Up.” This seems harmless, but what happens when these new iterations are introduced to audiences that the original content never reached? The “Why You Always Lying” meme was initially funny specifically because of the use of the Next song. But as it took off in popularity – being viewed over 50 million times, mimicked, and translated into dozens of languages – was the homage to the original song lost with every new rendition? It was certainly lost in 2013 when a “brand new” dance/interactive meme exploded – “Do the Harlem Shake.” The problem? The dance and the name were not new at all, leaving Hip Hop fans confused on this new version’s complete dismissal of the original dance. Though there are still problematic appropriations of culture, the idea that we can (and should) identify, call out, and correct these appropriations is becoming more common. However, music appropriation remains largely overlooked, particularly when it’s combined with Internet culture and humor. We work and play on the Internet, and while it has enabled dynamic and farther-reaching connections, it has also helped to create a false belief that we are simultaneously in tune with cross cultural differences – simple or complex. When this assumption is combined with casual humor, things get a bit more complicated. We might think we’re in on a joke, but are actually unfamiliar with its roots. As “Why You Always Lying” makes its round, is the humor in the original song, the new lyrics, or just a funny Black man dancing?