But Chinese fans are full of praise
On Tuesday Harper’s Bazaar China unveiled its latest cover starring queen of everything Rihanna. Released just a week after the launch of Fenty Beauty’s Weibo account, causing rumours that the beauty brand has plans to introduce its products into China, the Harper’s Bazaar images see Rihanna dressed in modern interpretations of traditional Chinese dress, hair and make-up. Not everyone was happy, however, and critics took to social media with accusations of cultural appropriation.
“Wait a minute when Kendal Jenner was on the cover of a magazine with an "afro" people were screaming cultural appropriation but when Rihanna dresses up like this nobody says anything, it's art, it's glam fuck the double standards,” commented one Twitter user.
This is, of course, not the first time a celebrity has been accused of cultural appropriation; many people thought Karlie Kloss guilty of the same crime last year for her Geisha themed Vogue shoot. And much more recently, Kim Kardashian West came under heavy fire for naming her shapewear line ‘Kimono’. Not long ago, Rihanna, herself, faced criticism over a shade of Fenty highlighter called “Geisha Chic” which was ultimately removed from sale to be renamed - which is why fans are especially disappointed.
However, on this occasion, many people were quick to point out that the images were the product of an all Chinese creative team for a Chinese magazine, from photographer Chen Man and stylist Xiaomu Fan to the editors overseeing visual direction Simona Sha and WeiTian.
“Cultural appropriation is the adoption of certain elements from another culture without the consent of people who belong to that culture. Rihanna was STYLED and APPROVED by CHINESE platform. It wasnt for personal use either, it was use for Chinese paper” wrote @fox_kinky on Twitter.
“Her hair, makeup, and clothes were art directed by Chinese art direction with four A Chinese publication. They dressed her up, painted, and art directed her. The relationship of power is different and not interpreted by White Americans or White Europeans,” wrote @alice.nationaluniversity.la on Instagram.
Meanwhile, in China, the response to the cover was very positive. Taking to Chinese social media platform Weibo – Twitter is only accessible in China via a VPN – people praised the cover and celebrated Rihanna’s looks.
“I’ve always said that she could pull anything off,” wrote top Chinese blogger Ye Si, aka Gogoboi, on Weibo. “I didn’t expect that she would go down the Tang Dynasty route, and look sexy yet classy and graceful in a diamond necklace that probably weighs 10 tons. That’s beauty.”
“Why would we call this cultural appropriation?” asked user @LiwenqianLetitia. “I think that Riri using her influence to highlight Chinese culture is a great thing.”
“Rihanna added yet another Chinese cover to her arsenal... our Queen of Shandong strikes again with this masterpiece,” praised @Zhuixinggou
Cultural appropriation is a complex and nuanced idea and there will always be disagreement about what exactly does and does not constitute as cultural appropriation. However, on this occasion, Rihanna was not adopting Chinese customs for her own gain with no connection to or acknowledgement of the culture she had borrowed from – as was the case with Geisha Chic. Rather, here, she was respectfully paying homage to the country in a shoot styled by Chinese editors for a Chinese magazine. And that’s where the difference lies.