Pop Culture Roundup
Welcome to Pop Culture Roundup! Can’t keep up with what’s going on? Check here for quick blurbs on the major stories!
21 Savage arrested by ICE
On Sunday, Feb. 3, Grammy-nominated rapper, 21 Savage, was arrested by ICE officials in Atlanta for living illegally in the United States for over a decade. 21 Savage, whose real name is Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, has long been associated with Atlanta, GA, often performing with other Atlanta-native rappers like Lil Yachty and Migos. The agency alleges that 21 Savage is actually a United Kingdom native, having immigrated to the U.S. in 2005 (when he was 7 years old) with a visa that expired a year later. In an apparent effort to debase his character, an ICE official told CNN that his “whole public persona is false.”
While many fans were stunned by this news, many were also skeptical of the timing of his arrest. According to 21 Savage’s lawyers, he had filed for a U Visa in 2017 (which is a kind of visa set aside for victims of crimes who have suffered substantial abuse while in the U.S.), but the agency had not taken action until that weekend. The reason why this timing seems suspect? Only a few days beforehand, 21 Savage had released a music video for his song “A Lot,” which explicitly called out ICE’s inhumane border policies and called out Trump’s family separation policy.
He also performed the track on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, again criticizing the agency on national television. Whether or not this was the reason ICE decided to take action that weekend, 21 Savage’s arrest shines a brighter light on the agency’s tendency to target and harm immigrants — they’ve tried to damage his public image by “exposing” his immigrant status and invalidating his experiences as a black man in America. On the positive side, a conversation surrounding the intersection of black identity and immigration has been brought to the forefront, but the rapper has been denied bail, and currently faces deportation.
Liam Neeson’s comment in Cold Pursuit interview
Taken actor Liam Neeson faced backlash over comments in a recent interview for his upcoming movie, Cold Pursuit. In Cold Pursuit, Neeson portrays a father set on avenging the death of his son. When asked by The Independent’s Clémence Michallon how he stepped into the revenge mentality, Neeson responded with an anecdote recounting how, after hearing how one of his female friends had been raped by an identifiable black man, he had deliberately searched for black men to fight.
He said, “I went up and down areas with a cosh [a bludgeon], hoping I’d be approached by somebody — I’m ashamed to say that,” he told The Independent in an interview published on Monday. “And I did it for maybe a week, hoping some [Neeson apparently gestured air quotes with his fingers] ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could … kill him. [My response] shocked me and it hurt me. I did seek help. I went to a priest, I aired my confession, I was reared a Catholic. I had two very, very good friends that I talked to. And believe it or not, power-walking helped me. Two hours every day, to get rid of this. I’m not racist. This was nearly 40 years ago.”
Some praised Neeson for his willingness to make his past — and his efforts to fix it — public, but many have criticized him for playing hero with his admission. While it’s important for people to recognize their own prejudices and to have the difficult conversations confronting those prejudices, Neeson’s comments fail to accept the truth of those racist comments. By saying “I’m not racist,” Neeson is essentially denying the prejudice behind his behavior and deflecting responsibility rather than taking ownership of that shame. In addition, a large part of the way his comments were perceived was due to the setting in which he said them. An interview about a movie where a man tries to get revenge for the death of his son is maybe not the best place to begin a dialogue about confronting problematic pasts.
As late-night host Trevor Noah says, “If Liam Neeson had told this story on Oprah, and there was like a conversation, then we would have seen it as a person admitting to a time in their life when they allowed their anger and hatred to fester into racism they’re ashamed of.” It may not be right to call him “brave” for admitting his racist past, but there is almost something powerful in confronting it so publicly. Neeson’s admission — information that he volunteered, not called out for — does highlight an important point: that society can encourage hate to fester inside you if you’re not careful, without even realizing how harmful that hate really is. Taking a moment to step back and examine your own actions is what allows you to realize that and grow. Perhaps with a more nuanced perspective and presentation, this could be a step forward in how society discusses racism in the past and present.
Ariana Grande and Japanese BBQ grills
Biggest Day 1 Global Pop Album. Biggest Day 1 Global for a Female Artist. #1 in 84 Countries. Ariana Grande is back in the headlines this past week after releasing her fifth album, thank u, next (not to be confused with the single of the same name) and making music history. However, that’s not the only reason she’s been one of the most talked-about musicians in the past month. After being criticized for her appropriation of Japanese culture in the music video for “7 Rings,” Grande received major criticism for her latest tattoo: a depiction of Japanese characters shi and chirin on her palm. What was meant to mean “7 Rings,” in reference to her song, actually meant shichirin — a type of traditional small Japanese BBQ grill.
In the caption of the original photo, Grande stated that it was meant to be an abbreviation of the full phrase (seen in the “7 Rings” music video), shortened due to how painful the tattoo was. Angering and confusing fans, Grande doesn’t seem to have absorbed the criticism concerning her pattern of cultural appropriation and insensitivity. While the tattoo may have come from a genuine place, the lack of research seems to indicate a similar lack of respect for Japanese language and culture. A mistake may just be a mistake — and a bad tattoo just a bad tattoo — but this is one that could have easily been avoided by consulting a tutor. And she eventually did—after asking for help to fix her Japanese BBQ grill tattoo, her tutor explained to her that she could easily fix it by placing the character for “finger” directly above and in-between the characters she already has. Since Japanese is read right to left, top to bottom, the tattoo would’ve read something a little closer to “7 Rings.” But instead, Grande got the character for “finger” and a heart tattooed directly underneath the character for “7,” which unfortunately made it even worse. Rather than “7 Rings,” the tattoo now reads “Japanese BBQ grill, finger, heart” In an effort to fix the problem, Grande ignored what her Japanese tutor recommended, only to end up with an even worse kanji tattoo.°