Mainstream media implies that when pop artists snake their way into what’s been “for the culture” all along, it’s a come up for the originators. A feature from a white singer is supposed to be an ideal co-sign, the harmonious merging of two worlds, a way to have our art embraced by the masses.
Until Justin Bieber drunkenly slurs, “blah blah blah Dorito” live in concert on your track, with no regard or respect for the actual lyrics he recorded.
Bieber has always had a gross, leech-like relationship with Black and Latinx culture. His humble beginnings as Usher’s protégé led him to plum appearances on tracks with the likes of Kanye West and Chance the Rapper. The 23-year-old pop juggernaut has dated Latinx women such as Jasmine V and Selena Gomez, and remixed his hit single “Sorry” with a feature from Latinx household name J Balvin.
It’s only in instances like Bieber’s drunken fuck up that we realize that their inclusion can be more destructive for the culture than it is productive.
While Bieber is marketed heavily as a pop artist, he’s able to almost seamlessly ebb and flow between genres. So when he first heard Luis Fonsi’s tropical summer smash “Despacito” on tour in Colombia, he felt like he could impose himself onto the song with Fonsi and Daddy Yankee without question.
“The reality is that the song, thank God, is already a global hit. What Justin Bieber does now is take it to an Anglo-Saxon market,” Fonsi said. “He was the one who initiated it. He was on tour in Colombia when he heard the song in a club. He saw how people reacted and told his manager he wanted to record the song.”
For those unfamiliar with Fonsi’s discography, the Puerto Rican singer is a veteran of Latin music, with a career spanning decades. He’s been quoted saying that singing in Spanish was also Bieber’s idea, and even gave him props for singing words like “laberinto” and “manuscrito” with ease. Funny, those are the same words Bieber not-so-eloquently replaced with “Dorito” and “poquito.”
The Atlantic also spoke to Petra Rivera-Rideau, author of Remixing Reggaeton: The Cultural Politics of Race in Puerto Rico, who touched on how including Bieber on the track has taken the spotlight away from the original artists on a song that was already a hit.
“This is Fonsi’s ninth studio album—Bieber definitely did not discover him, but a lot of the English-language media I’ve seen presents it that way,” Rivera-Rideau said. “For a long time, whenever Latin artists have crossed over into the U.S. they have been presented as ‘new discoveries.'”
Black and brown people are constantly expected to create space for a broader audience in our work for the sake of respectability, sometimes to a fault. We’re conditioned to believe that the co-sign from a Justin (Bieber and Timberlake, alike) adds more value to our work. It’s only in instances like Bieber’s drunken fuck up that we realize that their inclusion can be more destructive for the culture than it is productive.
While Bieber’s voice may have sounded harmonious on the track, his lack of accountability for his mistakes and respect for the culture falls flat. When do we stop compromising our brilliance for the sake of feeding into a post-racial narrative?