PoP goes the PC MoB!
When superstar Adele paid tribute to the Notting Hill Carnival, she was savaged for ‘cultural appropriation’. Yet the irony is few have celebrated minority icons and issues with her passion...
WITH her track record of mammoth global music sales, Adele is well used to setting records. And the picture she posted on Instagram on Monday — showing her dressed in a Jamaican flag-print bikini with a feathered collar and her hair in African Bantu knots, to mark what would have been that day’s Notting Hill Carnival — did just that.
Gaining five million likes, the snap also sparked a global debate about ‘ cultural appropriation’, which has led to some calls for the singer to be ‘cancelled’ or culturally boycotted.
Numerous voices, many of them American, have accused her of offering racist disrespect through her hairstyle, which is traditionally associated with women who have Afro-textured hair. Others — many of them black-British — have disagreed.
So far, Adele’s only response has been to post a comment in Jamaican patois, ‘Wah Gwaan!’ which roughly translates as ‘What’s up?’
Whoever is in the right, it’s clear that offence has been given, but it’s also clear that it was never intended. For the woke witch-hunters could not have picked a less deserving target for their misplaced fury than Adele, 32, whose global success is defined as much by her artistic brilliance as by her every-woman honesty and fearless championing of minority causes.
Take, for example, her instant support for the victims of Grenfell — 57 of the total 72 who died in the catastrophic blaze in the west London tower block were from BAME (black, Asian and ethnic minority) communtities.
British journalist Ateh Jewel, who has written a book about black hair, was one of those to accuse Adele of cultural appropriation. She said: ‘ Many are arguing that Adele was showing appreciation for Carnival and Caribbean culture, but appreciation turns into appropriation when it’s worn as a party outfit and taken off again and disposed of.
‘It’s appropriation when an Afro is worn as a joke and for fun at a stag do, when that same person wouldn’t be caught dead with it at a high-powered board meeting at their office on Monday morning.
‘Has Adele ever worn Bantu knots to a red carpet event? Has she ever worn Bantu knots on an album cover or to a celeb party?’
Ernest Owens also said: ‘If 2020 couldn’t get any more bizarre, Adele is giving us Bantu knots and cultural appropriation that nobody asked for. This officially marks all of the top white women in pop as problematic. Hate to see it.’
Many other voices in the black community, however, were baffled by the reaction and took to social media to defend the star.
Supermodel Naomi Campbell commented with two love-heart emoji icons and two pictures of the Jamaican flag. While Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy tweeted: ‘This humbug totally misses the spirit of Notting Hill Carnival and the tradition of “dress up” or “masquerade”. Thank you Adele. Forget the haters.’
The X Factor winner Alexandra Burke also jumped to Adele’s defence, and said: ‘I see the pic. She looks hot. As a Jamaican girl myself, my girl has grown up in black culture. People forget she’s from Tottenham.’
Born in North London, Adele’s childhood was spent in Tottenham, Brixton and West Norwood.
Tottenham is home to one of the largest populations of AfroCaribbean Britons. It was the site of the 1985 Broadwater Farm riot and more riots in 2011 after the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan.
From the start, she was inspired by black superstars. Her first musical idol was Gabrielle, and a young Adele persuaded her mother Penny to buy her a sequinned eye patch like the singer’s, which she was teased about at school.
She then discovered more black artists whom she adored, Destiny’s Child, Lauryn Hill and Mary J. Blige when she was 11 or 12.
A few years later, she discovered Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald. She said: ‘When I listened to the Ettas and the Ellas, it sounds so cheesy, but it was like an awakening. I was like, oh, right, some people have proper longevity and are legends. I was so inspired that, as a 15-year-old, I was listening to music that had been made in the Forties.’
When Aretha Franklin died in 2018, she wrote: ‘I can’t remember a day of my life without Aretha Franklin’s voice and music filling up my heart with so much joy and sadness. Absolutely heartbroken she’s gone, what a woman. Thank you for everything.’
Since becoming a superstar, she has made many friendships with black artists — the British rapper Stormzy being one of them. She wrote after his Glastonbury set last summer: ‘I have love in abundance for this strong, sweet and honest man. I’m so proud of him.’
Adele was recently pictured partying with the Canadian singer Drake, who is a friend.
In 2019, after the breakdown of her marriage to Simon Konecki, she was romantically linked to the British grime artist Skepta.
Not that her new LA life and glamorous circles of friends have ever erased her roots — or lessened her determination to speak up in the face of injustice. Adele was quick to use her voice to talk about the death of George Floyd, killed while being arrested by a u.S. police officer.
She said: ‘George Floyd’s murder has sent shockwaves around the world, there are countless others that haven’t . . . This is about systematic racism, this is about police violence and it’s about inequality. And this isn’t only about America! racism is alive and well everywhere.’
Her unstinting support for the victims of Grenfell, whom she visited barely 24 hours after the blaze, continues three years after the tragedy. Earlier this summer, Adele joined in a memorial live stream on YouTube. She said: ‘Hello, it’s Adele here. I want to send my love to all of you today and let you know that I’m thinking of you, as I always do . . .
‘I think that this year more than ever there has never been a more appropriate time for us to truly exercise camaraderie and compassion and open-mindedness and persistence.’
Yet even though she comes across as a fearless defender of the downtrodden, Adele can still doubt herself. When in 2017, her album 25 was named Best Album at the Grammys — beating Beyonce’s album Lemonade — Adele felt embarrassed to have eclipsed the artist she so admired.
Adele said: ‘ I can’t possibly accept this award . . . I’m very humbled and I’m very grateful . . . but my artist of my life is Beyoncé.’
Back then, only ten black artists had won album of the year since the award was created in 1959.
Actress Michaela Coel said: ‘I’ve since seen the rage on social media attacking Adele for “differentiating between races”, the tweets chirping “how dare she pity Beyoncé and offer her some kind of pathetic shout out”.
‘But I screamed, “YES, ADELE, YAAAS” . . . Adele did the best thing anyone of privilege can do: she admitted, she spoke. Because Adele is not an appropriating thief, she’s a queen, with a genuine desire for solidarity.’
How strange, then, that a simple picture in honour of the event she once described as a ‘ highlight of her year’ should have sparked such controversy.
After all, when she was pregnant with son Angelo in 2012, she was reportedly so upset that she couldn’t go to the carnival that her then boyfriend Konecki put on a Caribbean-themed party at her London house, with reggae music and ‘bucketloads of chicken . . . so Adele would get a flavour of what she was missing’.
Whatever she missed this year, it can’t have been the trolls.