Jesy Nelson released her debut single as a solo artist on Oct. 8 and less than a week later, the singer is facing an immense backlash as accusations of Blackfishing arise from its music video. The singer addressed the accusations on an Instagram Live with Nicki Minaj, who's featured on Nelson's first single "Boyz," saying that she never intended to offend anyone with her video.
"I personally want to say that my intention was never ever to offend people of color with this video and my song because like I said, growing up as a young girl, this is the music that I listened to," Nelson said. "These are the videos that I watched and thought were the best. For me personally, '90s R&B is the best era of music that was made. I just wanted to celebrate that. I just want to celebrate that era of music is what I love. It actually does really hurt me that I may have offended people just by genuinely celebrating something that I love."
Popularized by journalist Wanna Thompson, Blackfishing is a term that describes the use of artificial tans, makeup and even medical procedures to look Black. "With the help of the media, white women have been credited profusely for creating several 'trends' that have existed long before they discovered them. What makes this 'phenomenon' alarming is that these women have the luxury of selecting which aspects they want to emulate without fully dealing with the consequences of Blackness," Thompson wrote for Paper in 2018.
"Black women are constantly bombarded with the promotion of European beauty standards in the media, so when our likeness is then embraced on women who have the privilege to fit traditional standards yet freely co-opt Blackness to their liking, it reaffirms the belief that people desire Blackness, just not on Black women."
In the music video, Nelson -- who hails from Dagenham, Essex -- sports a deep tan and wears outfits reminiscent of '90s hip hop and R&B fashion. At one point she wears baggy jeans, an oversized bomber adorned with the logos of NBA teams and sports super curly hair; at another moment she wears a black beanie with matching bralet and shorts, rocking numerous chains. The song includes an interpolation of "Bad Boy For Life" by Diddy, who also makes a cameo in the accompanying music video.
When the video dropped, viewers turned to social media to voice their discomfort with both the song's lyrics and the video, highlighting Jesy's skin tone and the overall aesthetic of the video.
Jesy Nelson’s solo debut #Boyz is cute and the video was a fun 00s throwback. But it’s 4 minutes of blatant cultural appropriation:
- The Blackfishing - Lowriders and bikes - Gold teeth - The Blackfishing - The aesthetic - The hair - The lollipops - THE BLACKFISHING
Nelson defended her appearance in the video, refuting comments that she has a spray tan in the video and noting that she has "naturally curly hair," so she didn't think sporting a super-curly wig would be a problem.
"I had been in Antigua for like three weeks and I'm just really lucky as a white girl that I tan so I'm dark," she said. "So many people have said to me before -- like Leigh-Anne even said to me before, 'Are you sure you're not mixed race? You go darker than me in the sun. That's crazy.'"
But it isn't the first time Nelson has been accused of Blackfishing. Fans on social called out the singer for the same thing back in May, which she addressed in an August interview with The Guardian. "I would never want to offend anyone, and that was really upsetting. I wasn't aware that’s how people felt," she said then.
She reiterated those claims in an interview with Vulture when the "Boyz" video dropped, sayings, "The whole time I was in Little Mix I never got any of that. And then I came out of [the band] and people all of a sudden were saying it. I wasn't on social media around that time, so I let my team [deal with it], because that was when I'd just left. But I mean, like, I love Black culture. I love Black music. That's all I know; it’s what I grew up on."
"If you look at me on X-Factor with my big curly hair, I was wearing trainers and combats — that's who I am as an artist and as Jesy," she added. "Now I'm out of Little Mix, I've gone back to being who I am. Like I said, I don't ever want to be an artist who's being told what to wear or what music to make. I want to be authentic and true to myself, and if people don't like that, don't be my fan. Don't be a part of my journey."
But in conversation with Minaj, Nelson admitted that former bandmate Leigh-Anne Pinnock attempted to speak with her on the subject after working on their final music video as a group, 2020's "Sweet Melody."
"It's just hard for me because I was in a group with two women of color for nine years and it was never brought up to me up until the last music video that I did with them when she messaged me and said, 'Jesy I just want to make sure that you're aware..." Nelson said in the video.
Jesy Nelson says Leigh-Anne Pinnock made her aware of Blackfishing allegations during the music video shoot for “Sweet Melody”:
“It’s just hard for me because I was in a group with two women of color for 9 years and it was never brought up to me up until the last music video…” pic.twitter.com/jBfIOJmIGR
Minaj is also facing heat for slamming the singer's former bandmate for unverified leaked messages from Pinnock where she seemingly criticizes Nelson for Blackfishing.
"Take them text messages and shove it up your f—ing ass," Minaj directed at the new mother of twins. "Let her enjoy this time. If you was in this group and haven't talked about this sh*t for 10 years... If you want a solo career baby girl just say that... If that's how you felt, why were you kiki'ing with her and being in videos with her for 10 years."
"It screams insecurity,” she added. "It screams that you're jealous. And now you just look like a big, jealous Bozo."
Despite no confirmation on whether the DMs are actually from Pinnock, much of Minaj and Nelson's conversation revolved around the messages.
"If I was rocking with you for 10 years and there was something so horrible about you… and then as soon as we part ways I was like texting [people about] you… Immediately that person has to wear a big red clown nose and clown boots," Minaj said during the Live. "What we won’t have is someone texting and telling influencers to talk badly about this girl, I know singers that tan a lot. It’s their f*cking business, it’s their f*cking right. It’s different when someone comes out and pretends to be Black."
The rapper continued in a series of defamatory tweets referencing Pinnock.
When ppl can’t get money with you they always try to stop your bag. Well only the corny ones chile #BoyzOutNow going live in one hour
ET reached out to Little Mix's rep for comment. The group's PR representative Simon Jones seemingly alluded to the controversy on Monday night, cryptically writing "what a backfire" on his Instagram story, and sharing a link to Pinnock's recent BBC Three documentary about racism in the music industry, Race, Pop & Power.
While Nelson's former bandmates have not publicly addressed Nelson's new song, they all unfollowed her on Instagram over the weekend.
Nelson left the group in December 2020, revealing that the job has recently taken a toll on her mental health. She has since shared how "truly unhappy" she felt in the group and recently revealed that she and her Little Mix "sisters" had not spoken since her exit.
"We've sent a few texts, but that's it. I can't explain it, it's like there has to be this distance," Nelson said in an interview with Glamour UK. "We were so close so you can't do in-between, there has to be space and hopefully at some point in the future, we can all come back together."
For more on Nelson's Little Mix exit, watch the video below.