I have a new column up at The Federalist, “No, Bruno Mars Is Not A Cultural Appropriator.” Regular readers may recognize some of the historical points made therein on the silliness this charge usually carries when discussing Rock & Roll music, though the column is broader than than things I have mentioned here previously.
As is often the case, there are points I don’t get to make due to considerations of length. In this case, I could have written more about the sub-charge that Mars is “inauthentic.” Here, Mars is charged of being both inauthentic and a cultural appropriator. It is possible to think of instances where those two charges might peacefully coexist. For example, Elvis Presley’s version of Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” probably sounds more “authentic” to most listeners than Pat Boone’s version of Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti.”
But there is always an internal tension to this combo. Authenticity in this context usually refers to capturing something essential of a culture or style, Very often that goal will conflict with the charge (as is also lodged against Mars) that he is unoriginal. Simultaneously demanding preservation and innovation is generally a pretty high bar. Artists like those to whom Mars is unfavorably compared, like Michael Jackson or Prince, may manage to pull it off. But that’s why they’re Michael Jackson, Prince, or Presley. Artists of that caliber are few and far between.
Also, the column begins and concludes with the larger political dimension at work, but mostly addresses the charges against Mars on the merits. An alternate approach to the column would have proceeded from and more deeply elaborated on the premise that the accusers here do not really care about Mars nearly so much as they care about browbeating the majority of the panel into deferring to their rage as a political tactic.
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