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Actress-turned-singer Jennifer Lopez gave a tribute to Motown at the Grammy Awards on Sunday night, prompting immediate backlash on social media due to her being Puerto Rican, not black.
According to HuffPost, “Lopez, who had drawn criticism even before the awards show for being tabbed to celebrate a black record label during Black History Month, received additional online disapproval for her medley performance. She sang classics like ‘Do You Love Me’ while donning several outfits in an act with Smokey Robinson and others.”
Radio host Mike Adam tweeted, “Wikipedia should just delete @JLo’s age… like, leave it blank. N/A.”
TV host Jared Sawyer Jr. was perhaps the most scathing in his critique of Lopez’s tribute, saying that its having happened during Black History Month only added insult to injury.
“J. Lo better not salsa her way to the cookout because she is uninvited for that terrible performance. How do you do a Motown tribute without an ALL BLACK cast of artists?! And it’s Black History Month too,” he tweeted.
He continued, “People who could’ve done the Motown tribute: Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Patti Labelle, Jennifer Hudson, Tina Turner, Or practically anyone else.”
People who could've done the Motown tribute:
Or practically anyone else #GRAMMYs
— Jared Sawyer Jr. (@JaredSawyerJr) February 11, 2019
Another user tweeted, “Sorry everyone, but I agree. She’s a great performer, but they should have chosen someone else. No doubt Latinos would be upset if they had a black soul singer doing a tribute to Latin music.”
Sorry everyone, but I agree. She’s a great performer, but they should have chosen someone else. No doubt Latinos would be upset if they had a black soul singer doing a tribute to Latin music.
— VMisco (@misco_v) February 11, 2019
Another tweeted, “@RecordingAcad I don’t understand how you could #whitewash #MotownTribute w/ @JLo. We like her well enough but not for this. There are literally 1000s of black musicians that would have performed. This is why #Motown was formed because black artist couldn’t get a chance.”
@RecordingAcad I don’t understand how you could #whitewash #MotownTribute w/ @JLo. We like her well enough but not for this. There are literally 1000s of black musicians that would have performed. This is why #Motown was formed because black artist couldn’t get a chance.
— Benti F. (@FrankiB) February 11, 2019
In response to the criticism, Lopez later told Entertainment Tonight that Motown Records founder Berry Gory “was thrilled” to have her sing the tribute, knowing fully well that her music had been influenced by Motown songs.
“Any type of music can inspire any type of artist … You can’t tell people what to love,” she said. “You can’t tell people what they can and can’t do — what they should sing or not sing.”
Prior to her performance, singer Smokey Robinson defended Jennifer Lopez, saying that Motown transcends race.
“I don’t think anyone who is intelligent is upset,” Robinson told Variety before the event. “I think anyone who is upset is stupid.”
“Motown was music for everybody. Everybody,” he repeated. “Who’s stupid enough to protest Jennifer Lopez doing anything for Motown?”
Of course, Jennifer Lopez is just another singer to fall victim to the cultural appropriation enforcers, who have put everyone from Justin Timberlake to even Bruno Mars in their crosshairs. In an episode of The Grapevine last year, SJW Seren Sensei said that Mars plays up his racial ambiguity (he’s Filipino, Puerto Rican, and Jewish) so that he can cross genres.
“Bruno Mars 100% is a cultural appropriator. He is not black, at all, and he plays up his racial ambiguity to cross genres,” writer and activist Seren Sensei said. “What Bruno Mars does, is he takes pre-existing work and he just completely, word-for-word recreates it, extrapolates it. He does not create it, he does not improve upon it, he does not make it better. He’s a karaoke singer, he’s a wedding singer, he’s the person you hire to do Michael Jackson and Prince covers. Yet Bruno Mars has an Album of the Year Grammy and Prince never won an Album of the Year Grammy.”
Fortunately, the singers usually have a cadre of fellow artists (black or white) defending them, and Mars had no shortage of them.
Shaun King said at the time: “I just want to be practical here. Are people saying that Bruno Mars shouldn’t sing? Or that when he sings, he needs to somehow whiten that shit up and sound more like Rod Stewart. I’m dead serious. What type of music is this man ‘allowed’ to do?”