Understanding Cultural Appropriation: Through Katy Perry’s Music Videos


Throughout the years, Culture appropriation has become a trend that has been increasingly developing particularly in the arts and media region. It has become a form that all variety of artists use and incorporate into their pieces of work. The definition of cultural appropriation is taking elements of a culture, usually in minority, by members of a dominant culture (Wikipedia contributors, Cultural Appropriation). The appropriation of other cultures has become a routine in artists that has been debated over the years but neither clearly addressed or resolved upon. Due to this, the tradition of taking one’s culture and manipulating it into a form of art is being carried from artist to artist. Katy Perry is an American singer and songwriter that has produced music from 2001 to currently making hit songs. Her music ranges from rock and pop and is listened to throughout the globe. Critically looking at two of Katy Perry’s music video’s, the first titled “This is How We Do” and second music video titled “Dark Horse”, will be taken as examples to see whether or not this form of media implements the aspects of cultural appropriation and if this promotes the critical issues of stereotypes. The two music videos once released caused a backlash from viewers and created an increased discussion of the concept of culture appropriation and stereotypes in media. So in order to define whether or not Katy Perry’s music videos represent this and if it is truly becoming an issue in media, this paper will firstly analyze both the music video’s in terms of the history of “Appropriation” and what defines it. Then discuss the binary views of this concept through the example of the two music videos and ultimately revealing the cause and affects of cultural appropriation in mass media.

Youtube. This Is How We Do (official). Still. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RMQksXpQSk. (C) 2014 Capitol Records. 6 April 2018

Historical Context:

When understanding cultural appropriation, it should be understood in terms of where it originates. Cultural appropriation has been happening for many years but was not recognized until recent years when it was brought to people’s attention as a topic of issue through large media platforms. Keene stated in an interview that “Last summer there was even a forum in the New York Times on the topic, where six years ago that would have been unfathomable. Now, when a brand or celebrity engages in cultural appropriation, the reaction is swift and damning, with Twitter and Facebook users jumping into action, and offensive images pulled and apologies issued within hours” (Keene, 55). Due to the affects of media and culture change the topic of cultural appropriation is spreading across and gaining its popularity by the large amounts of people reacting and spreading the issue. Before the term “Cultural Appropriation” was used, it was considered as “borrowing” (Smith, 1) or “reusing” parts of another culture.

According to Ashley and Plesch, “The notion of reuse—of materials, as in spolia, or of forms and ideas—has been an integral part of the art historical activity, too” (Ashley, Plesch, 2). The concept of pulling ideas, themes or any other elements from another place has been done repeatedly throughout history. When you understand cultural appropriation, in some perspectives it can be viewed, specifically referencing to media culture, as artists adopting ideas from somewhere personal or social which can lead them to appropriate another culture unintentionally. Katy Perry’s “This is How We Do” song was intended to depict the things her and her friends do when they spent time together. Although there is a history of artists appropriating not only elements from another culture but concepts and ideas from other artist as well, this does not make the matter appropriate. Whether or not it can be justifiable can be evaluated through what defines cultural appropriation and how the elements of the culture are being portrayed. The portrayal of the cultural aspect that is being used is important to keep in mind because through evaluating, we can tell the difference between recognizing and embracing versus disrespecting and not recognizing the origin of that specific thing that is being used and taken from a culture.


Representation in Perry’s Music Videos:

Katy Perry’s Music video “This is How we do” is a dance – pop song that created a large discussion on how some of the scenes from her music video were cultural appropriating. The aesthetic of “This is How We Do” is visually modernistic and abstract. It incorporates abstract elements with comic book and animated themes within the music video. The tone of the scenes in the music video are relaxed and a little comical in the sense of how the perspective of the video should be taken through. The first portion that could be suggested as a concern, to the viewers that feel that this music video is culturally appropriating, is when the scene comes to Perry and two other individuals, who are representing her friends, sit down on chairs that are in the shape of hands and act as if they were getting their nails done. Perry then sings the lyrics “Now we talking astrology, getting our nails did, all Japanese-y” (1:10). The scene incorporated a Japanese theme which had water reflections as the background and specific Shubunkin gold fishes swimming around. These specific fishes are a type of gold fish that originate from Japan. This specific part of the music video is not cultural appropriating, since she is not taking any concept from another culture but she does seem to stereotype salon technicians. Perry is evidently categorizing salon technicians to be from an Asian background like Japanese. Hinner explains that “When people hear something about a particular country, they tend to associate certain characteristics with that country because it is often difficult to retain detailed information on all countries.” (Hinner, 49). This is critical in discussing what Perry is doing in this music video, which is categorizing a specific work role to one type of race and culture. The issue that this creates is, although some stereotypes are partially true, since they are derived ideas from a person or thing, it does not mean that this should be allowed to incorporate into a form of art, even if it is in a comical sense.

Some may feel that this type of stereotyping should not be considered so seriously but the reality of it as Hinner explains are that “Stereotypes can accentuate differences in  that they highlight all that is different between “them” and “us” (klopf, 1998)…stereotypes can also underestimate differences within a group so that all group members are considered to be the same” (Hinner, 49). Understanding that Perry is a celebrity and that she has the power to show case her work all around the world, what she displays in her pieces of work are displayed to the thousands of viewers and followers. Therefore because of her large platform displaying problematic issues such as cultural appropriation and social stereotyping, it can have a great influence on her viewers.

Youtube. “Dark Horse (official) ft. Juicy J.” Still. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KSOMA3QBU0. (C) 2014 Capitol Records, LLC. 6 April 2018.

Another part of “This is How We Do” that is critical in displaying the issue of cultural appropriation in media is when the scene of Perry answers a video call from her friend who is named on the phone as “Jessica thot” (1:56). Both the girl in the call and Perry are seen wearing their hair styled in cornrow braids. Then Perry responds by saying “I see you” (1:56). This particular hairstyle has caused a lot of arguments and discussion especially recently due to media. People particularly from the African culture feel as though that this specific hairstyle that has been adopted from many in the American culture, don’t understand the true history and meaning behind cornrow braids. Instead, it is being used to create a persona, usually with characteristics that have a negative association with it, like “thot”, which means “a women considered to be sexually provocative or promiscuous” (Dictionary.com Contributors), and therefore ends up stereotyping their culture. When looked closely at this scene, it would have been appropriate to use the hairstyle right until the particular persona is portrayed, which in Perry’s music video, she purses her lips together to show attitude and incorporated the term “thot” into the scene. This can translate to social stereotypes of Africans or “black people” to be more uncooperative and more difficult to deal with then others, essentially known to have an attitude or categorizing females from that culture to be perceived as provocative or promiscuous. This portion of the music video was highly unnecessary and should have not been portrayed in the music video since it has no association with the theme of the song. Due to the display of this specific hairstyle of cornrows, the term “thot” and the certain facial expressions used, which references to this specific culture, it not only appropriates the African culture but also stereotypes it as well.

The second Music video of Perry’s that is also seen as culturally appropriating, is titled “Dark Horse”. The theme of the music video is set in ancient Egypt. Perry is dressed in what resembles the traditional clothing of what Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, wore. Throughout the music video, in multiple scenes, Perry is receiving gifts from, what it seems, potential suitors. After receiving the gift, she uses magical powers to get rid of the suitors who then evaporate into sand (1:10). This occurs at least three times in the duration of the music video. Perry, once again, is taking another culture and implementing it into her music, for her own artistic use. By referencing to a historical figure and associating it with unrealistic aspects like magic and lightning powers, it appropriates the culture of ancient Egypt by showcasing it in a fictitious manner. Perry is fabricating a culture to be perceived as imaginary and fairytale esque. Therefore, consequently taking advantage of the Egyptian culture by not acknowledging it in the proper way.



As a result of Perry inappropriately displaying various cultures in a way that does not acknowledge their culture correctly and by not receiving any noticeable consequences due to it, this can encourage or make it seem that cultural appropriation is not a critical issue. Referencing prior to the concept of artists adopting ideas from other artists, when they display cultural appropriation and stereotypes into their artistic creations, this influences and results in other artists as well to incorporate the miss use of culture and appropriation into their works as well. There are various concepts about whether cultural appropriation is worthy of concern, but it should be noted that the difference is critical when defining something as to be culturally appropriating or not. This difference can be pointed out through considering the culture that is being used. If it is being acknowledged and does not get portrayed in a comical, satire, fabricated or stereotypical manner then it should not be considered as cultural appropriation. A major media platform and an influencer like Katy Perry both have the power to impact a large audience whether it is in a negative or positive way so with critical matters like representation of cultural appropriation and stereotypes within media should not be portrayed by them. Thus this matter cannot be changed and resolved by the media or influencers but through the law itself.




Works Cited

“Katy Perry – This Is How We Do (Official).” YouTube. 31 July 2014. Web. 29 March 2018.


“Katy Perry – Dark Horse (Official) ft. Juicy J.” YouTube. 20 February 2014. Web 29 March 2018.


“Cultural Appropriation.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Apr. 2018.


“thot”. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 6 Apr. 2018.


Anonymous. “Engaging Indigeneity and Avoiding Appropriation.” English Journal, High school edition. National Council of Teachers of English. no. 1, (2016): p. 55-57. Proquest. Web. 2 April 2018.


Hinner, Michael B. “Stereotyping and the country-of-origin effect.” China Media Research. vol. 6, no. 1, (2010): p. 47+. Academic OneFile. 2 April 2018.


Smith, Iain Robert. “Cultural Borrowings: Appropriation, Reworking, Transformation.” Scope: An Online Journal of Film and Television Studies. 2 April 2018.


Kathleen Ashley, Véronique Plesch. “The Cultural Processes of “Appropriation”.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. Vol. 32, no. 1, (2002): p. 1–15. Duke University Press. 2 April 2018.


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