Justin Bieber dreadlocks backlash is latest in string of cultural appropriation accusations

Suzy Byrne
·Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
·3-min read
(Screenshot: Justin Bieber via Instagram)
Justin Bieber's latest hairstyle is prompting accusations of cultural appropriation. (Screenshot: Justin Bieber via Instagram)

Justin Bieber is no stranger to controversy — we've documented arrests, resurfaced racial slurs, egg-gate, graffiti-gate, spit-gate, his infamous mop bucket wiz and history of animal abandonment (Mally the monkey!) — and the latest is a string of accusations about cultural appropriation.

The 27-year-old singer, who has portrayed himself as older and wiser in recent years amid his sobriety and marriage, debuted dreadlocks this week. The backlash was immediate, as dreads, also known as locs, are historically worn by members of the Black community — many of whom have faced racial discrimination for the hairstyle.

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Comments on his hair posts included, "For someone who claims to be so 'woke' about the Black Lives Matter movement, this sure is ignorant of you."

It's not his first time Bieber's been in a locs controversy. In 2016, he debuted a similar hairstyle at the iHeartRadio Music Awards — and was accused of cultural appropriation then, too.

Bieber's new hairstyle also ruffles because, amid the George Floyd protests last summer, he vowed to "be part of much needed change" in standing up for injustice within the Black community.  

"I am inspired by Black culture," he wrote. "I have benefited off of Black culture. My style, how I sing, dance, perform and my fashion have been influenced by Black culture. I am committed to using my platform from this day forward to learn, to speak up about racial injustice and systemic oppression, and to identify ways to be part of much needed change."

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Bieber's dreadlocks are just the latest point of criticism he's faced when it comes to cultural appropriation. In March, he was called out for using the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on his new album. Justice starts with one of the late civil rights icon's most famous quotes: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," from his April 1963 "Letter From Birmingham Jail." Six tracks later is "MLK Interlude," a 1-minute, 44-second snippet of King's sermon, "But If Not," which he delivered at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1967. 

Some critics, both professional and non, took issue with the use of King's words, finding a disconnect between their origins and their placement on Justice.

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And in November, Bieber received four Grammy nominations but was upset his songs weren't recognized as R&B. He wrote a short letter to the Recording Academy, via Instagram, making his complaint that they landed in the pop category.

Bieber's letter was called "privileged" and "embarrassing” on social media, with people noting that many acclaimed Black artists, who excel in R&B (which originated in Black communities and is a historically Black music category) had to fight for recognition in the genre. And while Bieber received four noms, R&B superstar The Weeknd, who was expected to be a leading contender for his blockbuster hit "Blinding Lights," was snubbed — as were Alicia Keys, Kehlani and Summer Walker.

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Amid the latest hair backlash, however, Bieber isn't feeling pressed to lose his locs. He's actually posted two more photos of his new look on social media, despite the criticism.

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