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Rapper Vava Called Out Over Use of Blackface in Tribute to Nicki Minaj

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One of China’s biggest rappers has appeared in blackface while performing as Nicki Minaj. Vava featured on a show on one of the country’s major TV stations Friday night in heavy makeup as she performed as Minaj alongside other celebrities “cosplaying” as Ariana Grande and Jessie J to recreate the trio’s 2014 AMA performance of “Bang Bang.”

Vava nicki Minaj

A teaser for the show on Hunan TV (source: Weibo)

After Vava posted an image advertising her appearance on social media, some commenters called out her use of blackface. Such mentions were largely buried in a wave of positive replies however, with most fans seemingly oblivious to any controversy and simply posting about how excited they were to see her perform.

”Wait until this gets to Twitter,” wrote one commenter on China’s Twitter equivalent Weibo however, and sure enough a clip of Vava performing in the show has duly made it to that site.

The incident follows the use of blackface in China’s Spring Festival Gala extravaganza again this year, despite international condemnation over a previous segment using blackface on the “world’s most-watched TV show” in 2018.

And while Vava likely intended this performance as a tribute, that neither the artist, her team nor anyone involved in the show’s production were aware of the insensitivity of using blackface given such high-profile international backlashes in recent years seems incredible.

Related:

China’s Biggest Rappers Were Quiet on Black Lives Matter, But Real Hip Hop Artists Stood Up

Unfortunately, China’s new wave of hip hop has largely risen with insufficient attention paid to its roots and heritage. It would of course be grossly unfair to dismiss all Chinese rappers as ignorant, yet incidents such as this show how much work needs to be done and how depressingly easy it is for something like blackface to make it onto mainstream TV.

In August last year, Vava was among those posting black squares to their Instagram profiles and in an interview with RADII, she explicitly addressed Black Lives Matter:

“The Black Lives Matter movement has impacted and touched all cultures, everyone around the world,” she told us when asked about her views on the movement. “It’s a wake-up call. It’s up to each of us to eliminate the prejudice and discrimination between each other.

“We have to be more compassionate toward each other and fill the world with love.”

Vava is best known internationally for her song “My New Swag,” which featured on the Crazy Rich Asians soundtrack and which she performed at a 76ers halftime show in 2019. Last year, she worked with NBA star Aaron Gordon to produce a track called “Ganbei.”

Related:

Interview: Chinese Rap Queen Vava on New Music and Black Lives Matter

The Sichuan-born rapper made it to the final four in the first season of mega hit show The Rap of China, bringing her instant recognition across the country. She has been a variety show regular ever since and is often referred to as “China’s rap queen.”

Cover image: Vava as Nicki Minaj on Hunan TV

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of RADII and Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for the Associated Press, The Wire, the Financial Times and more.