What is blackfishing? What blackfishing means - and why former Little Mix singer Jesy Nelson was accused of it

Jesy Nelson, a former member of British pop girl group Little Mix, has been accused of ‘blackfishing’ with the release of her new music video for debut single ‘Boyz’ – here’s the meaning of the term explained

Monday, 1st November 2021, 7:36 am
What is blackfishing? Here’s what blackfishing means - and why Jesy Nelson been accused of it in new music video (Image credit: Yui Mok/PA)

The British pop star was recently accused of ‘blackfishing’ in her new music video for debut single track, Boyz.

Nelson announced her departure from Little Mix in December 2020 after nine years in the hugely successful girl group, but her new music debut has seen the star come under fire and accused of darkening her skin tone to appear black.

Here’s what blackfishing is and why Jesy Nelson was accused of doing it.

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Who is Jesy Nelson?

Jesy Nelson, born in East London in 1991, rose to fame on ITV’s landmark singing competition The X Factor in 2011 at the age of 20.

After entering the televised contestant as an individual, Nelson was later moved into a group with X Factor co-contestants, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Perrie Edwards and Jade Thirwall, to form pop band Little Mix.

The band went on to win the competition in December 2011, making them the first band to triumph on the show.

Little Mix's Perrie Edwards, Jesy Nelson, Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Jade Thirlwall attending the Brit Awards at the O2 Arena, London. (Image credit: Ian West/PA Wire)

Little Mix have since sold 50 million records worldwide, with hit tracks such as Shout Out To My Ex, Power and Black Magic topping charts in the UK.

Nelson has since spoken publicly about issues with bullying from critics on social media, but announced in 2020 that she would be leaving the band after nine years – citing the pressure on her mental health and wellbeing as the reason for her departure.

What is blackfishing?

Blackfishing emerged as a term in 2018 and is used to describe the act of a white, or non-black person, trying to present themselves as being black or having black heritage.

Since the term was coined following a Twitter thread calling out examples of white women ‘cosplaying’ as women of colour, a number of high profile white musicians have been accused of blackfishing – particularly those operating in the genres of hip hop, R&B, rap and grime.

British musician Rita Ora has previously been accused of blackfishing, as well as Australian rapper Iggy Azalea and Miley Cyrus, with the female music stars said to have adopted extreme skin tanning, hair styles and mannerisms to imply black cultural heritage.

Why has Jesy Nelson been accused of blackfishing?

Jesy Nelson recently announced that, following her departure from Little Mix, she would be embarking on a solo career which she began to promote on her Instagram account in August 2021.

But the release of her new EP, Boyz, has been marred by accusations of blackfishing.

Nelson is white, but has been accused of using fake tan to darken the appearance of her skin tone for the music video of Boyz, which samples American rappers P. Diddy, Black Rob and Mark Curry song ‘Bad Boy for Life’ featured on Diddy's 2001 album, The Saga Continues.

During an Instagram Live stream with superstar rapper Nicki Minaj – who featured on Boyz – on Monday, Nelson said she had been to Antigua in the weeks before the video shoot and that explained her darker skin tone.

The comments came after reports Nelson's former bandmate Leigh-Anne Pinnock had warned her about blackfishing.

During the livestream, Nelson said: "I personally want to say that my intention was never, ever to offend people of colour with this video and my song because like I said, growing up as a young girl, this is the music that I listened to.

"These are the videos that I watched and thought were the best. For me personally, '90s/2000 hip hop, R&B music was the best era of music.

"I just wanted to celebrate that. I just wanted to celebrate that era of music because it is what I love."

She added: "My intention was never, ever, ever want to offend anyone and genuinely it actually does really hurt me that I may have offended people and actually, like, hurt people's feelings just by genuinely celebrating something that I love."

Nelson said she is fortunate to easily tan when in the sun and told Minaj that Pinnock had previously commented on her propensity to tan.

And she said her hair is naturally curly after complaints she had changed her style in the Boyz music video.

She added: "I genuinely didn't think I was doing anything wrong, because I've got naturally curly hair."

Addressing the alleged comments from Pinnock about blackfishing, Nelson said: "It's just hard for me because I was in a group with two women of colour for nine years and it was never brought up to me up until the last music video I did with them."

Minaj defended Nelson and appeared to aim several barbs at the members of Little Mix.

Writing on social media after the livestream, Minaj said: "Don't call things out when they benefit your personal vendetta to ppl. Call them out immediately once you see it chile. Don't wait a decade after you've made millions with the person."

It is not the first time that Nelson has been accused of blackfishing, however, with Twitter users bringing allegations of the behaviour to the star earlier this year.

When asked in a recent interview with entertainment publication Vulture whether she had reflected on the accusations, Nelson said: “The whole time I was in Little Mix I never got any of that.

"And then I came out of [the band] and people all of a sudden were saying it.

"I wasn’t on social media around that time, so I let my team [deal with it], because that was when I’d just left.

“But I mean, like, I love Black culture. I love Black music. That’s all I know; it’s what I grew up on."

She added: “I’m very aware that I’m a white British woman, I’ve never said that I wasn’t.”

On Tuesday, Nelson's debut track had landed at Number 1 on the UK’s Official Trending Chart.

Additional reporting by PA reporter Keiran Southern

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