Pop culture

What Rihanna's Savage X Fenty Controversy Says About The Fashion Industry

Following its Vol. 2 show premiere, Rihanna’s lingerie label received backlash for including a Coucou Chloe song that samples recordings of sacred Islamic texts, bringing appropriation in fashion and music to the forefront
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Rihanna's Savage x Fenty Vol. 2 show made headlines twice last week. First, major publications and social media users praised Savage x Fenty’s inclusivity, with models of all shapes, races and gender identities featured in the spectacle of fashion, music and dance. But then, viewers realised that one song by Coucou Chloe in the show’s soundtrack sampled a reading of a sacred Islamic religious text called a Hadith, bringing criticism to the brand. 

Appropriation is a hot topic in regards to many art forms. At the intersection of fashion and music, designers have an opportunity to amplify their creative messages. For example, Celine's Hedi Slimane releases curated Spotify playlists with each runway, and Pyer Moss' Kerby Jean-Raymond has dedicated an entire show to the legacy of music icon Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

There’s often a great deal of consideration that goes into bringing together the multimedia elements of fashion shows, which are highly choreographed and planned. Lights, music and staging define these presentations, and Savage x Fenty’s oversight reveals a lack of accountability in event coordination — the playlist had clearly not been reviewed for culturally inappropriate material.

The song in question, 'Doom' by Coucou Chloe, was played as rapper Rico Nasty took the Savage x Fenty stage. Viewers on Twitter were quick to call the song out for being disrespectful. One Twitter user noted that when Savage x Fenty presents Islamic traditions for the sake of the brand’s aesthetic — like a remix of a Hadith or the headscarves at the very first Savage x Fenty show — it doesn’t benefit the communities from which it was appropriated.

Rihanna took to her Instagram Stories to apologise, calling the song’s inclusion an “honest, yet careless mistake”. The singer then thanked her Muslim fans for bringing the error to light, and promised to ensure that “nothing like this ever happens again”. Coucou Chloe also posted an apology on social media, saying that she claims “full responsibility for the fact I did not research these words properly". Additionally, the artist said that 'Doom' would be removed from all streaming platforms.

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'Doom' was likely selected for its electronic elements and not its lyrics. Coucou Chloe herself selected the Hadith for its sonic content, writing on Twitter to explain that she had pulled vocal samples found online. 

Sadly, such behaviour is an industry standard. We live in an era where curation is itself considered an art form. Whole documentaries are made from archival material. Remixes of songs often become more popular than the original tracks. Popular content creators on apps like TikTok take and tweak formulas with the same sounds and same choreography. Coucou Chloe took free tracks from the internet and mixed them with her own sounds to create a unique song. In doing so, she used the work of others like building blocks to create her own artistic vision. 

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However, it is impossible to strip religious or cultural artefacts of their true meaning. Even with new beats, a Hadith is still a Hadith, and Coucou Chloe still (mis)used a sacred text in her song.

While the internet makes it easy for creators to obtain and incorporate work seen as fair use, it is nevertheless the responsibility of brands and artists to thoroughly vet and properly credit their sources. Rihanna's lingerie label has a track record of being inclusive and of celebrating diverse communities, and this controversy highlights that issues of appropriation and representation cannot be taken for granted.

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