Justin Bieber – Caribbean Culture Vulture?
By Marissa W
Did you see those dance moves in Justin Bieber’s music video ‘Sorry’? Those performers did a great job gyrating to the beat with lots of energy and vibes. Now, look at the video again; did any of those moves remind you of a dancehall music video by chance? Now look at it one last time, did you see any Caribbean/ Jamaican representation in that video? That’s funny, me neither.
Now most of us know that dancing, like music, is amorphous. That makes it very difficult to assign one distinct place of origin for any specific move or sound. And, one can only hope that Justin Bieber’s camp did their due diligence to ensure there were no copyright infringements when developing the choreography. So this discussion is not a ding at him necessarily. But, over fifty million YouTube views later, it was a difficult pill to swallow as a Caribbean person, hearing the dance moves being referred to as ‘pollyswagg.’ Yes, really. That was the name the moves were given by Parris Goebel, the 23-year-old New Zealand choreographer who cameos in the video as well.
I must admit, the lack of reference to anything Jamaican did make me feel a bit queasy. It’s the same feeling I got when I saw Eddie Murphy and Snoop Doggy Dog aka Snoop Lion try to crossover into reggae music. Or, when I saw the Spanish version of the soca tune, Palance, blow up the airwaves without any credit given to the songs originators. Or, when rumors were spreading that Japan was copyrighting the development of the steel pan.
Caribbean culture is unique, special and vulnerable
It’s the feeling I always get when I think of how easily it is for Caribbean culture to be stolen from under our very noses because we do not have a unified entity that represents our cultural interest in the global arena. In the Caribbean, we are a happy, carefree bunch. We enjoy our culture to the max in our respective islands.
The thing is; our culture is so unique and special that many people around the world are observing and enjoying it as well. The difference is, some of those outside the joyful laid back shores of the Caribbean also see our culture as a money-maker, and they have no problem taking our share of the profit pie before we even realize there was a pie to share.
Contrast those blinking dollar signs against the reality that many cultural artisans in the Caribbean are under-paid for their level of skill and very few see any tangible rewards for the joy they have given patrons with their talent for years. Isn’t it time to re-assess this?
Time for a change
In my opinion, it is about time we marry our culture to business practices. One option is to engage our young people, have them use their business acumen to protect our traditions through trademarks and patents. We can also develop functional, progressive thinking organizations that represent Caribbean interest on a worldwide scale. One example would be how the Caribbean is represented in Carnivals around the world.
From this foundation, we can build an effective mechanism to defend the use of our culture and get paid royalties for it. This money can be re-invested in developing the arts on our islands, paying our local talent wages that are in line with their skill levels and creating opportunities for innovation.
It is true; there is no country in the world that can recreate the carefree attitude of the Caribbean. And that is the very reason we have to protect it as fiercely as we possibly can. It’s only when we come together as a region and recognize the importance of acting on this can we then go to the Justin Bieber’s of the world and say, ‘Brethren this a nuh pollyswagg – a dancehall this.’ That’s a much better option to me than seeing our culture re-branded, profited from and fed to us as if it’s something new. Now that would just be SORRY!.
Reference: Rolling Stones Article on Video Choreography
(All images gathered through Google Search-no copyright infringement intended).
SORRY Video below