Pop culture

What Rihanna's Savage x Fenty Song Controversy Says About the Fashion Industry

Following its Vol. 2 show premiere, Rihanna’s lingerie label Savage x Fenty 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 this 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. Then, viewers realized 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 dedicated an entire show to the legacy of music legend 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 shows a lack of accountability in event coordination and that the playlist was not 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 how models at the first Savage x Fenty show wore headscarves–it doesn’t benefit the communities from which it was appropriated.

Rihanna apologized on her Instagram story, calling the song’s inclusion an “honest, yet careless mistake.” The singer then thanked her Muslim fans for bringing her mistake to light, and promised to ensure that “nothing like this ever happens again.” Coucou Chloe also posted an apology to social media, saying that she claims “full responsibility for the fact I did not research these words properly and want to thank those of you who have taken the time to explain this to me.” Additionally, the artist said that the song would be removed from all streaming platforms.

“Doom” was likely selected for its hyper, electronic elements and not its sped up lyrics. Coucou Chloe herself selected the Hadith lyrics purely for their sonic content, writing on Twitter that she had pulled vocal samples she found online. But, regardless of intention, Savage x Fenty used spiritual texts to market a product without regard to the Hadith’s purpose.

Coucou Chloe did not just sample a Hadith, but also Baile Funk, a Brazilian hip hop style, with tracks Coucou Chloe found online. Just as Rihanna’s team and Coucou Chloe were unaware of the lyrical origins of the song, the original artists behind so many integral parts of the track also do not receive credit for the work. However, in this case, Coucou Chloe’s behavior is industry standard. We live in an era where curation, the assembly of artistic products, is itself considered an art form. Whole documentaries are made from archival material. Remixes of songs often become more popular than original tracks. The most popular content creators on apps like TikTok are those that take and tweak formulas with the same sounds and same movement patterns. Coucou Chloe took free tracks from the internet and mixed them with her own edits and sounds to create a unique song. In doing so, she used the work of others like building blocks to create her own artistic vision. 

However, it is impossible to strip religious or cultural artifacts of their original meaning. Even with new beats or pacing, a Hadith is still a Hadith, and Coucou Chloe still 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 also presents the responsibility of brands and artists to properly source and credit from where they are taking. Rihanna's label has a track record of being inclusive and celebrating diverse communities, and this controversy shows that issues appropriation and representation are continual lessons to be learned.



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