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Should Ariana Grande’s “Small Japanese BBQ” Tattoo Be Considered Cultural Appropriation?

She knows it's misspelt, but she thinks it "looks tight."

“Girls with tattoos who like getting in trouble” is the second lyric of Ariana Grande’s chart-topping single, “7 Rings.” Grande, it seems, takes her lyrics quite seriously: the song has been at the centre of several controversies since it started preaching lavish, unrelatable purchases to us two weeks ago. Everyone from 2 Chainz and Soulja Boy to Princess Nokia have taken issue with the song’s lyrics, beat and video, and last week, Grande made a public apology after sharing a fan post that claimed “White women talking about their weaves is how we’re gonna solve racism.” (In the chorus, she sings: “You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it.” The line is in reference to her longer-than-life hair which, I was surprised to learn, is not real.)

Like the tattoo-covered, trouble causing girl she is, Grande turned the milestone into body art. Yesterday, in a post that has since been deleted, she shared a photo of the new ink to her Instagram page, showing the characters “七輪” in black on her left palm. In Chinese, this loosely translates to “7 rounds”—which is, I guess, pretty close to “7 Rings.” In Kanji however—the Japanese alphabet that shares characters with Chinese—the symbols take on a different meaning. The first character means “seven” and the second means “ring,” but together, “七輪” is read as “shichirin,” which translates to “small Japanese BBQ.”

It seems, however, that Grande may have known what she was getting herself into. The correct Japanese translation for “7 rings” should’ve been “七つの指輪,” a detail Grande got correct in the title card for the song’s music video and one that she acknowledged in a now-deleted tweet: “indeed, i left out “つの指” which should have gone in between. it hurt like fuck n still looks tight i wouldn’t have lasted one more symbol lmao,” Grande wrote, “but this spot also peels a ton and won’t last so if i miss it enough, i’ll suffer thru the whole thing next time.” She then goes on to say she was a “huge fan of tiny bbq grills.”

Getting a Japanese BBQ tattoo is something I might actually understand. Like Grande, I am a huge fan of tiny BBQ grills—so much so, in fact, that I have the Gyu-Kaku app on my phone, where I collect points to receive raw meat deals from the world’s largest Japanese BBQ franchise. It’s one of my favourite places to eat, and it’s one of the many things I enjoy about Japanese culture. Knowingly misspelling a foreign word because you like how it looks, however, is a lot harder to swallow than a plate of grilled yaki-shabu. Users on Twitter seem to be agree.

The ponytail flipping pop star isn’t the first person to have a Japanese or Chinese character tattoo with a comical meaning. What’s unclear, however, is why so many white people gravitate towards these symbols when they’re planning to have ink inserted into their flesh. Perhaps, it’s because Chinese symbolism can express so much in a few simple, clean lines. Or maybe, people think an “exotic” translation adds an element of mystery to their tattoo. Likely, it’s people like Grande, who think the cultured aesthetic “looks tight.”

But is it cultural appropriation? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, cultural appropriation “is the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.” Grande is not Japanese, but she has millions of fans in the country and has publicly expressed great interest in the culture. (This YouTube montage of her speaking Japanese has over one million views.)

The problem is, when languages are taken out of their original context, meaning can become over simplified, misinterpreted and completely lost. Ariana Grande’s “Small Japanese BBQ” tattoo is a perfect example of that — and it’s a reminder for people everywhere to stop permanently scarring your skin with words you don’t understand.