Pharrell Williams has made many people around the globe "Happy" with his chart-topping single, but his image on the cover of a fashion magazine is now causing controversy.
The 41-year-old singer and The Voice coach appears on the "super-special, limited-edition July cover" of Elle U.K. And while the mag touts it as Pharrell's "best ever shoot," it actually has left many offended because the star is wearing… a headdress.
While Pharrell generated ample fashion buzz earlier this year for that ubiquitous Vivienne Westwood mountie hat, the feedback for dressing like a Native American in the photo — snapped by Doug Inglish — is not complimentary. That's because, as explained here, headdresses are restricted cultural items. Not just anyone can wear them.
Under Elle's post promoting Pharrell's cover are many comments by people unhappy — and surprised — by what they saw.
"When will people learn that appropriating native cultural symbols isn't ok?" wrote commenter Jenny Byrd. "Headdresses aren't just hats to be worn by anyone who takes a liking to it."
Carl Chaboyer agreed, writing, "#NOTHappy This is an insulting and ignorant display of cultural appropriation. That's my culture, not a hat." And Johnnie Rae said, "Never looked so good!??? You mean ELLE and Pharrell has never looked so blatantly ignorant."
Pharrell's own Facebook page has similar comments, including one from Gail Lichtsinn, saying, "You have no right to wear a headdress that is so sacred to native people..Those headdresses are earned and not worn to make a buck or draw attention..They have meaning and are worn by our men with pride and dignity..This is a mockery of a proud people..We are not a joke and take these things very seriously..Go back to wearing your OWN clothes."
The #NOThappy hashtag quickly caught on and is being used by others weighing in on the topic on both Facebook and Twitter.
What's surprising about this is that something similar happened not all that long ago. Michelle Williams appeared in the British biannual fashion and cultural publication AnOther last year wearing a dark braided wig, feathers, and a flannel shirt, and was quickly slammed for appearing in "redface" by Jezebel and other media outlets. A rep for the actress didn't comment and the magazine said, "While we dispute the suggestion that the image has a racist subtext in the strongest possible terms, we're mortified to think that anyone would interpret it in this way."
In 2012, No Doubt also raised ire in the Native American community when their video for "Looking Hot" featured a cowboys-and-Indians theme. Frontwoman Gwen Stefani dressed up as a Native American woman, complete with feather headdresses, beaded jewelry, and long braids. Tony Kanal was a tribal chief while Adrian Young and Tom Dumont portrayed cowboys. The band pulled the video after an outcry and posted an apology, saying their intention was "never to offend, hurt or trivialize," and noted that their multi-racial band was "built upon both diversity and consideration for other cultures."
Elle U.K. has not yet commented on the latest incident with Pharrell, but the singer has issued a statement: "I respect and honor every kind of race, background and culture. I am genuinely sorry."