Rihanna’s Cover Shoot for Harper’s BAZAAR China: Cultural Appropriation or Appreciation?

The bad girl gets the Chen Man treatment

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11:29 PM HKT, Wed July 10, 2019 1 mins read

Rihanna, shot by the talented Chen Man for Harper’s BAZAAR China’s August 2019 cover, brings new life to the photographer’s words “Fusion is the future of fashion”. With styling and shooting directed by an all-Chinese editorial team, the shoot is all about what happens “when Western style icon meets Eastern aesthetic”. Not that that’s stopped some from claiming cultural appropriation.

Yet for others, this BAZAAR cover might just be a light at the end of the long tunnel of cultural appropriation that continues to lead so many brands and celebrities astray. Born out of the vision of a star-studded cast of Chinese visual artists and stylists, shot for a Chinese magazine, and with proper credit bestowed upon everyone involved, for many these shots constitute appreciation, not appropriation. Rather than co-opting a culture for profit, Rihanna is paying respect to the Chinese vision (and looking like a damn snack while doing it).


Shot by visual artist Chen Man, styled by Xiaomu Fan, and under the direction of BAZAAR editors Wei Tian and Simona Sha, Rihanna is dripping in modern Chinese couture and serving us absolute queendom. These shots lean heavily on Chinese aesthetics, using traditional ornaments and references to strike a tender balance between Eastern imperial imagery and Western celebrity identity.


The cover features the bad gal Riri draped in vivid chartreuse and glowing butterflies, exuding characteristically strong feminine energy against a neon lit backdrop of a Chinese dragon. In Chinese culture, dragons represent power, strength and good fortune for those worthy of it. Although feared by many for their strength and boldness, they are considered to have an overall benevolent disposition, and thus have often been used to symbolize imperial authority in traditional Chinese culture.

Other notable shots include Rihanna looking vibrant in reds and blues, holding a Chinese silk fan with a face beat for the dragon gods in her own makeup line, Fenty Beauty.


Indeed, fusion is the future — and who better than Rihanna to help us understand the weight of these words? The freshly crowned “king of pop” embodies fusion through embracing multiplicity in all professional endeavors, whether it be as a musician, fashion icon, or entrepreneur.

Yes, we can appreciate without appropriating. Yes, we can support without co-opting. And yes, our similarities are greater than our differences.

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