High School Musical: The Musical: The Series star Olivia Rodrigo had a dynamite year in 2021, taking over the airways with her debut album Sour. As the pop star has enjoyed her meteoric rise, that has also led to increased scrutiny and some resurfaced videos of Rodrigo using an exaggerated "blaccent" and African American Vernacular English (AAVE), which has been popularized into internet slang with phrases like "I be trendin'" and "emotional AF." This sparked a debate on Twitter, with many people pointing out that Rodrigo was appropriating and benefitting from Black culture in a way that actual people of color could not.
One major issue that people had was the double standard. "I think the problem here is the double standard," one person tweeted. "It's cool and trendy for non-black people to talk like that but black people are still scolded for using aave even though they invented it." Most were calling for Rodrigo, who is 18 years old, to take accountability and learn from her past mistakes.
olivia rodrigo constantly uses AAVE and it is pissing me off. the blaccent… pic.twitter.com/R3RmcFdjs0— GiGi (@beytilldawn) July 28, 2021
"I can see why ppl don't think it's that serious, but for me this is just annoying bc at the end of the day black folks definitely get discriminated against for using AAVE," another critic wrote. "Technically she's not hurting anyone BUT she is perpetuating some mess." Another person pointed out "Do you know how many black kids at my school were told they'll never have or never amount to anything because they talk like this?" People compared this new backlash to recent criticism that has been leveled at fellow pop star Billie Eilish, and ultimately people seem to hope that Rodrigo grows from the feedback that she is receiving online.
However, others were more forgiving of Rodrigo's mistakes, pointing out that AAVE slang had become so pervasive online, especially TikTok, that it would be nearly impossible for someone in Gen Z not to pick some up. "though i understand where everyone is coming from on this, i do believe a lot of this slang shes using is coming from social media (mostly tiktok) these days, and i feel like it's adapted into so many ppls vocab," one person responded. "you cant stray from it :/ (coming from a black woman)."
"Olivia is a kid that's growing up in a time where black culture is influencing society so much to the point where people don't even know that they are being influenced by black culture," wrote another defender. "'Gen z slang' is literally mostly just AAVE getting more and more popular." Rodrigo has yet to respond to the criticism, but hopefully this feedback will open up a constructive discussion about cultural appropriation and who it unfairly benefits.