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‘Jesy Nelson’s blackfishing row is pure PR spin – and there’s evidence to prove it’ – Kelly O’Hanlon

Take one keen solo artist, a well-timed controversy and an enormous Twitter storm as a result – a cynical person might have been able to see this coming, writes PR expert Kelly O’Hanlon

“A cynical person might suggest this was the plan all along; to seek out a social media storm in the hopes of raising the profile of Jesy’s new song”

The old adage says that there is no such thing as bad publicity, and in a world where media scrutiny is rife, many a celebrity has embraced it with wild abandon.

Musicians are always seeking new ways to garner attention and stand out from the cluttered market space, from surprise album drops to well-timed news stories landing conveniently in the build up to a new release.

Since Jesy Nelson left Little Mix, she’s been working on developing her own solo style and sound, so the release of her first single is much anticipated – among Mixers, of course, but also the media at large, ready to see if this popstar has what it takes to be successful in her own right.

I’m not surprised to hear all sorts of rumours and allegations circulating, as drama sells papers… and records. It’s also not the first time that a woman in the spotlight has been pitted against others, and with a group of ex-bandmates, it’s the perfect storm.

Jesy Nelson’s music video for Boyz has fuelled yet more accusations that she’s ‘blackfishing’ – deliberately altering her image to look racially ambiguous for profit

Whether it’s Britney vs Christina, Coleen vs Rebekah, Taylor vs Katy, Cardi B or Miley vs Nicki… there is a precedent of public battles between female stars – because it fuels the gossip columns, but also as it speaks to the way in which women are viewed and portrayed by the media.

It’s clear that what Jesy is doing isn’t all that unexpected or shocking. In fact, choosing to work with Ms Minaj is a ploy in itself to court attention, as she is known for being embroiled in controversies and for her provocative persona.

A cynical person might suggest this was the plan all along; to seek out a social media storm in the hopes of raising the profile of Jesy’s new song. And in that, they have succeeded – far more people are discussing this, watching the video and talking about it across social media than if everyone just played nice.

Jesy has been accused by many of perpetuating negative stereotypes about black people as well as cultural appropriation


Polydor/Republic Universal)

Celebrity spats are nothing new, but the way in which they can spread, and be speculated over, is. People enjoy following the trail of tweets, posts and breaking news stories to piece together ‘what’s really going on’. And as a celebrity, it can be very hard to step away and ignore what is being said.

In PR, we often say that the worse thing than being talked about is not being talked about, and when it comes to social media, it is better to be a part of the conversation. If you aren’t, it’ll happening regardless, but you won’t get to have your say.

However, it is a slippery slope, and can descend into a slanging match in which nobody comes away clean. Little Mix and Leigh-Anne Pinnock are best advised to avoid a shout-out to their ex-bandmate on this.

It’s a far more complicated issue, and when it’s a case of one story against another, the court of public opinion will always back the one they perceive to be most credible. Jesy gained some support through sharing her mental health issues, but Little Mix are an established united front.

Jesy’s skin tone appears darker than Nicki Minaj’s in the video for Boyz


Polydor/Republic Universal)

Jesy clearly wants to get her message across, and would prefer there to be more positive commentary around her new video. Leigh-Anne Pinnock and her fellow bandmates may also feel a certain way, and wish to share their side of the story. But there’s always more to it than we get to see, and the way in which this particular story is playing out does seem to be incredibly well timed.

Jesy survived cultural appropriation accusations before, back in 2018 when she wore her hair in dreadlocks, and I am sure that she will get through this without too much trouble. Little Mix have a huge following and a good reputation to uphold, so I wouldn’t go too much further into the mudslinging if I were them.

Jesy has more at stake, going solo, and despite the negativity at present from some corners, she isn’t the only one to have faced such problems to only go on to succeed in this industry.

Having Nicki Minaj in her corner might be fanning the flames right now, but if she want to make it big on her own, it doesn’t hurt to have one of the best-selling female artists of all time in your corner.

Kelly O’Hanlon is a senior lecturer in Public Relations and Media at Birmingham City University

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