Last installment, we dove into BTS’ debut single “No More Dream“!
Title: 눈누난나 (NUNU NANA)
The main recognizable settings for “Nunu Nana” are a restaurant kitchen doing double duty as a gambling den, what looks like a loading dock behind a set of shops with plenty of room for a red convertible to serve as the main focus, a building under construction and used for money laundering, and a music show stage.
The car itself is a really notable set piece for me because you have three moments where It’s a huge hip hop focus: in the beginning where Jessi’s on the car and a dancer is throwing her back out in front of it, where Jessi is twerking on it after washing the hood, and then the end when she and Hyori are hanging around and in it.
It feels like calling back to video vixen visuals only Jessi is, across the video, both the star the vixen dances for and the vixen herself and while that could be good… with Jessi, it’s… just kind of funny to me.
It’s honestly apt that Jessi channels J-lo in “Nunu Nana”’s second verse by saying “I’m still Jessi from the block/you know I got the keys to the lock”.
Because both Jessi and Jennifer Lopez are non-Black women of color who adopt/ed Blackness in order to sell music. The only thing Jessi hasn’t done that J-lo has is have lots of public relationships with Black male rappers and get “blessed” with a sense of authenticity because of it. Yet.
That being said: for me, “Nunu Nana” is this bold brassy sound that really fits Jessi’s public persona as a Jersey Girl (while she was born in NYC, she was raised in Jersey!) turned k-hip hop star. This starts from the actual beat used in the song and keeps up across Jessi’s’ familiar blend of Korean and AAVE (as opposed to Mainstream American English) delivered in her rich, raspy voice. The bridge and the chorus are incredibly catchy to the point where even as the rest of the music video makes me want to lift and lightly throw her, I can’t stop singing along.
You know, it’s always a shock when Jessi isn’t the most problematically styled person in one of her music videos. That doesn’t mean that Jessi and her personal stylist shouldn’t be yeeted somewhere like yesterday, but there are worst styled fish in the crowd and they/their stylists should get thrown first.
I remember when we first saw the teasers for her video back in July –
Not necessarily because of Jessi alone, but because of her dancers and a super unexpected appearance by a nigh unrecognizable (to me) Lee Hyori. The dancers in “Nunu Nana” are kitted out in clothes, jewelry, and hairstyles set up to approximate Black womanhood and chola visuals a la Gwen Stefani during her “Hollaback Girl” and “Luxurious” eras.
The worst part of the visuals are where Jessi has space buns because her dancers’ hairstyles are just… a mess in an attempt to look cool and authentic to hip hop. Bandanas, cornrows, and braids are used to provide the same effect as the visual signaling of the gold chains and jerseys I saw and roasted back in “No More Dream”.
But her and Lee Hyori’s outfits at the end are a close second because well…
Lee Hyori literally looks like she did Halloween in July as 90s J-Lo.
Which wasn’t cute on J-Lo then and isn’t that cute now.
“Nunu Nana” is the first of two singles Jessi has released in 2020 as a lead artist. This song and “Numb” are both tracks on her second EP Nuna – however, this song is the only one of the two to chart on the Gaon and K-pop Hot 100 in Korea.
I have complicated feelings for Jessi where if she wasn’t famous and she was “just” some random person I knew who was like this – coming real close to Blackfishing on the regular and really invested in performing blackness on the regular – I’d just be annoyed. I may have even have found a way to like her the way my small niece did when she watched Jessi’s season of Unpretty Rapstar back in the day.
However, the thing about Jessi that has always rubbed me the wrong way is that, like J-Lo, she’s basically manufacturing an image to gain authenticity and a form of street cred.
Like J-Lo, the thing that Jessi is currently grasping at to get a leg up in her industry is… blackness. What makes Jessi authentic to hip hop are her New York roots and her life growing up in the US and the way that she can, to an extent, appear to move between world by presenting this performance of Black womanhood that is buoyed by then not being a Black woman. (Black women are subject to misogynoir at every single corner of the world while women who pretend to be Black or try to appear biracial without claiming it explicitly have seen career boosts in fields that hinge on an understanding of Blackness.
While I’m not actually saying that Jessi is blackfishing 100% of the time, I will point out that her whole thing is an approximation of Nicki Minaj or Cardi B-esque performances of Black womanhood. Watch Jessi’s videos for “Down”, “Gucci”, or the collab she did with Flowsik (“Wet”) and look at how familiar the visuals are where she’s concerned.
At the end of “‘Blackfishing’ isn’t modern-day blackface, but it needs to end now”, writer Lynda Cowell writes that:
Our identity has always been up for grabs and this is just another piece of the puzzle. They came for the music, the cool, the hair and now the skin colour. When we point out that real, bonafide black models struggle to get work, or that we had those facial and body features before they were fashionable (and suffered for them), or even that black lives matter, it makes us party poopers. No one wants to hear that shit when they’re cherry-picking the best bits of our lives and having fun with our blackness like a costume. And therein lies the problem.
It is tiring to watch Jessi drop it like its hot in “Nunu Nana, tanned darker than her natural complexion and with her and her dancers styled like they walked out of a Step Up film… only to see her turn around in “Numb” and do the exact opposite. Blackness – notable in the mixed-ish visuals that Jessi adopts primarily in her hip hop oriented videos – is a costume to Jessi and I would like her to uh… just stop.
My one actual issue with “Nunu Nana” as a song is that even with the catchy ass chorus, switches tones to the point where it feels a bit uneven.
In the first verse, we’re given sexy with lyrics in the first verse that translate to:
Stop being a lil prude
If you want it don’t beat around the bush too much
Ohh baby yeah I said come and get it
I could give you everything, anything
Baby can you handle it?
But then in the second verse, she edges into a brag about her popularity and how sought after she is – which is true to an extent as she’s done lots of work as a featured artist and seems like she’s as desired for features as Jay Park is, bragging that:
Everybody standing on their toes to see me
Wake up, blessed
Anytime I flex, got that S on my chest
Psy oppa gave me the green light
So I ain’t gotta be behave
And of course, there is the ever present blaccent. Sure, that may actually be how Jessi speaks English when not in front of a camera, but it seems suspect when put into conversation with her Ripped From A Black Woman visuals.
And just… to wrap up on that note: at the end of the day, all we can do is hope that Jessi – like J-Lo, Pink, Miley, etc before her – grows out of her use of Blackness as a career costume and that she doesn’t pull a Truedy and keep nudging up against blackfishing for the entirety of her career.
Because otherwise, she’s not going to have access to the widest range of international fans that she could’ve as a lot of Black women side-eye her endlessly for her reliance on the hood cosplay visuals that she’s pretty much known for in our circles.