Jesy Nelson ‘blackfishing’ controversy: a guide to the discourse between her and Leigh-Anne Pinnock

Here’s everything you need to know about the former bandmates’ fallout

Jesy Nelson blackfishing Leigh-Anne Pinnock feud

by Nathan Katnoria |

After months of anticipation, Jesy Nelson gave fans the moment they’d been waiting for on Friday when she finally dropped her debut solo single Boyz and the accompanying music video, which feature Nicki Minaj. However, Jesy didn’t quite get the reaction she was hoping for and instead found herself facing accusations of ‘blackfishing’.

Things got even messier over the weekend when TikTok user NoHun shared DMs he claimed were from Jesy’s former Little Mix bandmate Leigh-Anne Pinnock asking him to make a video on the blackfishing controversy.

On Monday evening, Jesy spoke out about the blackfishing accusations for the first time on an Instagram live with Nicki and insisted she never meant to "offend people of colour”. In the same live, Nicki hit out at Leigh-Anne and branded her a “clown” over the messages she allegedly sent NoHun.

Yep, we know it’s a lot to take in so allow us to break it down from the start…

What is blackfishing?

Blackfishing is a term that was coined on social media in recent years, usually used to describe someone who is accused of pretending to be black by changing their appearance, including hair, make-up and, in some cases, surgery.

Some celebrities and influencers have been accused of altering their appearance, editing photos or going under the knife in order to achieve a look that is typically associated with black women in order to gain followers and capitalise on social media fame and sponsorship deals. Blackfishing is seen as a form of cultural appropriation, when a traditional element of a minority culture is adopted by those in a more dominant culture without credit, leaving the minority culture feeling marginalised and oppressed.

Explaining why the trend is so “troubling” on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour, Wanna Thompson – who created a viral Twitter thread of “white girls cosplaying as black women on Instagram” in 2018 – explained that blackfishing gives those who aren’t black “just enough to hang on to racial ambiguity without fully dealing with the consequences of blackness”.

She added, “When you see that people who benefit from white privilege that are able to get both sides of the coin, it’s very troubling.”

Why was Jesy Nelson accused of blackfishing?

Following the release of the music video for her debut solo single Boyz, many social media users pointed out how Jesy’s tan in the video was much darker than her natural skin tone which, as well the braided hairstyle and wigs she wore, were examples of blackfishing.

Jesy Nelson blackfishing Leigh-Anne Pinnock feud

One tweeted, "Jesy Nelson gets accused of blackfishing and appropriating black culture, so makes a music video about how much she loves 'hood boyz' whilst continuing to cosplay a black woman? Ok, makes sense."

Another added, "Why is Jesy Nelson the same skin tone as Nicki in that video? Yikes," while a third wrote, "Jesy Nelson’s solo debut #Boyz is cute and the video was a fun 00s throwback. But it’s 4 minutes of blatant cultural appropriation."

Jesy Nelson blackfishing Leigh-Anne Pinnock feud

How did Jesy Nelson respond to blackfishing accusations?

In an Instagram Live on Monday evening, Jesy said, “I personally want to say that my intention was never, ever to offend people of colour with this video and my song because like I said, growing up as a young girl, this is the music that I listened to. These are the videos that I watched and thought were the best. For me personally, '90s/2000 hip-hop, R&B music, was the best era of music.

"My intention was never, ever, ever to offend anyone and genuinely it actually does really hurt me that I may have offended people and actually, like, hurt people's feelings just by genuinely celebrating something that I love."

Jesy Nelson blackfishing Leigh-Anne Pinnock feud Nicki Minaj Instagram live

She continued, “When I was in the video, I didn't even have any fake tan on. I'd been in Antigua prior to that for three weeks. I'm just really lucky that as a white girl, when I'm in the sun I tan so dark.

“My hair's naturally curly, I've always had curly hair. I wanted to get a wig that emulated the same texture as my hair, I genuinely didn't think I was doing anything wrong."

Jesy also revealed Leigh-Anne had previously warned her about blackfishing during her time in the band as she added, "It's just hard for me because I was in a group with two women of colour for nine years and it was never brought up to me up until the last music video I did with them."

What has Leigh-Anne Pinnock said about Jesy Nelson's 'blackfishing'?

Amid the controversy over Jesy’s music video, TikTok user Raurie Williams – who goes by the alias NoHun on social media – went live on Instagram and he claimed he had received DMs from Jesy’s former Little Mix bandmate Leigh-Anne Pinnock asking him to make a video on the blackfishing accusations.

After posting a poll asking whether he should perform a routine to Jesy's song, an account which is purported to be Leigh-Anne's replied by voting "no" and wrote, "Do a video about her pretending to be a blackfish instead 🥴."

The account added, "She blocked us. Cut us off. Horrible person."

Jesy Nelson blackfishing Leigh-Anne Pinnock feud Nicki Minaj Instagram live nohun

Addressing the screenshots, NoHun said, “I understand that there has been a lot of controversy and conversation surrounding the new Jesy Nelson video, allegations of blackfishing, etc, that is another conversation that needs to be had. But, myself personally, I don’t take any offence from it. That’s me, and I can’t speak on behalf of every single black person.

“What I will say is that I don’t think it’s very appropriate for a member of Little Mix to message me after I posted a video dancing to the new Jesy Nelson song, saying that I should make a video about her being a blackfish instead.

“So, you want me to create content which you know is going to incite hatred and bullying towards someone who has been so open and honest and vocal about how online trolling has affected their mental health and caused them to feel suicidal”

He added, “The way that I look at it is if you’re that concerned, rather than being shady about it and trying to get other people to do your dirty work, why don’t you speak out about it yourself? Come on, you’ve made a documentary, what’s this compared to a documentary? Why don’t you speak out about it? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

“You won’t speak out about it because that would affect your opportunities, your brand deals, your movies, your music, your career. But you don’t mind me taking the fall and potentially affecting my opportunities.”

Are Leigh-Anne Pinnock's leaked DMs to NoHun real?

There is currently no proof that the leaked messages were sent by Leigh-Anne and many fans have called the authenticity of the screenshots into question, with some claiming that they have been faked.

However, NoHun later hit back at suggestions he'd faked the DMs and wrote on his Instagram story, "You lot calling the DMs fake 🤡."

What did Nicki Minaj say about Leigh-Anne Pinnock?

While discussing the blackfishing accusations on Instagram live with Jesy, Nicki took a major swipe at Leigh-Anne. The rapper blasted the singer as a "clown" and claimed she was "trying to bring [Jesy] down".

Nicki ranted, "When you try to bring someone down because you see them continuing to try and pursue their careers, you are a f--king clown. And let me tell you, there's a lot of women out here in the US that tan and get bigger lips. As long as you're not hurting anyone you should be able to embrace your body, your make-up."

Jesy Nelson blackfishing Leigh-Anne Pinnock feud Nicki Minaj Instagram live
©Nicki Minaj

She continued, "If you've ever done business with someone then you send a text message when they try and do something else, trying to end them - you've already ended your f--king self. You won't go anywhere because your heart ain't right. What we won't have is putting out text messages to try and ruin someone, and telling people and influencers to talk badly about this girl. What we won't have is putting out text messages to try and ruin someone, and telling people and influencers to talk badly about this girl.

"Unless someone is pretending they're a race they're not and lying, sweetheart, take them text messages and shove them up your f--king ass because when you do clown s--t I have to speak to you and talk to you like you're a clown.

"You don't have to try and ruin anyone - you're in this woman's group and don't talk about this s--t for 10 years and now you've seen she has a video coming with Diddy? Print those text messages out and shove them up your ass. If you want a solo career, just say that - you can go out and do your own music, you don't have to attack someone else. It screams insecurity, you're jealous - only jealous people do things like this, and now you look like a big, jealous Bozo."

Nicki later tweeted, "Don't call things out when they benefit your personal vendetta to ppl. Call them out immediately once you see it chile. Don't wait a decade after you've made millions with the person."

She also uploaded an Instagram post with the caption, "Ayo Jesy!! We got all Leigh jelly btchs akkin all messy #Boyzoutnow," although the reference to Leigh-Anne has now been removed.

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Why have Jesy Nelson and Nicki Minaj been criticised for their Instagram live?

Both Jesy and Nicki have come under fire online in the wake of their Instagram live exchange, with some accusing the singer of hypocrisy after releasing her documentary Odd One Out on the subject of internet bullying.

One viral tweet read, "Jesy Nelson made an entire documentary on BBC about being kind and trolling online, but just sat and laughed as Nicki Minaj slated Leigh-Anne Pinnock to 100k viewers on a live. That just does not sit right with me."

Another Twitter user wrote, "So Jesy can make a documentary about cyberbullies, but sat there laughing as Nicki said sh-tty things [about] Leigh on a live with over 100k people watching… that ain’t right."

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