Malaysian musician Choo Hao Ren has addressed the backlash he has received on social media for the use of brownface in a music video.
Choo, who makes music under the moniker Haoren, released a music video for a song titled ‘White Doll’ on Sunday (January 24). It was a collaboration with a brand called Snowbebe, which sells skin-whitening products.
The now-deleted video’s female lead, played by Malaysian influencer Qiu Wen, exhibited a darker skin tone through the use of brown make-up. Bullied by her classmates for having “tanned” skin, Qiu’s character suddenly finds gifts in her drawer – including Snowbebe products – left by a secret admirer, played by Choo. The plot jumps months ahead, revealing Qiu’s character with a lighter skin tone.
After social media users slammed the ‘White Doll’ music video and Haoren for the use of brownface, the singer removed the video from YouTube and made a statement on Instagram on Monday (January 25) apologising to “everyone who feels uncomfortable in the story”.
“I want to clarify that I definitely didn’t mean to offend anyone,” he wrote. “It is only because of the plot needs the makeup to perform the tanned skin that based on true story.”
He questioned, “In Malaysia, a country with strong sunlight, is it really inappropriate to do a tanned makeup on actor to present a plot of sunburnt? Even-though the story end up show unconditional love from the boy towards the tanned skin girl?”
Choo ended the post inviting critics to “leave a message to discuss your point of view”, adding that he would address the controversy in a video on Tuesday.
Some users went on to condemn Choo’s response, saying that he had “missed the point” of the criticism. “The idea of your story is simply insulting to those who have darker skin,” one user wrote in the comments of Choo’s Instagram post. “Just don’t angle your story in a way where it sheds bad light on people with darker skin tones.”
In a video posted on YouTube and Instagram today (January 26), Choo reiterated his apology to those who felt “uncomfortable”.
“I hope to have your kind understanding that my original intention is to imply the effects of sunburned skin and never my intention to create any racial[ly] sensitive topics. If I have offended anyone, I sincerely apologise,” he said.
Choo also explained the plot of the music video, claiming that “everyone has been ignoring the idea that I’ve been meaning to express, [that] at the beginning and the end of the video the female lead remained as the girl with sunburned skin and the love from the male lead remained the same for her.”
He added, “I wish to say that we live in a multiracial country, Malaysia, [and that] I’m still learning every day and it is a continuous journey for me on racism topics. I accept all comments, feedbacks and criticism with an open heart and strive to become a better person.”
Choo acknowledged that “the thoughts on my works are immature and has brought the wrong concept”, promising to “learn from my mistakes”. He continued, “In the future, I will be more careful in presenting an artwork in the right way, take into account the feelings of more people. I am sorry once again.”
The singer said that the ‘White Doll’ music video will be edited and re-uploaded, “without any offensive content for all”.
Choo then ended the video with the song, with its Mandarin lyrics and an English translation. Part of it goes, “Would you mind me staring and admiring your tanned skin / Your tanned arm from the sunburn, my heart is aching for you, do you know? / They can’t see you glowing so let me be your sun, will you? / You are my white doll, like a tofu pudding served in black sugar”.