A music video by Malaysian singer and actor Choo Hao Ren has been heavily criticised for its promotion of skin-whitening products as a beauty marker.
The song is titled "白娃娃" (White Doll) and features a skin-whitening product by the same name, translated as Snowbebe.
The music video has since been deleted off of all of Choo's platforms, as of 7pm on Monday (Jan. 25).
Bullied for being dark-skinned
The video starts with the main character — played by Malaysian actress Qiu Wen — who is visibly "tanned", through the use of makeup.
Two of her classmates stick a sign onto her backpack that reads, "You're so dark, does your mother know?", and continue to mock her in the canteen, making Qiu visibly upset.
As she sits down at her desk in the classroom, she tries — to no avail, obviously — to lighten her skin using an eraser.
Suddenly she opens up her desk drawer to find a note from an admirer (spoiler alert: it's Choo) that says "I like you" and two packs of Snowbebe skin-whitening product.
The Snowbebe products also include the note, "If you eat this, you'll become white!"
As the days pass, more and more gifts from the secret admirer appear: a glass of soy milk (with the note, "If you drink more white soy milk, your skin will become white"), an umbrella, a sweater, and sunscreen.
With each gift, Qiu looks delighted. Here she is enjoying the skin-whitening drink:
Looks like she drank a lot.
Throughout the video, Choo proclaims his love for the girl, singing, "You are my white doll, like soybean pudding. Dipped in brown sugar you are still white and smooth."
Transformation to fair and light-skinned
Then suddenly, on the 60th day...voila! Qiu's skin is no longer tanned, and instead is fair (and also sparkling, for some reason).
Her classmates flock around her, marvelling at her now "beautiful", light (and sparkly) skin.
But that's not the end of the video. Here's a quick summary of the plot twist:
The girl gets confused about the identity of her secret admirer and goes out with the wrong guy, who only wants her for her skin-whitening products.
This results in her becoming darker again, as her fake admirer steals the Snowbebe drinks from her desk every day.
Once Qiu realises that it was someone else giving her the gifts all along, she runs and finds Choo, who stands there holding two packets of Snowbebe.
The music video ends with Qiu (back to her white-skinned state) dancing and singing in the first person, "They all call me white doll, very white and smooth. When I walk on the street, it makes you flash."
Called out for perpetuating colourism
Choo also shared an Instagram post promoting the music video, which has also since been deleted.
While many comments were supportive of the video and saw nothing wrong with it, a number of netizens called out problematic aspects of the video.
Some accused him of perpetuating colourism and the idea of fair skin as the ideal beauty standard.
Others explained why the video was offensive to darker-skinned individuals, calling on Choo to be more mindful of the issue.
Even popular Malaysian YouTuber Jin Lim of JinnyboyTV commented, saying that there are better ways to explore creativity, and that Choo "can do better".
Choo: Video is based on true story of his girlfriend
Prior to deleting his Instagram post, Choo responded to several comments, defending himself and the video.
Denying accusations of "blackface", Choo said, according to the Malay Mail:
"'Blackface’ is people who do makeup to imitate black people in (the United States) and that offended them.
My artwork is imitating people who got tanned by the sun in Malaysia and this is a true story of my girlfriend Gladish who used to walk to school and become tanned.
I hope you all can listen to the lyrics deeply and the story of the music video in detail to understand in the right way."
Responding to another comment that asked him if he was discriminating against dark-skinned people, and if fair skin is the only standard of beauty, Choo wrote, in Chinese:
"It's a story about a girl who was bullied because she was suntanned and I wanted to woo her with things that can make her happy.
Although she got suntanned again in the end, I still loved her and that it's an individual preference about whether you like someone or not after they have been suntanned.
Don't overthink it."
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Top photo via YouTube / 朱浩仁Haoren.