Polish singer Kuba Szmajkowski won an episode of a popular reality TV competition on Saturday after he donned blackface and faux cornrows and said the N-word in a cover performance imitating rapper Kendrick Lamar.
Szmajkowski appeared on the TV show Twoja Twarz Brzmi Znajomo (Your Face Sounds Familiar) to perform a rendition of Lamar’s hit song Humble.
The karaoke-style reality show is a branch of a longstanding international franchise that sees celebrities from that country impersonate randomly assigned musical icons.
Szmajkowski, who is white, took to the stage in dark makeup, fake corn rows and a beard reminiscent of Lamar’s own look in the Humble music video. During the televised performance, Szmajkowski, 21, rapped lyrics that included the N-word, which was not censored in the broadcast.
He went on to win Saturday’s episode — the second in Twoja Twarz Brzmi Znajomo‘s 19th season — and was awarded a cash prize of 10,000 PLN (C$3,122). He will continue on in the reality competition for a chance to win the grand prize of 100,000 PLN (C$31,220), which will be donated to a charity of the winner’s choosing.
Immediately, Szmajkowski’s performance inspired outrage in Poland and beyond. Anger was only intensified when he shared a video showing his transformation into Lamar. The post is still live on Instagram.
Each contestant posted video of their musical icon transformations to social media.
The comments on Szmajkowski’s post, both in English and in Polish, accuse him of being racist and insist he apologize for the Humble performance and remove his social media posts.
“This is top racism. Do you not see how inappropriate this is? Not to mention offensive?” wrote one English-speaking Instagram user.
“How are you not ashamed, man? Are there really ‘artists’ in Polish show business so unaware that some things are not done and certain boundaries are not crossed? Doing blackface is not acceptable,” another wrote in Polish.
“You should do this performance in the states, specifically Compton, California!” chided one commenter.
Szmajkowski is not the only Your Face Sounds Familiar contestant to use blackface; in the same episode actor Pola Gonciarz darkened her skin to perform a cover of If I Were a Boy by Beyoncé.
The Polish version of Your Face Sounds Familiar is produced by Endemol Shine, which is owned by the French parent company Banijay.
Banijay told The Guardian that the company “condemns” Poland’s execution of the competition show, as it “contradicts our group’s global values.”
“A subsequent internal investigation is underway and the appropriate measures will be taken,” Banijay said in a statement.
Prior to Saturday, white contestants on Poland’s Your Face Sounds Familiar have donned blackface to perform as Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Drake and several others.
In 2021, after actor Tomasz Ciachorowski performed Stronger by Kanye West while wearing blackface, the TV production said it was “surprised” by the negative feedback.
“The intention of each star performing on the show, as well as of the whole production team, is to recreate the original performance in the most precise manner, while honouring the original artist,” the show said.
Your Face Sounds Familiar originated in Spain in 2011.
In 2021, the Czech iteration of the competition series banned the use of blackface.