“Hymn for the Weekend:” another example of culturally appropriative antics

This morning, Coldplay released a music video for their new song “Hymn for the Weekend.” Beyonce features on the song and video. The video is set in India, and once again our beloved artists have failed to recognize that their fetishism with foreign lands is cultural appropriation. Here are a few thoughts:

1. Yes, this is cultural appropriation. White man in village with Indian kids throwing holi color could never be anything but. The entire video is an effort to cherrypick the images of the India we’re supposed to think of. The auto rickshaws, the color, the flowing fabrics. And of course India is all of these things, but keep in mind that India is an enormous country with many distinct states. Cultures, languages, food, music, movies are vastly different. When the West decides to depict India, it ignores this nuance and complexity. We’re left with nothing more than 4 minutes of all the color that videographers could capture during their shoot.

2. It’s misrepresented cultural appropriation. Beyonce is presumedly playing the role of a Bollywood actress during the video. However, her outfits are not “traditional Desi attire,” as some sites have called it. One outfit in paritular arguably resembles her halloween costume as Frida Kahlo from a couple years back, rather than anything Indian-inspired. In doing so, Coldplay and Beyonce are allowing a kind of homogenization of the “exotic.” At some point, it doesn’t even matter whose culture is being appropriated because it’s all Other anyway, right?

3. My biggest problem is with how the video reinforces problematic cultural stereotypes. South Asian women, and Asian women more generally are often stereotyped as either absolutely modest or hyper-sexualized in Western depictions of Asian culture. In only depicting Beyonce on screens and through ads, body rolling and doing some sort of Bharatanatyam-esque hand movements, the video is reinforcing the problematic stereotype that South Asian women are mystery-driven, fetishized, objects of desire.

I’m sorry Beyonce, but I’m not down for this one.

4. As for Coldplay, I guess this is nothing new, given the “Princess of China” video which somehow essentializes and homogenizes the entire Asian content, with depictions of Chinese pagodas, ninjas, Japanese geishas, and some sort of Indian-inspired dance moves.

Music can be a transnational language. It has the power to bring together people from around the world. But it befuddles me when amazing artists feel the need to up their views with culturally appropriative antics. The process is too often offensive and essentializing. “Hymn for the Weekend” was blatantly both.

See the video here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YykjpeuMNEk

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