Coldplay’s “A Hymn for the Weekend” — Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation?

As a Coldplay (and Beyonce) fan, I was thrilled and excited when the band released the music video for “Hymn for the Weekend”…until I learned that it was set in India. I figured this was going to be another stereotypical portrayal of India with people throwing color and dancing to choreographed Bollywood numbers in the street, but I had a sliver of hope that maybe this time, since Coldplay has spent a significant amount of time learning about Indian culture, things would be different. Maybe this production would provide the world with a more holistic representation of India.

Instead, the video was filled with shots of Coldplay throwing color in the street with Indian children and of dancers painted as Hanuman and Shiva, two of the most identifiable and sacred Hindu Gods. These images were interrupted by shots of Beyonce dancing on a screen dressed in feathery, shiny costumes that could hardly be characterized as traditional Indian attire.

From what I have observed, the reactions to this video are split. On one side, people praise the video for its artistic qualities, its use of color, and for its portrayal of a unique and often underappreciated culture. Proponents of this view suggest that Coldplay and Beyonce are engaging in cultural appreciation by shedding light on Indian tradition. Others, myself included, view this video as an example of cultural appropriation. By placing themselves in the Indian community and broadcasting their carefully crafted perspective of Indian culture, Coldplay and Beyonce essentially claim control of a culture that is not their own.

I have found the reactions to this video fascinating as the degree of frustration and anger that I have experienced and observed is much greater than I expected. Many of the accusations against Coldplay were rooted in the band’s perpetuation of stereotypical depictions of India and the failure to holistically represent the country.

copied from independent.co.uk

But the truth is that no 4-minute music video or even 90-minute film can holistically portray India. In fact, I would argue that many Bollywood films misrepresent India, often showcasing only the glamorous or corrupt aspects of Indian society and culture. While it is true that India is more than what was showcased in this video, I believe that the frustration truly stems from the fact that Eastern countries, such as India, are given relatively little attention in Western mainstream media. Therefore, when productions such as “Hymn for the Weekend” and “Slumdog Millionaire” gain popularity in Western societies, as an Indian/Indian-American community, we have a strong desire for these productions to accurately depict our country. These films are some of the rare opportunities we get to showcase and demystify our country, so when they are incongruent with our view of our own culture, we feel cheated.

“Hymn for the Weekend” sheds light on the Orientalism and Western supremacy that still occurs in much of the world. Although most major Western countries are progressive and respectful of other cultures, Western supremacy and moral authority still persist. The unfortunate consequence is that primarily Western directors and musicians are provided with the access to mainstream media that is necessary for cultural expansion to occur.

My hope is that one day, Coldplay and Beyonce will not have to “tell the world” that India is beautiful. Holi, Bollywood dancers, and films are a fraction of what makes India beautiful. I hope that one day, more people will have access to what lies beyond its exotic image.