Appropriation of Indian Culture

On January 29, 2016 famous musicians Coldplay and Beyoncé released their music video for Hymn for the Weekend. Unfortunately it is not the first time Coldplay releases a catchy song with a music video that stirs up quite a controversy.

The video was filmed in Varanasi Worli Village, Mumbai,and Kolkata, India, at the time the ancient Hindu festival called Holi was taking place. Lead vocalist from the group Coldplay, Chris Martin is driving around India watching the festivities going on outside and eventually ends up at a movie theater where he watches in complete awe a famous Bollywood actress aka Beyoncé dressed in traditional Desi adornment. The music video is said to be cultural appropriation because it is adopting Indian elements (seen as a minority culture) by people of another culture in this case American (seen as a cultural majority). It is said that these famous musicians took advantage of the Indian culture to gain for their personal gain.

Hymn for the Weekend is accused of stereotyping India’s culture. The music video shows classical Bharatanatyam dancers on the streets, mudra, fire-breathers, floating sadhus, and a peacock. The music video shows what people typically only know of India, failing to introduce viewers on other important Indian cultural elements.

“India isn’t just street kids and exotic women.” said Atiya Hasan, MD on twitter.

Cultural appropriation of Desi traditions has become a growing controversial topic. In the music video Beyoncé is wearing a traditional red headscarf which symbolizes modesty, and in the following scene Beyoncé is seen wearing a gold dress that has a very low revealing neckline. The contradiction of wardrobe can be interpreted as a sign of ignorance and disrespect towards the Desi culture -making it seem like the headscarf does not hold important significance. A similar contradiction occurs with the beautiful headpiece Beyoncé wears in one scene. The headpiece is typically worn by Indian women on the day of their wedding and as we all know Beyoncé is already married so her wearing that headpiece is contradicting, controversial, and confusing.

Some of Arjun Appadurai’s five ‘-scapes’ play major roles in this music video. The cultural appropriation of this music video could have been tied to ethnoscapes (migration of people across the world), ideoscapes (with the creation and dissemination of information), mediascapes (media outlet that shapes the world), and finanscapes (the economy). A group of foreign musicians arrived in India to make a music video and they used everything that they thought represented India and incorporated that in the making of their music video for Hymn for the Weekend. That video was later released and to many viewers the video did indeed represent what made the Indian culture — some even considered it a privilege that American musicians would go to India and use some of their beautiful culture and show it to people all around the world, to many viewers the video obviously did not appropriately represent the Indian culture and was considered a mock/stereotype. Thanks to the viewers that think this video is either a cultural appropriation or a cultural appreciation, Coldplay and Beyoncé were able to make a financial profit.

Cultural appropriation is constantly an issue with musicians and their music videos. Musicians profit off of intertwining other cultures in their music videos and make it all seem glamorous or to their advantage so that the end result is great and they can make money. Sadly in most cases musicians only focus on the culture elements that they think are the most known and end up stereotyping cultures; some examples are: Coldplay and Rihanna’s Princess of China stereotyping Asian culture, Iggy Azalea Bounce, Selena Gomez Come and Get it, Major Lazer’s controversial Lean On video, Taylor Swift’s Wildest Dreams music video presenting a glamorous white colonial fantasy of Africa, and Macklemore acknowledging the theft of black culture in White Privilege II.

When it comes to music videos and culture there will always be two sides: one that is accepting and one that is rejecting. Just like with Hymn for the Weekend some thought this video to be a beautiful take on Indian culture while others didn’t. In the end Indian culture is still beautiful and viewers decide how to interpret music videos.