February 05, 2016

Recently, Coldplay released a music video for their new song “Hymn for the Weekend.” Beyoncé 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:

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 cherry-pick the images of India we’re supposed to think of. The autos, the color, flowing fabrics. And of course India is all of these things, but keep in mind that India is an enormous country, with several separate states. Cultures, languages, food, music, movies are all different. When the West decides to depict India, it ignores this nuance, this complexity. We’re left with nothing more than four minutes of all the color that videographers could capture during their shoot.

It’s misrepresented cultural appropriation. Beyoncé 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, and one outfit arguably resembles her Halloween costume as Frida Kahlo from a couple years back rather than anything desi-inspired. In doing so, Coldplay and Beyoncé are allowing a kind of homogenization of the “exotic,” meaning that at some point, it doesn’t even matter whose culture is being appropriated because it’s all Other anyway.

My biggest problem is 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 Beyoncé on screens and through ads, the video is reinforcing the problematic stereotype that South Asian women are mystery-driven, fetishized, objects of desire.

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

As for Coldplay, I guess this is nothing new, given the “Princess of China” video which somehow essentializes and homogenizes the entire Asian continent, with depictions of Chinese pagodas, Japanese ninjas and 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.

Jasleen Singh works with the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. She is a second-year student at Berkeley Law and the director of the Sikh Monologues Project. Jasleen is invested in projects that create safe spaces for women and minorities, and she is devoted to coffee shops, traveling, and the concept of storytelling. Jasleen is also a student intern on a work stdy fellowship at the Institute for South Asia Studies, UC Berkeley. 

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