I watched Coldplay's "Hymn for the Weekend" video featuring Beyoncé and I'm pretty sure my fave is problematic. For the past month "HFTW" has been my go-to happy song and Beyoncé is obviously Queen, so I was amped to see the music video. It takes place in India and features lead singer Chris Martin exploring Mumbai, temples, holy men meditating, children dancing in the streets and most controversially, Beyoncé as a Bollywood star. Before the video hit the halfway mark, the term at the forefront of my mind was "cultural appropriation." Cue the eye rolls and sighs of exasperation from people on both sides of the argument for cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation.
My first instinct was to push the thought to the back of my head. I mean, there's no way my fave could be doing something problematic. She's one of the biggest pop stars in the world and always seems to elude scandal and mass criticism. But Bey making seemingly meaningless hand gestures while adorned in henna at the 1:32 mark made me cringe. I went to Google to discover other's thoughts on the "Hymn for the Weekend" video.
What I found were mixed reviews with people either praising Coldplay and Beyoncé for focusing on the positive elements of Indian culture or accusing them of perpetuating Indian stereotypes.
I'm leaning towards the latter. Let's talk about it.
Cultural appropriation happens when someone from a dominant culture adopts aspects of a systematically oppressed group's culture. In recent years, social justice warriors have called out celebrities like Kylie Jenner, Macklemore, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Iggy Azalea for using elements of oppressed groups' cultures to bolster their own popularity for profit. All of those mentioned are White.
OK, but they can't help the fact that they are White. Tacos taste amazing. Yoga is relaxing. Are we not supposed to enjoy these things because we are not associated with the cultures from which they originate? Of course not.
At the same time, we should all recognize our privileges. You may inherit privilege from birth based on race, class or gender. However, what you choose to do with that privilege is up to you. Simply stating that you have a right to express yourself, regardless of other's feelings only serves to highlight the existence of your privilege.
Having the ability to cherry-pick elements of a culture to suit your personal wants, denotes privilege. The examples of Indian culture represented in "HFTW" were selected for their mass appeal. It's easier to show simplistic, western ideals of India rather than something more rooted in reality. The video trivializes Indian culture and places it into a neat, sellable package. No doubt, India's landscape is stunning and its culture is rich. However, this video is from the perspective of a White backpacker and to him, India is a magical place where he can "find himself," on some Eat, Pray, Love shit. This world merely exists to appease the traveler.
In "Hymn for the Weekend" various aspects of Indian culture are romanticized, particularly Beyoncé's distinct "otherness" throughout the video. She is depicted as an exotic character, full of mystery, especially as Chris Martin stares in awe at her image on the big screen in a crowded theater. This serves to further elude people outside of the culture, leading to the exoticization and dehumanization of Indians.
You may be tempted to ask, "How much can we expect from a four minute pop music video?"
In just three days, the video has over 12 million views. When there so few true representations of a culture, popular artists should be responsible with their depiction of the culture they are drawing inspiration from.
How could the video have been culturally appreciative?
Rather than appearing as a Bollywood star, Beyoncé could have performed alongside Coldplay, and allowed real-life actress Sonam Kapoor -- who made a brief cameo in the video-- to be more prominently featured.
Their intentions may not have been malicious but that doesn't lessen the negative impact that the video can have on impressionable audiences that don't have a better understanding of Indian culture.
Check out the video and let's continue the conversation.