By Rohini Banerjee:
That was the only thought that ran through my mind as I watched internationally-acclaimed, grammy-winning band Coldplay’s latest music video, Hymn For The Weekend. The video—hich got over two lakh views within only an hour of it being uploaded—is set in India, and has Beyonce (yes, the same Beyonce who we thought was a beacon of all things feminist and progressive) playing a Bollywood actor called ‘Rani’. If that doesn’t make you cringe already, wait for it. The video exoticizes India to a disturbing extent and takes cultural appropriation to a whole new level.
The video begins with a shot of peacocks and then follows up with a shot of a bunch of saadhus decked in full saffron garb—because, of course, that’s the only way one can establish that this is supposed to be set in India. But why stop there when you want to culturally appropriate? Coldplay really goes all out and pulls out every stereotype about India that they can think of—temples, poverty, half-naked boys jumping into the Ganga, a child dressed as Shiva, yogis randomly meditating on the streets, firebreathers, classical dancers, Diwali-style fireworks, Sonam Kapoor running around in a lehenga for no discernible reason (seriously, WHY) and most prominently—Holi. There are people playing Holi and dousing each other with colour throughout the video, making it seem like that’s all what Indians do, every hour of every day. If that’s not messed up, I don’t know what is.
Not only is this a blatant misrepresentation of our country and its culture, it is also projecting to the world that India is this poverty-ridden, ever-celebrating country full of religious and traditional people. This is not what India is all about, and Coldplay would have realized that if only they had bothered to find out more about what actually goes on in the country, and how it is a complex entity full of multiple identities and mediums of expression.
And trying to pass off Beyonce as a Bollywood actor—the very idea is so absurd that I cannot fathom how it even crossed the minds of the makers. She sports blonde hair, and wears an outrageously exaggerated version of what they thought was Indian clothing (but was actually far from it) complete with a monstrosity of a head-cum-face-gear, and calls herself ‘Rani’ (spelled in Hindi, to add that extra cherry on top of the pie of problematic tropes). ‘Why‘, I kept thinking, and came up with no answers. Why would Beyonce, someone who has repeatedly spoken up about social justice issues—including, might I add, questions of race—play an Indian woman, and collude to this blatant misrepresentation of our culture. Racism is not always white people versus people of colour; and as this video proves, people of colour can also participate in racism.
This trend of cultural appropriation in international music videos is not a new phenomenon. The video of last year’s breakout EDM hit, ‘Lean On‘ (by Major Lazer, Mo and DJ Snake) created controversy due to its problematic depictions of India, and Taylor Swift’s video for ‘Wildest Dreams‘ also drew criticism for its messed up exoticization of colonial Africa. This has almost become the new white man’s burden—to travel to formerly colonized countries, fetishizing their poverty and harmful stereotypes, while ignoring their positive and progressive aspects; making it seem like that they’re doing our cultures a favour by highlighting it in their videos. But it’s high time this trend ends.
International artists need to stop misrepresenting our cultures and misusing it to make money and fuel their personal careers—especially artists like Coldplay and Beyonce, who are idolized across the globe. The internet has already started registering its backlash against the video, and twitter user Sneha Menon Saadhu aptly summed up the whole issue in a tweet by saying: “No thanks for the bundle of stereotypes Coldplay. No wonder then that #India will be known as the country of snake charmers & sadhus.” It’s slightly horrifying that it’s 2016, and yet all these problematic stereotypes about India continue to be perpetuated through Western media.
In the meanwhile, all we can do is question and challenge such notions and keep hoping that more celebrities like Aziz Ansari and Mindy Kaling come into the limelight and show the world that Indians are so much more than this.