Coldplay and Beyoncé video sparks cultural...
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Feb 02, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Coldplay and Beyoncé video sparks cultural appropriation debate

“Hymn for the Weekend” has critics accusing the British band of using India as an “exotic playground”


Cultural appreciation or appropriation?

That’s the debate sparked by Coldplay’s new music video, shot in Mumbai during the Hindu festival of Holi and featuring Beyoncé dressed in traditional clothes and jewelry and sporting henna on her hands.

Critics accuse the British band of using India as an “exotic playground” in the video for Hymn for the Weekend and reinforcing reductive stereotypes about the diverse country.

“If cultural appropriation means that a privileged group adopts the symbols and practices of a marginalized one for profit or social capital, then yes, Coldplay’s video is committing cultural appropriation,” Rashmee Kumar argued in The Guardian.

The depiction of Hindu practices and symbols in the video – from holy men levitating in robes to children covered in bright powders break-dancing in a slum – is through a white, western lens, Kumar wrote.

And that can “wield real power to reinforce the racial and colonial logics that undergird the way we think about non-western people, places and cultures.”

Not everyone was offended by the video, however.

“Beyoncé showed India in many ways and made it look beautiful and lovely. She portrayed India excellently. As an Indian, I loved it,” one fan commented on Twitter.

“It’s a song in the spectrum of joy, celebration and almost drunken abandon, something that no other festival but Holi symbolizes for the world’s masses,” Kunal Anand wrote in India Times.

“The song isn’t a ‘real India’, ‘We-are-a-superpower’ advertisement – this is Coldplay’s own artistic interpretation. And do they make us look bad? No. This IS what Mumbai’s slums look like, and yet no one is looking filthy, underfed or unwell.”

Coldplay even tweeted that the song reached number one on the iTunes India chart. “Thank you to the people of India for making us feel so welcome,” the band wrote.

Coldplay has been accused of reinforcing cultural stereotypes in the past: in the video for the band’s song “Princess of China,” Rihanna dons a series of Japanese Geisha-like costumes on a set that looks distinctly Chinese.

That prompted criticism that Coldplay is not only culturally insensitive, but ignorant, too.

Critics also say this isn’t the first time India has been used as a stereotype-filled setting for Western artists.

In her video for “Bounce,” Iggy Azalea – who is already strongly criticized for being a white woman from Australia who raps like she’s black and from Atlanta – dances in a sari at a wedding in front of a backdrop of Indian women.

Azalea also sports a gold headdress as she gyrates atop an elephant in the clip.

Coldplay and Beyoncé are slated to perform alongside Bruno Mars at the Super Bowl half-time show on Feb. 7, prompting questions about whether they will sing the new track – and how.

“Here’s hoping that Coldplay has decided to give their song a different visual cue, rather than trying to make the Super Bowl into a religious festival and a Bollywood extravaganza at halftime,” wrote University of Pennsylvania religious and Africana studies professor Anthea Butler.

Butler said the issue is one of Orientalism, and reminded her of a line from the seminal book by Edward Said: “From the beginning of Western speculation about the orient, the one thing the orient could not do is represent itself.”

Toronto Star

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