Cultural appreciation or appropriation? That’s the debate that’s been sparked by Coldplay’s new film clip, “Hymn for the Weekend,” shot in Mumbai during the Hindu festival of Holi.
Since its release across the weekend the song has clocked up more than 25 million views but it has stirred controversy, drawing criticism for its use of Indian culture and whether it constitutes cultural appropriation. Loaded with vibrant, saturated colors, the clip features the band playing in a small Indian village and is rich with imagery associated with India, including children jubilantly dancing, covered in Holi paint.
Beyoncé stars in the clip as a Bollywood actress adorned in Indian jewelry and henna. She appears in the starring role in a film called Rani, which, quite appropriately for Bey, means ‘queen’ in Hindi. Critics have argued that in the clip, the Brittish band have portrayed India as an ‘exotic playground’ and that the clip is heavy-handed in its use of reductive stereotypes.
“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.
Not everyone was so critical of the clip though with The India Times arguing that the song reflects a positive artistic representation of the country and that the song is merely “about celebrating the intoxication of love.”
Twitter users rushed in defense of the English act also, sharing their praise of the clip.
— KABIR BEDI (@iKabirBedi) January 31, 2016
— Pritish Nandy (@PritishNandy) January 30, 2016
The controversy again highlights the distinctions between cultural exchange, appreciation and appropriation and at which point they begin to blur. What is the exact point where a clip goes from being an homage to all the things that make a place like India so special to a rampant display of antiquated Indian clichés.
Far from an isolated incident, the music industry has consistently drawn fire for insensitivity in their portrayal of Indian culture. Selena Gomez was derided for her performance at the 2013 MTV Movie Awards where she flaunted a bindi, a historically sacred symbol in Hindu culture. Iggy Azalea’s controversial “Bounce,” and Major Lazer and DJ Snake’s even more controversial “Lean On” followed, where criticism focussed on the use of India’s rich cultural heritage as a prop or fashion accessory.
Indeed, compared to “Lean On” and “Bounce” the clip for “Hymn for the Weekend” appears to retain far more cultural context. The clip opens with Hindu holy men, temples and a reference to the god Shiva. The importance of spirituality is given a nod and the film clip features Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor. Indian fashion designers Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla were commissioned to create the hand embroidered and sequined outfits for the clip. Furthermore the clip was shot in Mumbai and utilized locals as extras in the clip rather than actors.
Ultimately, is the clip cultural appreciation? It’s difficult to say and certainly difficult to give a blanket answer for everyone. The right for people to be offended is always going to be at odds with the right to self-expression but given the progress made compared to previous clips, this at least seems to be a step in the right direction.
It’s a very diverse world out there and ultimately, if any refeerence to another culture is immediately labeled as ‘cultural appropriation’ then eventually artists will stop looking to other cultures for inspiration at all. In an increasingly global society, celebrating our diversity is an important part of . When wil someone be able to do it? Only time will tell.