About two weeks ago, Coldplay released their long-awaited music video for their single “Hymn for the Weekend,” featuring Beyoncé. The music video was totally unexpected ― the good kind of unexpected. As an avid lover of Coldplay, I have much faith in their artistic crafts, but I didn’t expect the music video to be shot in India. The tune and the lyrics of the song conjure a scene of happy people, clinking bottles and bright lights in a dark room. Being that I am from India, I felt a great kinship and appreciation for the music video.
After watching the music video, curiosity forced me to scroll down to the YouTube comments and several social newsfeeds to see what the consensus about the new Coldplay music video was. To my surprise, commenters accused Coldplay of cultural appropriation. I read allegations of Coldplay exotifying poverty and limiting India’s visual appeal to orange-clad ascetics and scenes of Holi.
I undoubtedly disagree. When did happy, seemingly poor children translate to the exotification of poverty? Sorry to break it to you, but India’s highline cities, such as Bombay, Delhi or Calcutta, do not define the country ― poverty is just a reality of the Indian people. Happiness in poor areas is not a strange or exotic occurrence, either.
I visited India this past summer, and one of the many reasons I appreciated this music video was its honest depiction of India. When you roam the streets as a tourist or a local, Hindu ascetics are a common sight. Are those the only attributes of India? Of course not, but how do you let people know where you are without explicitly mentioning you’re there in four minutes?
You have to use the aid of these common visual appeals. The fact that performers often rely on these appeals to signal the audience shows that there is a lack of understanding on behalf of the audience, not necessarily the performers. Although I do see clear adoption of my culture for its beauty, aren’t Coldplay and Beyoncé simply admiring my culture for its uplifting and vibrant spirit?
To the offended Indian community, if you are so keen to call out Coldplay and Beyoncé for cultural appropriation, I hope you are as keen to condemn item songs that perpetuate the rape culture in India and the misrepresentation of India as only having metropolitan cities. The phrase “cultural appropriation” should not be thrown around casually. It’s hurtful to the artist and devalues his or her work. If we, as appreciators of art, don’t recognize the talent and message behind works carefully, then we can expect artists to become more unwilling to showcase their creativity.