Cultural Appropriation or Appreciation?

An analysis of Coldplay's new music video

At the end of January, Coldplay released the music video for its new single ‘Hymn for the Weekend’, which featured Beyonce and was shot in Mumbai. As someone who comes from Mumbai and visits frequently, I was excited to see the video and how Coldplay had chosen to portray the beautiful city. The video showcased many of India’s cultural aspects, including children playing holi (the Indian festival of colours) in the street, lavish temples and gorgeous Indian attire. However, this video has sparked a lot of debate about whether Coldplay and Beyonce have unjustly used elements of Indian culture (cultural appropriation). While I don’t fully agree with this view, I will admit that the video has some issues.

First off, I think I need to point out the fact that within the first five seconds of the video, there are some typical Indian stereotypes. For example, the video opens with two peacocks and sadhus (Indian religious men), not to mention a child painted blue (supposedly the Indian god Krishna). To someone who does not know Mumbai, or the Indian culture, it might look like these are everyday occurrences on the streets of Mumbai, but I can honestly say that in the 17 years I’ve been visiting Mumbai, I have never seen any of these things. Also, while I realise that the video’s main purpose was not to feature an Indian actress, I think Coldplay could have given Sonam Kapoor (the Indian actress featured at the end) slightly longer than five second ‘blink-and-you-miss-it’ cameo. I liked the traditional Indian attire that Sonam Kapoor was dressed in, but I thought that Beyonce’s was slightly too sexualised to actually represent traditional Indian attire. 

That said, I think Coldplay do portray certain aspects of Mumbai beautifully. I really liked how Chris Martin interacts with the street children playing holi and gets covered in colour himself. Although this video seems to say that children throwing coloured powder around is something that happens everyday, I am really glad that Coldplay included it as it showcases the sense of community as well as the vibrancy of Indian festivals. Furthermore, the video does portray some of the things that we Indians know and love: three people riding on a two-wheeler (I have seen this on pretty much every visit to India); street vendors and spontaneous gatherings on the street to name a few.

While the video might show some of the clichés of Indian culture, I think that Coldplay’s aim was to portray Mumbai (and India) as energetic and dynamic, which it is, and this video does that pretty well. After all, nobody wants to see India portrayed by skyscrapers and businessmen, and why should it, when it has its own beautiful and unique culture to represent it.

Check out the video for yourself here.

Anika Agarwal VII