Coldplay and Beyoncé wrote one of the best songs of the new year with “Hymn for the Weekend.” While their Super Bowl half-time show performance can only be described as spectacular, the music video is a completely different story.
Beyoncé’s vocals were entirely necessary to the song, but the way she appeared in the music video was not. Beyoncé’s appearance in the “Hymn for the Weekend” continues a long held tradition of music stars appropriating a culture that isn’t their own.
For those that have yet to see the video, “Hymn for the Weekend” takes the viewer to urban India where the members of Coldplay celebrate the holiday of Holi with young boys and members of the community. Beyoncé makes an appearance as a Bollywood dancer in a nondescript movie house somewhere in the city.
Coldplay’s appearance in the video, in regards to their dress and choreography, is entirely uncontroversial; in fact all they were doing was giving a snapshot of life in an Indian city during the annual Holi celebrations. Beyoncé, on the other hand, completely crossed the line. There was no need for her to appear as a Bollywood dancer. Her appearance in that form did absolutely nothing to elevate the music video and instead furthered stereotypes about Bollywood and India as a whole.
Bollywood is not just a bunch of random female actresses dressing up in exotic clothes and dancing around on screen. Her clothing itself failed to represent a traditional or modern salwar kameez and had a far lower neckline than what is widely worn, thus adopting an inaccurate version of a traditional garment.
Some people argue that criticizing Beyoncé is just an extension of the criticism of the many Africans in India’s cultural development; yet the culture Africans have contributed to in India has nothing to do with Beyoncé. In fact, all her appearance does is show that Indian culture can be taken for one’s own use.
Beyoncé was not the first big name star to heavily appropriate another culture for her success; the two most recent examples coming to mind are Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” and Major Lazer’s “Lean On.”
“Dark Horse” is one of the most extreme examples of cultural appropriation. Nothing in that video can been viewed as a representation of Egyptian culture. All it is, is Katy Perry poking fun at the mysticism of Ancient Egypt while simultaneously making millions of dollars. “Lean On” is no less guilty of appropriating a different culture, in this case Indian culture.
MØ dancing with a group of Indian girls does nothing to elevate the video. In fact, the entire video is completely removed from the music. The video could have been shot anywhere in the world and could have given the same meaning to the song. Major Lazer wanted to use an exotic place to elevate their music and it obviously worked, as the video currently has 1,114,903,560 views on YouTube.
This desire to have the most interesting music video and gain the most attention for a song has caused artists to push into areas that they really have no place looking into. The issue here is that these artists just want the flashiest or coolest looking music video; there is no appreciation for the culture. Very few of them could actually say that they understand the culture they were trying to portray or even interact with.
Even Coldplay is guilty of this to an extent; after all, they did choose the most stereotyped holiday in all of Indian and Hindu culture to base their music video around, and in the end the song is about people strengthening each other and moving forward in life together. Based on that any background with people hanging out could have worked, not just a poverty stricken city celebrating Holi.
“Hymn for the Weekend” is just another example of big name stars piggy-backing off thousands of years of culture for their own benefit. No matter how good a song is, if an artist has to take from another culture to gain prominence, the song might not be as innocent as it first appears to be.