Coldplay, not Beyoncé, culturally appropriates in new music video
Cultural appropriation is a very complicated topic, despite what many seem to think. There is no clear black and white distinction between right and wrong here — it is all a gray area. The gray is something that I think gets lost in a lot of the debates surrounding the issue. You cannot clearly define lines between what is correct and what is not when it comes to taking things from another culture. When is it appropriative, and when is it just exchange?
One of the most recent controversies about this issue was the new Coldplay and Beyoncé video: For some reason, Beyoncé got all of the flak for something that was mostly Coldplay’s doing.
The video for their new song, “Hymn for the Weekend,” is set in India, with all of the stereotypes of India and Indians that the Western world likes to place on us. Chris Martin and his band run through colored powder in a ready-made Holi festival, past Hindu gurus in their orange attire, and past children dressed up as Hindu gods. It features Beyoncé as a Bollywood heroine, singing on the big screen in front of throngs of Indian people, covered with more Western ideas of what Indian fashion and headwear look like. As soon as the video came out, hordes of people, both Indian and non-Indian, condemned Beyoncé for her culturally appropriative fashion choices, but there was much less of a backlash against the video itself.
The thing to consider, however, is that cultural appropriation is about power — it’s not just people wearing things from other cultures. Cultural appropriation is what happens when people are lionized and profiting from donning a part of another race’s culture, while members of the race or culture are ostracized and othered for doing the same things. This is especially evident in Iggy Azalea’s video "Bounce" and Selena Gomez’s "Come and Get It." There are also everyday examples of white girls wearing henna and bindis who get praised for being hip and trendy while Indian girls and woman wearing henna and bindi’s are not.
This power dynamic does not exist here — Beyoncé, as a black person, has no structural power over South Asians in America. She was invited to participate in the video, she made none of the artistic design choices, and had none of the power there either. The issue with this video is more Chris Martin and his band white-girling their way through India and upholding all of the tired, old stereotypes of my country, than it is Beyoncé in the vaguely Indian headgear and fashion.
South Asians are very frequently extremely anti-black as a culture as well, and this is incredibly evident in the way that I’ve seen the backlash against Beyoncé go so far beyond the backlash for the video in its entirety, which was much more harmful than Beyoncé’s attire.
The way that Chris Martin and Coldplay aestheticized hundreds of years of Indian culture and history is significantly more damaging to the way that South Asians are portrayed in the Western mind than Beyoncé participating in this video while wearing vaguely Indian attire. The only things that the Western world knows about India or its culture are fun colors, dark-skinned orphans, and caricatures of Hindu gods and goddesses, and this video does nothing to subvert that. In fact, it encouraged those ideas. The salt in the wound is that the song itself had absolutely nothing to do with India — there was absolutely no reason for this video to be set in that country or have any of the scenes of India that it did.
The controversy surrounding the cultural appropriation of this video is not taking into account the real issue of cultural appropriation, which is the question of who has the power in this situation. It’s not Beyoncé, and it’s not South Asians. It’s Coldplay. That’s the conversation we should be having, not discussing whether or not Beyoncé’s attire — that, again, she didn’t choose herself — was or wasn’t appropriative.