Orientalist Fantasy: Coldplay's Hymn for the Weekend

by HH x C360

If Coldplay's "Hymn for the Weekend" is the theme music for your upcoming weekend, let us stop you right there. Let's rewind and think about this. What about the video excites you? Is it the music? The lyrics get you pumped. Or maybe it's the idea of Coldplay and Beyoncé collaborating and they're your favorite artists. More likely it's the visuals and novelty of the scenery that makes this video so cool.

Well, great. Let's dive in. Here are the problems.

1) THE 60'S PSUEDO-SPIRITUAL PSYCHADELIA

When you take a closer look at India, surrealism and psychedelia immediately come to mind, at least to mine! I tried to use the special effects in a way that just heightened what was already there. Almost trying to make the surreal real.
— Ben Mor, Director of "Hymn For the Weekend", for Black Dog Films

This video takes the complexity and vastness of Indian culture and squeezes it into the long-romanticized Western narrative of said culture. India, yoga, and Hinduism entered the Western consciousness in the 60s when LSD-emboldened hippies discovered tie-dye and "vibrations". Since then, a lot of the imagery around India has been dominated by this colorblind New Age sensibility. It's evident that director Ben Mor channeled the familiar semi-spiritual caricature of Hindu practices. India does have sadhus, people dressed up Shivji's, autorickshas, bustling streets, intricate jewelry and textiles, sacred geometry, a myriad of dance styles and colors galore. But to reduce one of the world's oldest civilizations - with over 29 states, 70+ languages, 8 religions, 200 years of British colonialism, and a culture of deep patriarchy - to four minutes of fetishized Indian fantasy... You gotta do better. We deserve better.

2) THE COLONIAL FANTASY

Coldplay, y'all are British. India was under British occupation less than 70 years ago. So that makes the idea of you talking about "feeling drunk and high" over the felicitations of our children a million times worse. Respect our space in re-establishing our identity and the nation's healing process. 

3) THE CULTURE VULTURING

Cultural appropriation is when a dominant group cherrypicks what they like about a minority group, while simultaneously attacking and undermining that minority group on a systematic level. It's when you are able to take the costume off at the end of the day when members of that group cannot. Our community and our sisters have been bullied, attacked and discriminated against for wearing our skin color and traditions for decades.  Case in point: Donning full Bollywood glitz and garb, while throwing a bone to the slum kids. It's easy to play Bollywood Queen for a day; however, it's disrespectful and insensitive to romanticize the plight of the poor because their circumstances cannot be escaped. Despite what the fantasy world in the video suggests, Bey and Coldplay are literally worlds apart from the other folks featured in this video. It's important to note that Beyoncé is an African American woman that does not benefit from institutional racism in America. But in this case, she operates not as Bey-Who-Follows-Deray-On-Twitter, or Bey-The-Feminist, or even Bey-Who-Dropped-A-20-Track-Visual-Album-Out-of-the-Blue. In this case, she is Beyoncé - the American Superstar Seeking International Crossover Appeal. As much as we love Beyoncé, she is not exempt from her part in the reduction of a people. This video is too real and we have to talk about it. She seems to be portraying a Bollywood actress, despite the presence of an actual Bollywood actress, Sonam Kapoor, who throws some flowers in an irrelevant 2 second cameo. It's almost as if Sonam was used to justify the blatant cultural appropriation and offset any controversy. Sorry Coldplay, try again. Oh wait, this is already your second offense..... (refer to their first attempt - Princess of China ft Rihanna)

4) THE VICARIOUS, YET SECULAR EXPERIENCE

The original kernel was that I was listening to Flo Rida or something, and I thought, it’s such a shame that Coldplay could never have one of those late-night club songs, like “Turn Down for What.” What would we call it if we had one? I thought I’d like to have a song called “Drinks on Me” where you sit on the side of a club and buy everyone drinks because you’re so f—ing cool. I was chuckling about that, when this melody came—“drinks on me, drinks on me”—then the rest of the song came out. I presented it to the rest of the band and they said, “We love this song, but there’s no way you can sing ‘drinks on me.’” So that changed into “drink from me” and the idea of having an angelic person in your life. Then that turned into asking Beyoncé to sing on it.
— Chris Martin for WSJ

Holi is a Hindu celebration. It happens once a year in the springtime and is surrounded by various stories and symbolisms within Hindu cosmology. It's not a Color Run, and it's certainly not a backdrop for Chris Martin's crossfade. From the children playing Holi to levitating sadhus, the video makes itself at home among the most widely-circulated images and stereotypes of Hinduism. This speaks to an interesting element of Coldplay's Orientalism, where they find a way to experience the ecstasy and transcendence provided by Hindu and Buddhist worlds respectively, yet still maintaining their elevated position as the secular protagonists. They reap the aesthetic and perhaps spiritual benefits of a group's experience without really getting their hands dirty. To paraphrase legend Nayyirah Waheed, they are able to "take the art. slice it from their skin. leave the color behind". So if the thing that makes the video compelling is the authenticity of the people on film and the vibrance and bustle of spaces, what role do Coldplay and Beyonce even play? They're ultimately upstaged by the culture on display, which makes us feel a little vindicated.

Mired in patriarchy and post-colonial trauma as it may be, India is one of the fastest growing markets and youth consumer bases out right now - it's hot. And Coldplay and Beyoncé want in. But... we're good.

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