Controversy over Coldplay’s Hymn For The Weekend Video Misses Context

Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. I’m not a Coldplay fan. Nor am I an academic in cultural affairs. I’m an Indian fan of music, and art, and this piece is written with that perspective.

Yet another Western music video set in India, yet another controversy. Only, it really doesn’t need to be.

The primary charge leveled against the music video for the Coldplay/Beyoncé collaboration, Hymn For The Weekend, is that it is an instance of cultural appropriation, pointing particularly to the Bey-as-Bollywood-star and the ‘exotic India’ trope present through the video.

Or at least, that’s what the accusations amount to. In my opinion though, the entire situation has been blown way out of proportion, owing to the fact that this video fits into the theme of Coldplay’s new music and the song itself.

Let me first get out of the way the issue I personally have with this video: the terrible costume Beyoncé dons in her sections. This was honestly the only aspect of the video I saw as blatant cultural appropriation, given that what she’s wearing is far from any actual Indian attire, her hair’s blond and those hand gestures aren’t from any known dance form.

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Seriously, what is this supposed to be?! Bharatnatyam? Kathakali? Who knows?

With that being said, I have to bring in my point of contention here: the video, as a whole, is the riot of colours it is so as to be in sync with the crux of Coldplay’s latest album, A Head Full Of Dreams. It is bright, vibrant, colourful, and definitely saccharine (that’s a whole another issue altogether). It is evident, then, that the visuals seek to complement this vibrancy.

Just take a look at the album art. It’s a brilliant spectrum of hues, alongside some trippy imagery. This reflects the music contained within the album, a lush soundscape with a joyously upbeat tone.

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Is it really any wonder then, why the video for one of the most celebratory tracks off the album has been made the way it has? Let me try to break it down.

A few of the opening frames themselves were criticized for depicting “sadhus” in a video set in India. But this is a hymnal track, in tone and name. Does it not make sense for the video to depict persons evidently belonging to Hinduism, the dominant religion of the setting?

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“I’m just psyched I’m in the video bruh”

 

This juxtaposition of religious imagery with bright colours reappears in the opening shot of Chris Martin, reiterating the deliberate cinematography at play here.

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“I wish I could’ve foreseen the reactions this would get”

This continues with the sections that show Holi celebrations on in full swing, paints and powders splashing on-screen in festive chaos. For a song that endorses unbridled joy, I’d say this visual is as good a parallel as it gets.

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Source: Hindustan Times

My point here is that the music video calls for a setting rich in vivid colours, spirituality, and celebrations that reconcile the two. And isn’t India a unique tableaux of these details? Certainly, the depicted scenes aren’t an all-encompassing view of India. But it isn’t trying to be. The intent in this video is to portray the aforementioned elements, and it is undeniable that these very much exist in abundance in India. Doesn’t the very premise of Holi involve people running in the streets, painting them in the brightest hues possible? Aren’t these elements an intrinsically Indian celebration of life?

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Indians, participating in a classical Indian dance form in Hymn For The Weekend.  Source: Hindustan Times

The key aspect,then, that many ‘commentators’ seem to be missing is that the video acts plainly as a lens. In one instance, the kids dancing as the band plays are freestyling; there is no shoehorning in of any “Indian dance’. This is a bunch of people having fun, cutting across cultural lines. Coldplay aren’t the orchestrators of a grand, exotic play here; they are participants in aspects of Indian culture that they evidently admire.

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Killin’ it

Aside from a few obvious missteps, I strongly feel that Hymn For The Weekend is an appreciative glance at some of India’s many hues. An outsider’s glance, yes, but not one of an appropriator.

After all, atithi devo bhava, right?

PS: I’m actually very annoyed that this controversy has overshadowed the beauty of the video itself. It is a spectacular piece of cinematography. Can we at least enjoy that?

Controversy over Coldplay’s Hymn For The Weekend Video Misses Context

Favourite Albums of 2015 – #3 to #1

Note: Listen to every song on these albums. They’re worth your time.

#3. King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude – Pusha T

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Pusha almost didn’t give us this masterpiece this year: dropped in mid-December, Darkest Before Dawn is the absolute last album to make my list. And with good reason: this is Pusha T’s best solo body of work so far. There is absolutely no excess on this LP: at 10 tracks and about 30 minutes long, this is an effortless listen, and every track makes its presence felt, loud and clear.

Push is rapping at his sharpest, on some of the best production he’s had. There is noticeable edge to the vocals and the lyrics, exacerbated by the issues of race Push touches on through the album. And while he’s always had great production, here is focussed, thematic production; there is no joy to it, the 808s and bass elevating the grit of Pusha’s lyrics to powerful places. Darkest Before Dawn is a testament to Pusha T as a musician, as one who can curate a laser-sharp body of work. And to think, this is only the prelude.

#2. In Colour – Jamie xx

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In Colour is one of those wonderful albums that can be treated as an audio-visual experience by virtue of its cover art and the music itself. Vibrant, warm, cool and silky in turns, this project is one of the most eclectic electronic albums in recent memory. What stands out the most is the seamless incorporation of samples, original production and vocals to present a flowing piece of music that finds form without being limited by any of its elements. Jamie xx incorporates a veritable plethora of influences with a remarkably contemporary flavour, ensuring that In Colour isn’t eccentric, yet like nothing you’ve heard before. I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times), a tropical pop wonder, with rap and reggaaeton vocals is a thematic crux of the album.

Jamie xx is a connoisseur of electronica, and In Colour is his most compelling buffet. Let the music play and soak in its beauty.

#1. To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

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Everyone saw this coming. There is no way around it. To Pimp A Butterfly album transcends rap. Hell, this album transcends music. What Kendrick is conveying here moves beyond the realm of socially conscious music; it is a consciousness all in itself. This album is so incredibly complex, sonically and conceptually.  The lyrics, quite literally, weave short stories that cohere into an incredibly descriptive whole. They are, as James Joyce put it, the portrait of an artist and by extension, his culture. In the same vein, the production on TPAB is aggressively retro, while still sounding fresh; a melting pot of black music, be it funk or jazz or the blues. This is hip-hop grounded firmly in its roots. I am truly stunned by the magnitude of this album.

To Pimp A Butterfly isn’t meant to be easy listening, it isn’t music you can listen to passively. This is a microcosm of the spectrum of overwhelming life  Kendrick has lived through. It is a representation of the African-American experience, through the eyes of one if its own, straddling the line between stardom and humility, money and power, and good and bad. This is, dare I say it, a classic work of art.

 

 

Favourite Albums of 2015 – #3 to #1

Favourite Albums of 2015 – #6 to #4

#6. GO:OD AM – Mac Miller

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Mac Miller has had a roller coaster of a musical career, in a very short span of time. From the eager, frat boy rapper from KIDS and Blue Slide Park, to the drug-addled, contemplative Mac of Watching Movies With The Sound Off and Faces, Mac Miller has finally reached a point in his music where he can look to the highs, rather than rely on them. The production is inspired, and his rhymes lithe. There’s a cohesive sound that, at times, reminds me of Low End Theory era ATCQ. Noticeably, the album sounds less cluttered – despite the long running time – much like the mind behind the music, with a focus on keeping the message in focus. Mac is continuing to learn from his past, and he walks the listener through each step of the way. He’s making the music he’s always wanted to, starting with a fresh slate; Mac has finally woken up to a good morning.

Listen to: 100 Grandkids, Weekend, In The Bag, Perfect Circle/God Speed

#5. Positive Songs For Negative People – Frank Turner

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Frank Turner has always been a personal favourite because I’ve always found a song of his that I could relate to at any given moment.  In that vein, the minute I read this album’s title I knew what it would mean to me. The first time I listened to this album was during a particularly difficult period, and this LP was that spark of optimism I so desperately needed. The songs here are hopeful, but without any sugarcoating. Frank acknowledges his struggles, using them as the backdrop to his hopes for the present and the future. He is the everyman’s musician, with few grandiose ambitions, motivated only by love, for people and music. Driven by his energetic vocals and production, Frank ensures that his every word connects with the listener with a visceral force that a gifted few other artists can accomplish. On behalf of negative people everywhere: thank you.

Listen To: The Next Storm, Glorious You, Out of Breath, Song for Josh

#4. Wilder Mind – Mumford and Sons

Mumford and Sons are increasingly becoming a polarising figure in music. Despite their massive popularity, they’ve also got equally fierce critics. This debate saw its peak with the release of this album; many fans were disappointed by the complete shift in instrumentation, and angered by the abandonment of the signature folk/bluegrass sound for what was seen as a generic pop-rock band. But an honest, unbiased listen to Wilder Mind will show you that this is still Mumford in its soul. In fact, in quite a few ways, I saw this project as a marked improvement over Babel, particularly in the lyrics and repetition of sound. Marcus’ vocals are at their best here: gut-wrenching, soulful and passionate, often all at once. The acoustic sounds may have been replaced by an electric palate, but the dynamics of the soundscape is still very much Mumford; incredibly emotive at its quietest, and soaring at its loudest. Wilder Mind will unapologetically pull at every last one of your heartstrings. It is an ode to pain and loss, but most importantly, to that all-encompassing enigma, love. And I couldn’t ask for a more compelling tribute to what I believe to be the most powerful sentiment we possess.

Listen to: The Wolf, Wilder Mind, Snake Eyes, Hot Gates

Favourite Albums of 2015 – #6 to #4

Favourite Albums of 2015 – #10 to #7

#10. Ones and Sixes– Low

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My favourite albums go beyond being merely a pleasant listen. They make me evaluate and re-evaluate my preconceptions and my emotional stature; these albums are the ones that justify my spiritual connect to music. Ones and Sixes was the first such album for me in 2015. The project as a whole is glacial and epic, imbibing a sense of  sweeping melancholia and despair, albeit tinged with glimmers of hope. The production is minimal and never overwhelms, but there is a mass and power to it upon which the haunting, blending vocals waft to stunning highs. For me, this album was one of the most emotional listens of the year, and I am indebted to Low for this musical experience.

Listen to: Gentle, Spanish Translation, What Part of Me

#9. Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens

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In my opinion, Sufjan Stevens is one of the best songwriters of this generation. His words are intensely personal, yet universal in their relevance. Carrie & Lowell is an autobiographical project detailing Sufjan’s strained relationship with his mother, Carrie and the bright spot that was his stepfather Lowell. The stripped down atmosphere here is insular; the light strings and keys firmly in the background to Sufjan’s vocal presence. Themes of burdensome pain, sadness, loss and death permeate this album; it’s far from an uplifting piece of music. It’s catharsis; therapeutic art for Sufjan, that the listener has been allowed to share in. In its own dark way, Carrie & Lowell is a testing foil to life.

Listen to: Death With Dignity, The Only Thing, Carrie & Lowell

#8. Summertime ’06 – Vince Staples

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Vince Staples’ USP as a rapper is straightforward: he will never bullshit you. The Long Beach native refuses to glamourize the harsh, hard life he’s known growing up amongst broken homes, gangs, drugs and stifling poverty. The stories he weaves are intricate, incisive, and almost depressively real, and they leave you hanging on every word.  Vince’s voice is unflinching, detailing his teenage life with a disconcerting detachment, which lends credence to the idea that while that life is very much a part of him, he wants no part of it. Aided by dark, foreboding production, Vince on Summertime ’06  is the sound of the streets; blood-stained, gravelly and cold.

Listen to:  Lift Me Up, Jump Off The Roof, SummertimeSurf

#7. Currents – Tame Impala

Currents is that obligatory entry in nearly every musician’s discography: the breakup album; albeit so much more nuanced than your average Taylor Swift album. Running the gamut of emotions from conflict to yearning to acceptance, this album is frontman Kevin Parker’s declaration that he’s a “brand new person” who will deal with love and loss on his own terms. In many ways, this path is reflected in the production. And the production, handled by Kevin himself, is nothing short of a revelation. There is no sound quite like this. Expansive, emotive and mesmerizing, this is psychedelia at its absolute best. Electronics buzz around, eclectic sonic textures cohere into sounds that invoke the perfect reaction at the perfect moment, while Kevin’s surreal vocals alternatively soar and coalesce into the bed of music he lays so well. Tame Impala’s current is unlike any other, and every listener is privileged to be astride for the voyage.

Listen to: Let It Happen, The Less I Know The Better, ‘Cause I’m A Man, New Person,Same Old Mistakes

Favourite Albums of 2015 – #10 to #7