The listener is not a fixed entity. Our specific preferences in music are often arbitrary, and what constitutes ‘good’ music is almost entirely subjective. We experience music in extremely personal ways, and the stories attached to our music can rarely be unraveled by anyone else. Our lives – the ups, the downs, and the strangely wonderful everyday – have been soundtracked by our choices in music. The musicians, then, who have given their own lives, their sound, to us are no less than messianic.
This blog – The Listener’s Room – is a space for me, a listener -one among millions – to share the music that matters to me. The previous name was far too pretentious for what I want to do here, and I did not commit to it. But there’s so much music has given me, and it’s only fair I pay some of it forward.
I see this as a fresh start. A remaster. One that reiterates how much I value the music in my life, and declaring that it’s not an insular experience any more.
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.
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.
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?
This juxtaposition of religious imagery with bright colours reappears in the opening shot of Chris Martin, reiterating the deliberate cinematography at play here.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
#5. Positive Songs For Negative People – Frank Turner
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.
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.