2016 has started off with a bang for Coldplay, who remarkably achieved their New Year’s resolution of reminding everyone they still exist following the release of their latest track, “Hymn For The Weekend” last week. The music video, also starring vocal guest Beyoncé, was shot in Mumbai and features the crooning voice of Chris Martin alongside various degrees of clichéd Indian symbolism.
Since "Hymn For The Weekend" debuted on January 29th, the Internet has predictably unleashed a torrent of think pieces feverishly explaining why or why not the video engages in cultural appropriation. And while the video is very obviously appropriative, I didn’t find myself insulted. I was simply just bored.
"Hymn For The Weekend"’s biggest misstep isn’t necessarily its rampant use of antiquated Indian clichés. It’s that through its tone-deaf portrayal of Mumbai and its culture, Coldplay and Beyoncé inadvertently reveal what they think about consumers of pop music: not a whole lot.
The video is filled with the kind of cringe-worthy stereotypes of India we’ve sadly become accustomed to. Peacocks, swamis and puzzling posters of Beyoncé as a Bollywood star demonstrate an exclusively white interpretation of the country’s vast cultural signifiers.
If you’ve never been to Mumbai, you might think the city existed in a post-apocalyptic colour war without common modern installations like skyscrapers, malls and air-conditioned movie theatres. I was in Mumbai in two months ago. I witnessed exactly zero floating religious figures on the street.
The four-and-a-half minute video takes place during the springtime celebration of Holi, the historically Hindu festival of colour and love which takes place across India and parts of southeast Asia. The audience follows Chris Martin as he zips through Alternate Mumbai in a taxi, pausing to celebrate Holi with random Indian children who are having an unusually good time being around the members of Coldplay.
Beyoncé’s appearance in the video as lead in a Bollywood film called “Rani” (meaning “Queen”), is perhaps what’s most perplexing about “Hymn For The Weekend.” In a costume that truly cannot be described as anything Indian, she makes half-hearted, wispy motions with her hands which indicate she didn’t even take the five minutes required to learn a few basic Bollywood hand gestures. It is also unclear what region of India she is representing with a massive wreath on her head.
Beyoncé’s role in the video is easily the most troubling part. It’s disappointing to see a self-proclaimed feminist artist with a massive worldwide following bastardize such an accessible part of Indian culture.
And yet, I hardly believe that Bollywood, a multibillion-dollar industry, will care, let alone be affected by Beyoncé’s garish attempts to be an Indian movie star. Nor do I believe that India is such a fragile country it needs constant protection from the oppressive forces of Western musicians and artists. The use of the developing world as an artistic backdrop is simply fading out of vogue and “Hymn For The Weekend” is a reminder that these practices are neither artistically imaginative nor subversive anymore.
Coldplay and Beyoncé, with their mammoth production budgets and musical clout, could have easily produced a far more interesting and accurate portrayal of India and Mumbai. Instead, “Hymn For The Weekend” is presents like a Danny Boyle film on ecstasy: a sad mishmash of old-world Indian stereotypes coupled with a basic beat.
Still, I’m a lot less worried about the video’s rampant cultural stereotyping and more concerned about what this means for you and I. Coldplay and Beyoncé have served the public with exactly what they think we deserve. A video so clichéd that it’s only believable to those who have never used the Internet or taken a social studies class. “Hymn For The Weekend” is merely an insulting reflection of the stunted worldview the pop music industry believes their audience to possess.
There is no doubt that Mumbai, a city which survived decades of British colonialism, will emerge unscathed from a racist Coldplay and Beyoncé video. In this situation, I say we borrow some advice from Chris Martin himself and consciously uncouple from this unimaginative mess.
Neha Chandrachud is a writer living in Montreal. Follow her on Twitter.