Just when I thought I was going to get all the way through the first month of 2016 without having to give side-eye to any of my heroes, Beyoncé partakes in cultural appropriation in the video for "Hymn For The Weekend." I know, I know — I'm as reluctant as you are to call out our Queen. But it's real, and it happened, and we have to talk about it. The video for the Coldplay song, which is stylized to "HFTW," is set in India, and I've already spent time today raving about the beauty of the landscape. It's seriously stunning, and India is far and away the star of that video. But, as I was playing the video through, I found myself avoiding any parts in which Beyoncé featured. It wasn't because she doesn't look beautiful in the video, because the whole thing is undeniably stunning. It's because she's clad head to toe in the dress of a culture of which she is not a member.
Sure, she's forgone the bindi, which has cropped up recently as a trend that's actually just cultural appropriation in disguise, but otherwise she's fully costumed at various points throughout the video in everything from a head covering, elaborately embroidered and beaded garments, bangles, a crown of flowers, henna, a full decorative neck and face piece, and thick kohl liner. And "costumed" is absolutely the word I want to use there, because that's what it feels like. In the video, Beyoncé isn't wearing just wearing clothes; she has slipped into a character, which involves draping herself in the aesthetic elements of a culture to which she doesn't belong. Worse, her character appears on screens and in ethereal visions, propagating a kind of "otherness" that Martin's awed exploration of the country in his sections of the video does not. Bustle contacted Beyoncé's representatives for comment, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.
I want to be clear here that I'm not saying Beyoncé did this, or that Coldplay requested Beyoncé do this, because of some intentional scorn for, or lack of interest, in Indian culture. I suspect that the video simply falls into the grey area between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation . Just because you like something, or admire it from a distance, does not entitle you to participate in it. But, as we've discovered in the cases of Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Selena Gomez, Gwen Stefani, and Iggy Azalea before her, cultural appropriation doesn't require intent to fit the definition. Just like you don't have to intend to be racist to say something that clearly is, you don't have to intend to cherry-pick the elements out of a culture that you're interested in and leave the rest to wind up committing an act of cultural appropriation.
It isn't even as though Beyoncé was the only person who could have played her role in the video. Sure, she was the one who sang on the track, but they could have found an Indian actress for her specific character. In fact, Martin and the rest of Coldplay would've had to look no further than... this very same video. Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor appeared in it and could have easily taken on Beyoncé's part, and Beyoncé taken hers, avoiding all this controversy in the first place. In not doing so, they missed an opportunity to echo the awe and appreciation for India that I saw on Martin's face throughout, by showcasing an Indian actress in the clothing of her culture, and that's a real disappointment.
The only bright side here is that it's something we're talking about, and something that's fixable if we're all open-minded and self-aware and honest about this kind of stuff. And that doesn't include letting Beyoncé get away with it just because we love her, and she's wonderful, and she probably didn't mean to do it, and the rest of this video is beautiful. Those things are all true, but in the context of this particular issue, they help exactly nothing.
Images: ColdplayOfficial/YouTube (3)