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Should Beyoncé and Coldplay be accused of cultural appropriation?

The use of these familiar symbols to capture the essence of India has divided Indians

Nabila Pathan

Published: Updated:

Whether it's power outages or wardrobe malfunctions, the American Super Bowl half time show is not unfamiliar to controversy. But this year's headlining performers, Coldplay and Beyoncé, have provoked a heated debate about cultural appropriation all the way in India.

Ahead of their highly anticipated joint performance of their new single "Hymn for the Weekend," accusations of cultural appropriation have been flooding the internet since the release of their music video last Friday.

Directed by Ben Mor and shot in Mumbai, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin is shown to wander through the city decorated by the colors of Hindu religious festival Holi, interspersed with images of bharatiyam dancers and Hindu gods. Beyoncé is transformed into a Bollywood queen, donning traditional dress, jewellery and henna on her hands.

The use of these familiar symbols to capture the essence of India has divided Indians about whether these images are celebratory of Indian culture or something more insidious. Many have criticized the clichéd selections of images as limiting representation.

Others were perturbed by how short Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor's cameo part of scattering flowers was in the video. However, she tweeted with pride: "A story to tell my grandkids! I was in a Coldplay video! Woo hoo! #biggestfan."

In response to the criticisms, there was also pushback from those who felt the tag of cultural appropriation labelled onto the music video was unfair. Whether it was to remind critics that Beyoncé is black and therefore “immune” from such accusations or that the video is a positive celebration of India, fans of the video hit back.

Speaking to Al Arabiya English, Saeed Khan who is lecturer at Near East & Asian Studies at Wayne State University, explains why the video has created discomfort among Indians:

"The real objection by Indians of this video may be less about cultural insensitivity than the financial angle, i.e. the notion that non-Indians like Coldplay and Beyoncé will doubtless profit from Indian imagery with no economic gain for India or Indians.”

He also adds, that the reaction exhibits an uneven outrage; given that "no such discussions occurred when the Beatles used sitar music or Selena Gomez used Indian imagery and melodies in a recent song.

“One possible explanation for the outrage now as opposed to earlier episodes is the undeniable rise of a militant, jingoistic religious nationalism pervading India and many Indians, who reflexively see any use of Indian tropes that they cannot or do not control as an front to their identity and sensibilities."

"Hymn for the weekend" will be performed at the Super Bowl halftime show this Sunday - an event which is expected to attract millions of viewers.