When Coldplay debuted its latest single “Hymn for the Weekend,” the band would have been hoping for a big impact. And that’s certainly what happened, although not the kind of impact they may have had in mind. The song itself has pretty much slipped through the net, because it’s the video everyone has been busy talking about.
Both Coldplay and Beyoncé, who features on the track and accompanying video, have come in for some tough criticism since the song was released. Why? Because of the way India and its culture are portrayed in the song’s video. Cries of cultural appropriation, insensitivity and stereotypes have been abundant, but is the criticism justified?
The video that caused a cultural stir
Entering in an unknown territory without a basic grasp of the customs, language and culture is always dangerous. Understanding the culture and etiquette can be essential on how people view you or your brand. You might be rude for finishing your plate in Japan or end up in jail for sticking your tongue out in Dubai. Research is often under estimated but completing your homework is imperative when entering a foreign land.
So what’s the big deal with the Coldplay video? Well, let’s start by taking a look at how a handful of Indian viewers took to the video, the first time they saw it, courtesy of BuzzFeed:
Okay, so the most common complaint was the sheer number of stereotypes that have been squeezed into a single music video. And here are the top three complaints:
1. Not a ‘true’ representation As one respondent in the BuzzFeed reaction video puts it, “it’s just that they’ve used elements which don’t correctly represent India at all.”
2. Extreme examples Shots of three people on a bike, Indian-inspired clothing and footage of Chris Martin in a somewhat gloomy theatre are just a few of the complaints.
“Because obviously we don’t have multiplexes in India,” one viewer sarcastically chips in.
3. Dress code Beyoncé’s Indian-style getup throughout the video has come in for plenty of criticism, with another BuzzFeed viewer adding she also has “a serious problem with what Beyoncé is wearing.”
This goes to show how careful artists need to be when they’re dealing with other cultures. Major artists are dealing with a global audience every time they release a song and these opinions come from existing Coldplay fans.
We know Coldplay as a band but they are also a brand. Everything they say, wear, produce and promote says something about their brand image, beliefs, morals and what they represent. Regardless of the fact that Coldplay didn’t direct this video themselves it’s still their brand that gets tarnished.
Cultural appreciation or appropriation?
Coldplay and Beyoncé are by no means the first to be called out for it (in fact, this isn’t even Coldplay’s first offence), but they’ve raised the topic of cultural appropriation in the music industry to new heights.
With regards to Coldplay and “Hymn for the Weekend,” let’s look beyond the video and think about the song itself. Chris Martin had this to say about the song in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal:
“I thought I’d like to have a song called ‘Drinks on Me’ where you sit on the side of a club and buy everyone drinks because you’re so f***ing cool,” he said. “I was chuckling about that, when this melody came – ‘drinks on me, drinks on me‘ – then the rest of the song came out.”
Which raises the obvious question: what does any of that have to do with India and flying to Mumbai to film what is essentially meant to be a club hit? Of course, the band doesn’t direct its own videos and renowned director Ben Mor will have to shoulder some responsibility. We can only imagine he’ll be wishing he’d taken the time to get to understand more about Indian culture, beyond the clichés that show a two-dimensional, bordering on offensive representation of the country.
Either way, the end result is some disappointed Coldplay fans and a bunch more not-Coldplay fans pointing the appropriation finger, whatever your thoughts on the video.
An important lesson on video localisation
We spend a lot of time here at Matinée helping businesses avoid the same mistakes Coldplay have made with this video. We’re not here to say whether “Hymn for the Weekend” is cultural appropriation or not, but you can’t deny the band has upset some people. And upsetting your audience is the worst thing you can do when the job of video is to endorse your brand. You have to make every effort to understand your audience, and connect with them. This is the key to good localisation and a little bit of market research can go a long way.
Music giants like Coldplay might feel they can get away without pleasing everyone, but most brands don’t get the same luxury. Most brands can’t afford to take that chance and risk segregating themselves from an entire market. So, whether Coldplay and Beyoncé deserve the flack for their latest video music or not, we’d at least like to thank them for showing everyone how not to localise a music video.