So it should come as no surprise that a strictly average band has made an average music video shot in an average country.
A few years ago, when DSLRs first became accessible to Indians, by which time TheFacebook had already become Facebook, a lot of young people started clicking pictures and putting them up online. Photos of stern-looking sadhus. Of goofy little kids on the street. Goddamned pigeons fluttering about at the Gateway of India, ‘funky’ interiors of black-and-yellow cabs. Of ‘traditional Indian’ garb and big nose rings. Community pools and chillum smoke (of course). And holi.
It wasn’t mind-bending stuff. It was very much derivative, and aesthetically pleasing (borderline) if one were to be generous. You’d file it under ‘earnest effort’ and move on — part of the learning process. There’s no thought, no real invention, just scratching the surface of the surface and playing on culturally and visually acceptable tropes.
Coldplay, whichever way you look at it, is a mediocre band. They’ve made a startlingly successful career out of watered-down, inoffensive, surface-level craft and false gravitas. Using manipulative melodies and hackneyed adolescent poetry — tearjerker delusional nonsense — to con not just listeners but themselves too (at a certain point, I have to force myself not to question their intentions or their integrity; maybe they’re just so creatively spent that not even Brian Eno could salvage their half-assed attempts at experimentation).
So it should come as no surprise that a strictly average band has made an average music video shot in an average country. Who cares? When has mainstream popular music — masquerading as deep and thoughtful — ever been representative of anything beyond cynicism and bad taste? I’m almost glad (not quite) that the video for ‘Hymn For The Weekend’, which released last Saturday, shows an embellished, radio-friendly Technicolour version of India and not the real-life shithole we proudly live in. Let’s just chalk it off to creative license. Was anyone realistically expecting like Lynchian wizardry which looks as explosive as it feels, for a song with a refrain that goes “Got me feeling drunk and high/ so high, so high, oh, ai, oh, ai”, from a band that wrote classic quotable lines like “Para-para-para-para-para-paradise”? It’s such times when lowering expectations becomes a virtue (if you’re naïve enough to have any in the first place).
But that’s not even the point I’m trying to get at. Coldplay, and (shudder) Chris Martin particularly, have tried in the past to break out of the tedium their music brings to the whole world — by collaborating with Eno, with Rihanna or Beyoncé, by sampling Sigur Ros, by designing a supposedly elaborate conceptual theme on their album Mylo Xyloto, by trying to not shamelessly rip off the more accessible elements of Radiohead, by mocking themselves, by coming to exotic, spiritual, mystical, otherworldly India to shoot a video (admittedly for an older song). And failing miserably. Again, I’m trying to not let cynicism get the better of me and acknowledging that at least they’ve tried.
It’s of course important to address the fact that the video is a cheap gimmick and entirely a white man’s patronising perspective on a distant, weird, mysterious, colourful, oh-so-interesting little third world country — #CulturalAppropriation. (The slow motion shot of ‘chicken tikka masala’ deglazing and marinating on the pan was presumably left on the edit table to accommodate the 3.5 second sequence of Sonam Kapoor running like the Bollywood star that she is.)
But, beyond that, what troubles me is the utter failure of this experiment. India, for what it’s worth, has served as some sort of creative reawakening for a host of mainstream and obscure western musicians. There was the famous and infamous tryst the Beatles had with the country — sure, it stemmed from pseudo-spiritual psychobabble and ended in ignominy and disgrace for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, but the level of experimentation that entered the Beatles’ tapestry was immense, affecting the course of popular music. And, without sounding too hyperbolic, George Harrison was a changed man after, really for the better, judging by his musical output after the event.
John McLaughlin basically founded what is jazz-fusion and jazz-rock in the modern era with Mahavishnu Orchestra in the ’70s, after discovering Indian music and, well, spirituality. More recently, Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead (them again) came to India last year to record a weird fusion-Indian-Israeli-devotional-electronica-experimental album with Israeli composer Shye Ben-Tzur and 18 Indian musicians inside a fort, to very interesting results. Maybe it’s coincidental, maybe it’s the allure of the unfamiliar ‘mysticism’, but for some reason, India has time and again served as a source of inspiration for the white musician.
Then Chris Martin comes to India. He plays an ‘impromptu acoustic gig’ at a pub in New Delhi with some alt (and mainstream) culture personalities. Twitter witnesses unprecedented traffic from Delhi and Bombay. It sparks fevered speculation over why he’s here… maybe they’ll play a gig in India…? Rumours, then confirmations, fly about a Coldplay video being shot in Bombay, with a holi theme (naturally, because the only thing less imaginative than the colours of holi is the lights of diwali). And a few months later, we get ‘Hymn For The Weekend’. What a waste.
Maybe there’s something deliciously outlandish that they’ve taken back and they’re withholding until they can make sense of it (right…). I doubt that, and we can only judge what’s out there. And what it is is just an uninspired, ignorant, unimaginative, worn-out, unoriginal picturisation of a song that, like the video, also falls in that special kind of average — where it’s just about catchy enough to not be completely unmemorable, thus making it even easier to dissect and dismiss. It’s a lost opportunity — a video version of what an amateur photo album called Sadhus and Sunrise uploaded at 2 AM on a Facebook page called Chris Martin Photography would be — and makes you wonder if this is all there is to these guys, a band with literally millions of fans. It’s the work of a band in despair, clutching at anything they can get their hands on and failing to break out of the shackles each time. And that’s just a shame.
Disclaimer: The views and rage expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Akhil Sood
Photo Credit: Youtube.com