It seems like a lot of pop stars have been channeling their inner Bollywood lately. From the Pussycat Dolls (“Jai Ho”) to Selena Gomez (“Come And Get It”) to Iggy Azalea, who, truthfully, I hadn’t heard of until her latest Bollywood-inspired rap/dance caused quite a lot of buzz. There have been many interesting reactions to the Australian-born turned Southern belle’s latest song “Bounce”. Elvis said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. But can imitation for the sake of fetishism be unflattering and border on offensive?
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Azalea’s music video shows her adorned in saris and wearing a bindi on her forehead while riding elephants. Shot in Mumbai, there are snippets of auto-rickshaws (mode of transportation most commonly used in India), cricket matches, and Indian slums throughout the video. While I don’t find it offensive that Azalea is dressed in Indian attire, the intent behind this video raises some interesting questions.
Writer Jaya Bedi further adds to this point by stating that Azalea’s and Gomez’s use of the bindi is a form of cultural appropriation that leads to the Othering of the Indian culture.
What makes the non-South Asian person’s use of the bindi problematic is the fact that a pop star like Selena Gomez wearing one is guaranteed to be better received than I would if I were to step out of the house rocking a dot on my forehead.
In other words, dressing up in a sari and wearing a bindi becomes an act of playing an exotic character, of fetishizing Indian culture. Bedi adds that pop stars such as Azalea and Gomez receive a different reaction for wearing bindis than Indian girls do. While it looks “exotic” and “sexy” on the singers, on us Indians, it’s a marker of our difference from white culture, of our inability to shed our old-fashioned values and traditions and integrate into mainstream culture.
I think Bedi hits the nail on the head. I doubt I would get the same reaction for stepping out of my house in a sari and bindi as Azalea and Gomez have received. Is it truly imitation for the sake of flattery, for the sake of cultural curiosity, if the bindi becomes an exotic fashion statement, a costume piece?
As I had said earlier, I don’t personally find Azlea’s dressing in Indian clothes offensive; it’s the reason behind the cultural appropriation that bothers me. To illustrate this better, Gomez’s appropriation of Indian culture in “Come And Get It” was, according to her producer, for the purposes of taking her “to the next level”, to show a mature and sexier side to Gomez, according to the Hindustan Times. Appropriating Bollywood style is evidently a way for pop stars to release hits, rather than a way to experience a different culture.
I still don’t know what to make of Azalea’s video: whether to be flattered or offended. But the reactions to both “Bounce” and “Come And Get It” raise interesting points that I think should lead each of us to question the role of cultural appropriation and whether it leads to the Othering of other cultures.