Global Music – Cultural Appropriation

Music is an expressive tool which artists utilise in order to convey certain beliefs, messages, stories and themes. Musicians have been known to express cultural themes within music for a long time, however, where do we draw the line between expressing cultures respectfully, and cultural appropriation?. Within the music industry there have been countless examples and accusations of cultural appropriation, both through lyrics, and music video’s that accompany the songs. Cambridge University Press Dictionary (2019) defines cultural appropriation as

“the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture”

In order to understand cultural appropriation within the music industry we must first explore some examples of music which have been accused of this in the recent years. ‘Hymn for the Weekend’ by Coldplay ft. Beyonce, was released in 2015. Soon after the music video for the song was released the high-profile artists received backlash for cultural appropriation of Indian culture and profiting from a culture that is not their own (the artists being of American and British nationality).

Similarly, Iggy Azalea and Major Lazer were also accused of attempting to parody and profit from Bollywood and Indian culture with the music video’s created for their songs ‘Bounce’ and ‘Lean on’. The commonality between all of these examples is that they were all created by high-profile, western artists, and filmed in India, whereby it can be argued that cultural stereotypes are presented in a ‘western’ point of view.

Arewa (2017, p. 26) explores how the “use of cultural elements, including hairstyles, costumes, fashion, cuisine, and music, leads to accusations of cultural appropriation”. The author explores the idea that in order to distinguish between using cultures for appreciation, hatred, or appropriation, you must not only analyse the content, but also the context in which the culture is being presented. Individuals may not mean any harm to cultures from producing content such as the examples above, however the representations may be filtered according to pre conceived ideas or stereotypes, which can then lead to unintentional appropriation.

“Music has a formative role in the construction, negotiation and transformation of socio cultural identities” (Born, G & Hesmondhalgh, D 2000, pg. 31)

The above quote not only reinforces the notion that music can have a large impact on socio-cultural views, but also how cultural appropriation can create misinterpretations of cultures and global stereotypes. Hence, we must pay close attention to the content we access and create, and the possible effects it may have on others.


‘Cultural Appropriation’ 2019, In Cambridge University Press Dictionary, viewed 20 August 2019,

AREWA, OB 2017, ‘Love, Hate, and Culture Wars’, Phi Kappa Phi Forum, vol. 97, no. 1, p. 26, viewed 15 August 2019, <;.

Born, G & Hesmondhalgh, D 2000, Western Music and it’s others: Difference, representation and Appropriation in Music, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London. <>

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