3 Reasons Why There is Cultural Appropriation in “Lean On” by Major Lazer & DJ Snake (Ft. MØ)

When I first heard this song, I was hooked by its lively techno beat and chorus (which to me sounded like “Blackest, fire gun”). But then I made the mistake of watching the music video, and I was ultimately disappointed in what I saw.

Now you may be one of those people who internally groans every time you see the phrase ‘cultural appropriation’ because it seems like something sensitive people are being too nit-picky about. But I’ll try to explain my reasoning behind my opinion, as an Indian woman, on why the use of South Asian dancers and Indian locations in the music video made me uncomfortable.

  1. The song has nothing to do with Indian culture. While watching, I got the impression that some studio executives heard the song, thought it had a bit of a tribal/exotic feel, and decided to set it in a location (and with people) that conjured “tribal”, “exotic” imagery. The Indian settings and dancing could be replaced with any foreign culture for the same effect, and that’s how it made me feel-replaceable. Like my culture is unimportant and usable as decoration.
  2. In several scenes, the main singers/producers merely stood/sat while ethnic dancers performed around them. This created a very uncomfortable ‘master’/’slave’ perceived dichotomy where the ‘native people’ danced around white people as entertainment in a servile manner. Sure, there were some scenes where MØ danced with the ethnic women, but in other scenes, she sat on a throne while women danced around her, and in another, two of the white artists soaked in a hot tub surrounded by kneeling Indian women. This is also an unfortunate way to go about things, considering the British invaded India in the mid-1900’s and created a ‘white superior’ dichotomy while occupying the country.
  3. The video did nothing for Indian culture-it merely used the culture to enhance the presence of the artists. A lot of the outfits MØ was wearing, such as the flower headpiece near the beginning, aren’t actually part of Indian culture. There was no respect shown to any one foreign ethnicity; instead there is a hodge podge of many different foreign cultures merely included to create a foreign looking aesthetic created for the Western eye.

Overall, the music video just made me feel uncomfortable. The female dancers did seem to be enjoying themselves and having a lot of fun, which is great, but it would be so much more impactful if it actually highlighted Indian culture instead of using it as a colorful background to adorn these white and black musicians. A lot of the imagery was beautiful and the settings seemed to be accurate and on location, but it could have been executed with a lot more finesse and respect for the people within the culture they seem to admire so much.

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32 thoughts on “3 Reasons Why There is Cultural Appropriation in “Lean On” by Major Lazer & DJ Snake (Ft. MØ)

  1. Plenty of media in other countries use “cultural appropriation” on American culture. I can’t tell you how many movies and TV shows make America out to be this wild place where people walk the streets with guns and shoot whoever they want and make Americans out to be fat, lazy, and stupid. I personally think they have every right to use it even if it is a poor portrayal of reality because it’s not meant to accurately represent reality. Media by and large is fiction and if they use exaggerated or plain innacurate stereotypes its OK because it’s fiction. It’s not real. The notion that they shouldn’t be allowed to use other cultures Is pretty ridiculous and tribal in my opinion.

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    1. What the hell is American culture? It’s a pretty new country and always been a conglomerate of multi ethnic people. There’s classic apple pie and baseball but… it’s not of ancient, religious, or seen as any serious significance beyond tradition. What you state about Americans are behaviors… everyone makes fun of each other that way. Ever seen a comedian? The music vid is equivalent to using a turban as toilet paper or blowing your nose with a sheet of scripture… and showing the public. absolutely disgusting. of course people aren’t so “open minded” as those without their shared values? All there needs to be is mutual respect. Just because one person/outsider doesn’t respect anything doesn’t mean others won’t. American culture has been turning into ‘anything goes’.. not that it’s a bad thing, but use your own ideas.. Why drag & exploit other cultures in it? Go piss on the constitution or something. All of it for what, american progress? views? music vid should be uploaded to a porn site. kinda like desperate madonna’s stretch for fame. Next time, maybe use nuns, priests, and underage boy costumes instead of unrelated ethnic wear so that its more relatable to american culture at large. or naked children, and menoras.. what else is there? very little.. that wouldn’t already be accepted within ‘american culture’ and the video’s context. Instead of focusing on minority groups & using their dress in different contexts. I don’t think it’s possible to make bigger fun of americans than americans already do. some of it comes with first world privilege. don’t take it personal.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So you’re basically saying the video’s producers should have appropriated some other ancient and foreign culture, one that doesn’t bother you as much.

        After all, Catholicism is emphatically NOT American and has been around for 2,000 years now, and not only are you suggesting the video should have used clergy costumes, you’re perpetuating the ugly stereotype that clergy members abuse underage boys.

        It’s also interesting that you rage against Americans when the singer and two of the producers are not even American…although it remains a mystery to me why a crappy song with four piano chords needed three producers.

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    2. The main difference being that those are other cultures appropriating a dominant (Western/American) culture, while cultural appropriation is really more of an issue when people of a dominant culture misrepresent a historically oppressed culture for their own gain.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m white. I totally agree I really liked the song until I saw the video. When will my white peeps get the message already? Cultural appropriation is not okay.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. “one of those people who internally groans every time you see the phrase ‘cultural appropriation’ because it seems like something sensitive people are being too nit-picky about.”

    If cultural appropriation was represented with your article, then I think EVERYBODY would tell you: “Yes, you’re at least nit-picking, if not just plain ol’ trying to get offended when there’s none to be found.

    1- The song does NOT have to be dedicated to Indian culture in order to take it as a theme. When the office theme party is chosen to be “Hawaiian”, nobody stops it and screams about the cultural connection that has to be established with the pacific island before they can put on the lays and get jiggy with it.
    2- It’s in the script of every music video that the star of the song is presented as just that: a frikkin’ star. So please Get real, the singers/producers are just the center of the performances just like in every classically designed music video, that’s why the dancers are called “back-up dancers”. It is their job to appear in the background and not take the attention away from the star.
    3- Because they weren’t trying to be Indian (and if they were, we would have heard people who were offended by it). They chose a theme and went with it, and just produced a fun video.

    Lighten up and don’t project your own values and visions of what should be in a music video onto others. You’re taking what people put in their videos in a framework that you desire, one that is not shared by them as artists. I don’t believe anyone has the right to act as a “guardian” towards cultures and references that others use in their art, and stifling the freedom of expression is never acceptable out of a misguided sense of political correctness, in fact i find it patronizing.

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    1. Literally the most uneducated post written here. Hawaiin culture is the most disrespected out there, you didn’t disuade this woman’ss post, you enforced it. Every word, every twist during their traditional dances has meaning. Hawaiin culture is one laden with deep rooted meaning and beliefs and ofcourse come the tourists and white people back home remembering it for hula skirts and “hawaiin shirts.” That is so dissipointing. And you know what the worst part is? The wealthy and racially priviliged tourist now is saying this is hawaii, and thats all hawaii gets represented as, because its the priviliged who define cultures in this day and age, not the people of whom the culture belongs. It gets misreperented on such a massive scale that even when people of that culture say, no thats not me, they get ignored or even argued with LOL. An example in real life you ask? Two white girls went up to chinese girl (they were friends) and said “chinese food is really bad for you” very matter of factly. And she was shocked she said no it isn’t, thats racist and you know what they said? No its not, it just is, EVERYONE (which means mainstream media and their other non-chinese friends) knows that. I asked her if she had ever had a traditional chinese home cooked meal, she said no. See what happened? She took the small amount of culture she’d seen (fast food chinese food which is bad for you OBVIOUSLY ITS FAST FOOD) and just decided -by her ignorant whiteness- that only the part of chinese culture that she’d seen existed (shes never had the same thing done to her culture if you call the west’s mish mash of other cultures an identity) She misrepresented that girls culture and identity the way only the racially privilged can. I’m sure this all sounds very dramatic to you, but i’m guessing you’ve never felt your culture made meaningless before (white,cis, straight, male too?)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. First of all, you can’t call disagreement with your own hipster opinions as “uneducated”. Education is to do with knowledge, and what you’re all on about is not knowledge, it is self-indulgent opinionated views that are defeated with one very simple demonstration: The only comment on this page from an actual Indian dismissed your premise.

        You brought the example of the two white girls telling the Chinese person about her food, thinking that this is an example that is relevant to what I am doing? Au contraire, you are unable to actually see that your example applies all the way to YOUR argument. YOU are the one here speaking on behalf of other people’s culture and telling the World that they are offending those cultures!

        I am Coptic Egyptian, which means I am from the minority of Egyptians who maintained the lineage of Ancient Egyptians, and whenever I hear some character coming up with all this talk that people are “disrespecting” Egyptian culture in Katy Perry’s dark horse music video because of the Ancient egyptian theme, I tell THEM that they are the ones being the most offensive, condescending, and presumptuous. Cultural appropriation is ignorantly taking or representing other people’s cultures without permission, and they’re doing that with their pseudo-political correctness notions.

        I know Katy’s song is not about Egypt, and of course the blue men with cages around their heads are in no way accurate representation of Ancient egyptian Nubian guard, but it’s not insulting because we know it’s a MUSIC VIDEO, meant to be fun and artistically present a theme within the creator’s imagination… I have no problem whatsoever that the music video’s director chose Ancient Egypt as a setting. It is NOT cultural appropriation because they’re not trying to claim that this culture is theirs… Similarly Saudi friends are ALL loving M.I.A.’s Bad Girls music video, and Indians I know far and wide have no issue with the Lean On video.

        So to you and the writer of this article: keep your self-appointed guardianship of culture to yourself and don’t call disagreement with your silly presumpteous opinions as “uneducated”. And if you really want to know: I find the article and your comments (had it been about Egyptian culture) to be far more offensive to me as a minority than any of the mentioned videos, because YOUR position is the one that presumes we can’t talk about ourselves or know what is disrespectful, it is your opinion that is patronizing towards the minorities and is actually ignorant about how we really feel and the problems we truly face.

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    2. I agree with your comments. Its just a fun song and I really like it. Its just like any other Indian song where the hero dances in the centre with the back up dancers. Dont pick out tiny things.

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  4. Indian origin woman film-maker here, saying it was a great video. Even if your points about the Indians dancing around the whites is true, hey, they’re not making a culturally-correct promotional video for India. And their appropriation was original, even ironic. with the dhoti-like sarees, the street scenes and the painted bus, the maharaja in the pool. And I thought those Indian dancers were the real hit — they swarmed the vid with their half-smiles. But all in all, I love mix-ups, mash-ups, and Indian elements surgin’ up on the screen. Explore and conquer!

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  5. I agree the video is cringeworthy in its cheap and ignorant use of Indian motifs. However, British economic and political control in the subcontinent transferred from the British East India Company (itself established in the 18th century) to the Crown in the 19th century. There was no invasion. Power was often (though not always) acquired by co-opting local elites. Please learn the basics (like AP World History basics, not anything super scholarly) of the relevant political history before you go online to defend a society.

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    1. Do you know the power whites still have in india? They may not have invaded anything, but the opression is still felt today. Please learn to listen to the people who went through the ordeal, not just the history written by the opresser.

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      1. India’s own people have done more to subjugate its powerless citizens than any imperial ruler has done. You still have a class of people called “untouchables” and your country is the rape capital of the world.

        Maybe you ought to worry about your own problems before crying about a music video.

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  6. Also, consider it like dealing with a company. Take McDonald’s for example. The Wendy’s chain starts selling chicken nuggets under the name Mcfaggot. does it make any sense? Or if In-N-Out rebranded a sandwich to the “BigMacII”. No company wants a derogatory or bad name in any way. Why would you think billions of people would? especially without any agreement or marriage. A culture taking part of another culture and adding their own crap without showing any basic, appropriate knowledge. Get Real. bulsh**! I hope Major Lazer messes with the Crips and Bloods or Isis, North Korea, and Japan next. Or just do something jewish. And we’ll see the whole place blow up. Start the video reading from the torah and just start cussing.

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  7. There is nothing more repulsive than the retarded moves the main girl makes throughout the video. Not to mention the way she is dressed… Really horrible video, if there was only India and people of India in the video I would have probably loved the video.

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  8. You know, I kinda like the “Cultural Appropriation” thing. I’m going to use Elvis’ photo on my Cover Art , kinda like Diplo used that Jamaican Art. Then I’ll pretend my music is from some culture I know little about and make a lot of money from it. Then I’ll insult some woman after she catches me stealing her Artwork and not paying for it, just like Diplo did so I can attract more followers and become a “tabloid that makes music”.

    So here’s the footprint to making money.

    “Hi, I’m Diplo. I’m not the least bit Jamaican but I’ll use their culture anyways.”

    “Hi, I’m Diplo. I”m not Indian, know very little about that culture but it will go good with this track. I’ll use their culture anyways.”

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  9. ”A lot of the outfits MØ was wearing, such as the flower headpiece near the beginning, aren’t actually part of Indian culture.”
    I don’t get this. When they wear anything that belongs to another culture, it’s considered cultural appropriation but when they don’t its also bad? If she did wear a maang tikka then people would still be whining about how it’s cultural appropriation and she doesn’t respect the culture and blah blah blah..

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  10. I’m not an indian woman, but i’ve been disappointed by the video too. The lack of connection between the song and the images was indeed pretty disturbing, and it seemed so cliché ! By no means am I a specialist or something about indian cultures, ethnies or anything, but I saw some documentaries, read some books, and the dance seemed… Whitewashed, simplified and sexyfied (does this word even exist lol ?) when it is usually complex, with very precise movements. Women were sexualised, the outfit looked strange (the floral hat makes me think of the banana-skirt Josephine baker used to wear in La revue Nègre in France)…

    It’s so bad because the music is catchy, and Indian dances and outfits can be magical… When they are respected, which i don’t feel was the case here.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. These whiny appropriation alarmists really grate my nerves. It’s absurd that I, of Indian ancestry and citizenship, can get away with comical pastiches of Indian cultures (and yes, there are many cultures WITHIN India), but a white person should be held to a ridiculously higher standard. It’s also non sequitur to suggest that just because a music video contains a few elements of Indian cultures, it must be held to the standard of Nat Geo documentary for accuracy and purity. And I’ll bet you’ve not seen Bollywood films, or have selectively blocked it out of your memory if you have, because they’re chock-a-block with foreign (mainly white, due to unabashed colorism in India) women being used as sexual achievement indicators, skin-flashing background dancers, and general silent eye candy. But here you are whining about a once-in-a-blue-moon video with a perfectly respectful and beautiful depiction of Indian women in similar positions.

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  12. To think that you can be pro-cultural diversity and pro-mass emigration while preaching that only people from particular cultures can take part in those cultures is an exercise in futility. This is simply part of the way that people learn about and appreciate (not appropriate) different cultures.

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  13. Stop being so butthurt ffs. In bollwood movies we see “Goras” dancing around Indian actors/actresses all the time. I don’t see you posting your sentiments when that happens . Really , stop getting so sensitive over a song , cause it’s jus a song and meant for entertainment and has actually succeeded entertaining millions.

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  14. I can definitely see your point of view, there is a TON of cultural appropriation going on in this video. However I think this video’s saving grace in the fact that they were trying to have an “exotic” feel is that they used Indian dancers that a slightly more reflective of the population and not just the normative lighter skinned indians that one would normally find in Bollywood movies or Ads or even on American TV ( Quantico- Priyanka Chopra)

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