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.