The music video of Coldplay’s Princess of China demonstrates so many themes we have learned this quarter, so I felt compelled to write this blog post.
In the beginning of the video, Rihanna dressed up like a Geisha with low-cut, simplified Kimono that reveals almost her whole legs with red latex stockings. She is lying on an ancient Chinese-style couch, waiting for her lover, Chris Martin, to return. Later she is seen fighting with Chris Martin with long swords. At one point, they are kneeling on the ground face-to-face, head-to-head, against the sunset in the middle of nowhere. Then, the camera turns to another scene, where Rihanna, in a black dress and a classic Japanese hairstyle, is dancing with multiple hands. Those fingers are decorated with jewelries that give the impression of extremely long nails. Now the camera turns to Chris Martin, where he is watching Rihanna dance. In the background is a bunch of people playing the Japanese drums, Taiko. See the photos for details.
There is a lot going on in this three and a half minute video. First of all, it acts out many popular stereotypes about Asian/American. The clothes and hairstyles that Rihanna wears present to us the Geisha image, the image of a Japanese woman who is eager to serve man, white man especially, and lives solely for love and sex. The video also makes reference to the dragon lady by showing Rihanna in long black dress, exotic hairstyles, black heavy makeup, and long nails. (Sounds familiar huh? See Kelly Hu as Lady Deathstrike.) Then of course, the video is not complete without the martial art stereotype. Second, the video also shows how race is formed through performance. By just adding multiple oriental elements, Rihanna is made to look Asian, well, Chinese, to be more specific, as the title goes “Princess of China.” Without the costume, the makeup, the swordplay, the setting, Rihanna is just black/brown. Once with those elements, she can be arguably Asian. Third, the video reveals the mainstream belief that all Asians are the same. I mean, what does a Geisha has to do with the princess of China? And the Japanese Taiko in a Chinese castle? If you want to use another culture to promote your own business, at the very least, do it right. By mixing all these different elements of Asian culture together under the tittle of the princess of China, you are not respecting each individual culture, let alone “appreciating” them.
Finally, this video perpetrates the hypersexuality of Asian/American. It’s not necessarily a bad thing depending on how you look at it. With low-cut dress, legs, and latex stockings, Rihanna is exotified, sexualized and turned into an object of desire for white males, represented by Chris Martin. Setting in ancient China, the video makes reference to the colonial encounter between the West and the East, which also embarks the sexual encounter between white males and Asian women. But what’s hidden in such encounters is the power imbalance between the two parties. White colonialists have the power and privilege to travel to another country, invade other’s homeland while Asian American women are often stuck to a disadvantaged position, forced to interact with white colonialists.
I think this power imbalance runs through the video in another dimension too. As popular artists with lots of money, Chris Martin and Rihanna can take elements of Asian culture and piece them together however they like it, without taking into account the opinions of Asian/Americans.