Rihanna’s Princess of “China” and An Open Letter to Coldplay from Hypebeast by Joy Yoon


Rihanna’s Princess of “China” and An Open Letter to Coldplay

Dear Chris Martin,

Thanks for the recent single from your album that no one can pronounce the name of, Mylo Xyloto. It was interesting. Who would have thought to collaborate with Rihanna? Eminem, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake, Chris Brown, T.I., Nicki Minaj, Royce da 5’9”, Young Jeezy, Shy Ronnie from SNL, Maroon 5, The Dream, Elephant Man, Fabolous, Nicole Scherzinger, Memphis Bleak… and a few others maybe, but surely not you. It surprised us all.

There were certain elements of the song that confused me, particularly why you’d write something called “Princess of China” with Rihanna in mind. I’m pretty sure Barbados isn’t in or anywhere near China. I also read that Coldplay came up with the idea of asking her to sing and “to our great surprise, she said okay.” Newsflash genius; it’s not a great surprise if your wife is best friends with her boss and his better half, and your own children call him “Uncle Jay.” But instead of going on and on about your uninspiring choice for a guest artist, I’d like to discuss the accompanying music video directed by Adria Petty and Alan Bibby.

For a man who is well traveled and seems to care about the world, you sure have a funny way of lumping all of Asia together in this video. Just because your song claims to draw its influences from a multitude of music genres, such as electro pop, alternative hip-hop and R&B doesn’t mean the video has to take the same lead and merge different unique cultures into a singular representation. Not that it’s racist. It isn’t. It’s just ignorant.

I’d like to add that your music video director Adria Petty is an educated woman. She went to Sarah Lawrence in New York for God’s sake, where the school’s motto is all about getting “a deeper education” – so you know it’s good. I even had the pleasure of meeting her several years ago after a Regina Spektor concert in Los Angeles. She seemed quite sweet and down to earth considering her father is the legendary Tom Petty. So imagine my surprise when I saw her name in the credits at the end of this video.

I understand that it’s hard to differentiate between Asian cultures if you’re not Asian. It’s sometimes difficult even if you are. But the fact of the matter is, we all have access to the Internet so it wouldn’t have been too troublesome to get some facts before beginning your creative process.

For instance, if you Googled ‘China’ and ‘ninja’ together, you would have discovered that ninjas are Japanese and never entered China. In fact, China’s first encounter with them happened around 900 A.D. when they ventured into Japan. And if we’ve learned anything from Tom Cruise, it’s that you don’t dress a white dude as a samurai, ninja or anything relating to such as it confuses people. Does The Last Samurai ring any bells? Don’t even get me started on the Karate Kid remake.

Secondly, the make-up, costumes and props are a cause for concern. Rihanna’s make-up done by Kabuki was described as “gangsta goth geisha” by the Bajan beauty, implying that her character is actually Japanese inspired. But geisha’s never wore make-up like that. Sorry lady… you wrong. Instead, Kabuki seemed to have referenced looks from the of 1930s glamor period in Shanghai. Echoing the likes of Anna May Wong in Daughter of the Dragon and even Marlene Dietrich and Wong in Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express. Furthermore, the two main costumes designed by her stylist Mel Ottenberg are far from Chinese. The all black outfit gives a slight nod to Japan with an obi-like mid section, but then loses this focus with the brass finger claws traditionally used in Thai dance, all of which are tied together by a smartly choreographed routine that references Kali, the multi-armed Hindu goddess. Pretty tight so far, I think you’ll agree. The other look is a bad copy of the color palette used by Gucci in their Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear collection. Red and purple, look it up. And I don’t recall a lot of princesses wearing silk pajama tops and vinyl thigh-high boots back in the day, but then again, this is Princess Riri. And what is with those Taiko drums?

Maybe next time you’ll take into consideration that people might be offended when you decided that Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Hindu were all the same because after all, it’s just a made-up music video. Maybe you and Rihanna looked over the treatment they turned in and simply said, “Fuck it! Who cares about being P.C. about China when all I want do to is get strapped into harnesses and fly through the air like kung-fu warriors in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” I don’t blame anyone for wanting to feel a bit more Asian. I’ve always wanted to wear a corset and star in a Jane Austen adaptation.

And speaking of adaptations, that leads me nicely onto director, Adria Petty. She made a name for herself with the Paris Hilton documentary, Paris, Not France. If you haven’t seen it don’t worry, you didn’t miss much. It’s her recent work with Beyoncé and the video for “Countdown” that had the Internet buzzing with whispers of plagiarism when artist Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker claimed, “more than a referenced piece of her work showed up in the video.” And it clearly did.

You could say the same with your efforts as elements of it are glaringly “more than referenced” from Ang Lee’s multi-Academy Award winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with you and Rihanna practically being portrayed as Zhang Ziyi’s Jen and Chang Chen’s Lo, albeit dressed like the cast from Zhang Yimou’s Hero. And let’s not forget the echo drum dance that a blind Zhang Ziyi breathtakingly performed with her long flowing sleeves in Yimou’s epic House of Flying Daggers. Rihanna attempts to imitate the same scene in the finale portion of this video with less acrobatic flare while you sit and ogle her.

The interesting thing you should know about Petty and the backlash she received for raping somebody else’s work was how she played it off as crediting the right people, or in De Keersmaeker’s case, not getting credited due to an “innocent” error. Petty claimed that, “in the end very little of De Keersmaeker’s actual choreography inspired the finished result, but what did remain in there was going to be credited along with the amazingly talented Frank Gatson Jr. who does all of Beyoncé’s choreography.” She states that, “It was always meant to be a straight homage. I see there is a lot of fuss about it, but it is pretty silly.” There’s homage and then there’s outright copying. She went on to say, “Of course, ultimately I’m disappointed that she wasn’t credited on the video because I know it was everyone’s intention from the get-go. But I’m assuming that’s because they were still finishing it the day that it launched and stuff. It was basically an oversight, you know?”

Actually, I don’t know.

What I do know was that any blame the director should have addressed directly to the artist was deflected. Forgetting to give someone credit due to being too busy isn’t an excuse. You know all about fair trade practices with your work with Oxfam; this clearly isn’t fair. And if De Keersmaeker is upset about all this, it’s not like Petty really knows. According to her, “I know from an interview she did, that De Keersmaeker is not mad about it. And the hope from my end was that this would put her work out there in front of a lot of people who wouldn’t have discovered it otherwise. So I think it is a beautiful thing that Beyoncé embraced something so creative and left of center and brought Keersmaeker some attention in a mainstream audience.”

In the end, I doubt many people will kick up a fuss. It’s just a Coldplay song after all. And Zhang Yimou and Ang Lee will probably have little or nothing to say about this video and Petty’s use of referencing. And if they did, she’ll probably call it the “craft of old cinema and the opportunity to showcase it in the new digital world” and you’ll read in an interview that the guys weren’t pissed at her uninventive recycling of their original work at all.

I mean, without you, Rihanna and Adria Petty, how would they and the rest of Asia have received any widespread attention anyway?

Yours sincerely,
Joy Yoon

Joy Yoon is beef jerky-loving writer, researcher and editor. She enjoys travel, miming, sharp knives and kung fu bowling. Deadbeats are frowned upon and tightwads get kicked to the curb. In her next life, she will be an acupuncturist (so that her dad will finally be happy.)


5 comments on “Rihanna’s Princess of “China” and An Open Letter to Coldplay from Hypebeast by Joy Yoon


  2. Thrtifties Newspaper
    July 14, 2012

    wow!!! I love me some Coldplay and I love me some RiRI but after reading this I have to Joy Yoon your thoughts are well expressed and you make some really valid points. Considering they have the budget to make such a video they could have hired someone to do the accurate research.

    Kudos Joy Yoon
    well said…

  3. XiongMeow
    July 19, 2012

    As a Chinese American who has studied Chinese culture and history, I find this article somewhat ignorant. I found most of the elements in the video that the author identifies as non-Chinese as truly Chinese.

    1) The “Thai” or “Indian” dance as I have heard people call it, is actually a Chinese dance called the Thousand Hand Guanyin. Guanyin is the Chinese name for the Buddhist goddess of mercy. I have seen many variations of the dance, performed in mainland China, that use the metal finger claws that the author attributes to Thai culture. Buddhism may have originated from India, but the origin of the religion doesn’t mean other countries cannot lay claim to related cultural offshoots. Saying this dance is not Chinese is like saying gospel music is Israeli and not American since Christianity came from Israel.

    2) The outfits don’t particularly look Japanese to me at all. They look like some weird version of hanfu. The video is obviously not trying to be historical here, so I don’t know why you would expect the costumes to look like any particular version of Chinese garb throughout the country’s history. There were many, many different styles that changed from dynasty to dynasty. Also, the outfits worn during the fighting scenes are clearly Chinese and look like wushu outfits.

    3) I don’t know why you take offense at the scenes that are clearly an homage to the Chinese film industry. What is wrong with kung fu movies made in Hong Kong and Taiwan?

    You are applying a double standard here. What language are we writing in? Last time I checked, this was English. Why is it so wrong for people to appreciate Chinese culture, to modernize it, and have fun with it. You are acting like Asian culture is something non-Asians cannot appreciate and participate in. There are certainly instances of racist and orientalist movies, music, and art out there, but this video is not showing the culture as evil, inferior, or laughable. Your last name sounds Korean. If Orientalism is so wrong, what gives you the right to comment about a video that is supposedly Chinese if you are not even Chinese?

    • ihateignorantsmartass
      August 2, 2013

      Please don’t act smart~
      The thousand hand dance that you have seen a lot in China is called “adaptation” from India and Thailand. It’s like you can see lots of ballet dancing in China and it is from Europe. It is not traditionally or originally from China. While it is traditional in India and Thailand.
      I kinda agree with you about the costumes that the video was not trying to be historical but the song is called “Princess of China”. If you are Chinese, you may not find anything wrong with this video, but if you are not Chinese but other Asian folks, it is like a slap in the face to be generalized as Chinese, seeing a lot of things from your own culture and tradition in this video! And this is the ‘ignorance’ that the author was trying to state. There is nothing wrong to appreciate Chinese culture and modernize it. But you have to be careful here, as China is too widely known in the non-Asian world, the other Asian cultures tend to be forgotten or even worse, mixed in with China carelessly and ignorantly, to the point that people, like you, think that it is a modernized mash-up while it is not. He never said “orientalism” was wrong or they should not have made videos like this, he only meant they should have been more careful. Can you explain how the hell the tune of the song sounds awfully similar to a Vietnamese song and it is called “Princess of China”? And then a bunch of images from India, Thailand, Japan~ are used in the video? Meow, your last name sounds Chinese. I guess that is why you are ignorant enough to not feel and realize this.

      • MynamewasaplayonwordsofPandainMandarinnotmylastname
        August 2, 2013

        Fortune cookies were invented by a Japanese baker and adapted by the Chinese American community. No one calls it a Japanese snack. It is Chinese American because you can only find it in Chinese American restaurants, not in China or in Japanese American restaurants even though it evolved from a widely-known Japanese cookie. Ramen is originally a Chinese dish. If you go to Japan and ask people what their favorite Chinese dish is, most people will answer with ramen. The Korean dish jajangmyeon is actually an adaptation of a Chinese dish called zhazhangmian. If I went around telling people that fortune cookies aren’t Chinese American, ramen isn’t Japanese, and jajangmyeon isn’t Korean, I may be technically correct, but the fact is those cultures have taken those elements and incorporated them into their daily lives such that they have a claim to it.

        Please try to look at things from the flip side of your argument before throwing such harsh criticism. I have been told by numerous people that lunar new year is not Chinese, that it’s a Vietnamese or Korean holiday. Let’s be honest. There is clear, documented evidence that this holiday originated in China thousands of years ago and spread to neighboring countries. Saying that it is not Chinese is very insulting to people like me who actually do celebrate this holiday yearly, especially since it is a major part of my religion. I am insulted by some of the comments on the Coldplay video saying that nothing in it is Chinese and attributing all parts of it to other cultures.

        In general, I feel that taking offense to minor orientalizing as seen in this video just tends to alienate people from other cultures. They want to appreciate what they see in movies and tv, but lack the foundation to do so in a completely accurate manner. The use of the thousand hand dance may be culturally incorrect, but what are people supposed to think when they see this dance performed during the Beijing olympics?

        China is a very large country with different ethnicities and cultures. There are Muslim areas to the west. The Southern area where I am from is very similar in culture to lots of SE Asia. Have you thought of the possibility that some of the things you saw in that video also exist in the various regions of China I described? If India and Thailand can share the thousand hand dance, why can’t parts of China?

        I draw the line when the media clearly depicts Asians as hypersexualized illegal immigrants with stereotypical features in a way that fosters exploitation, violence against women, and belittling of men. Seriously, if you want to be upset about something, please watch this:

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