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Rihanna’s Orientalist Turn

The singer stars in Coldplay’s perplexing (and embarrassing) “Princess of China” music video.

By Katherine Zhang

For at least a few weeks now on the radio, I’ve been hearing “Princess of China,” Coldplay’s new song featuring Rihanna. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a catchy, if uninspiring, track off the band’s latest album Mylo Xyloto. I have to admit: I kind of liked it. I generally like Coldplay and, even though I generally don’t like Rihanna, she does belt out those looong “O” sounds appealingly, especially when they are bolstered, as they are here, by weird, faux-bagpipe synthesizers. Apropos the song’s title, there are definitely some questionably “exotic” elements—e.g. the vaguely “We Are Siamese” riff in the beginning and Rihanna’s aforementioned Native-American-esque chant—but I could pretty much ignore them and get happily lost in the soothing sound of Chris Martin’s voice.

That was until I saw Coldplay’s newly released music video. It’s a three-and-a-half-minute-long encyclopedic tour of embarrassingly unoriginal Orientalist imagery and includes everything you could have hoped for in a crash course about sorry Asian stereotypes. Here are some highlights.

MTV describes Rihanna’s look as “a standout as she appears in several forms: multi-armed goddess, heartbroken geisha and fierce warrior princess.” They also call her outfits “ninja-goddess couture.” What?

In lieu of actual research about China (which is where the princess is from, right?), the director apparently relied on his grade-school knowledge about the Asian continent. (Read: scary manicures and many-limbed Hindu deities.) Some things are good when they’re lackadaisically mashed up—like Glee songs and potatoes. Other things, like the cultural traditions of millennia-old Asian civilizations, are not.

Oh, this must be the “ninja-goddess couture.” This scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden RiRi is reprised again and again in the video. Chris Martin tries out various intense kung fu faces throughout.

This one is my favorite. Finally, I leave you with this:



Watch the whole spectacle here.