Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A reading of the music video for 'Princess of China' (by Coldplay feat Rihanna)

'Princess of China' by Coldplay (feat Rihanna) . . . is a really beautifully constructed song! The lyrics are pretty straightforward I thought (seem to be about a couple's break-up) and the vocals are pretty sublime. The music video, however, did raise some questions, made the song way more fascinating than it was initially . . . so I thought I'd do a short reading of it for you guys. Be warned, I'll be deploying some poetic license and perhaps cherry-picking symbology along the way:)

First off, the title 'Princess of China'. Obviously, a strange reference to the Orient—strange because, well . . . this reference doesn't appear in the song at all afterwards. Also, what on earth would either the Orient or a princess of China (whose monarchy has long left us) have to do with a couple's break-up? Hmmmm *crickets*... exactly.

So, moving beyond couples, the next point is: 'china' as in 'fragile', 'delicate' etc. This makes more sense. Princesses in narrative/myth have historically been rather fragile souls who need to be rescued by princes/kings all the time. All right, so gender issues are brought right into the middle of things; and that's going to be my first reading.

First reading

Gender roles

Male and female voices in the song obviously portray a split between the two. Previously 'on the same side', the male later overpowers the female, as represented through the sword fight, and renders her powerless save for sexual attributes; Rihanna goes from being a white-garbed (read: sexually pure) warrior to a somewhat red-garbed (read: sexually active) dancer who is left performing for him while he sits on a throne.

Summary: the video/song is about the fragile princess (woman) becoming fragile due to being overpowered by the king (man), thus limiting her to a sensual role in the king's court, instead of them both being able to co-exist as equal partners physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Second reading

My second reading is perhaps in fact reading too much into the video/song, but hey, it got me thinking, all right:) Now, remember when I mentioned 'China' in the title as referring to the Orient, and wondering what on earth a reference to Asia has got to do with a couple breaking up? Well, maybe it's not about a couple as we think of it:

When East Meets West

One thing which made me a bit perplexed in the video was that, yes, the song is titled "Princess of China", but the symbology isn't really about China per se. You get some Japanese ninja action, some Chinese flying-wire kung fu scenes, and what looks either like the many-handed Indian goddess Durga (who of course manifests as among others, Kali) or traditional Thai dancers (in dances such as 'Manohra').

In other words, perhaps 'China' here signifies Eastern tradition.

In this context, the 'princess' of China could represent the nature of that tradition as feminised (the ninja Chris Martin's character defeats is a woman, and of course so are Rihanna's various characters) as opposed to a 'masculine' West (symbolised by Martin's character).

Further, the video seems to portray this feminine Eastern tradition as having been 'subjugated' by a masculine West (see the way Martin's clothes change from Western to Eastern throughout the video, but only once he enters 'China' from 'outside'; he enters without being stopped/questioned by its male guard; he knocks out the defensive component of the place (as represented by the female ninja), and apparently defeats its 'many-handed' feminine spiritual component (represented by Rihanna's character), while gaining the support of the city's men (represented by the drummers) by the end of the clip.

As a result of the above, the spiritually pure (white-garbed) Rihanna and her many-handed (divine/religious) counterpart are reduced to dancing before the new King—minus her many hands and warrior-like power . . .  Not to mention, all the other women in the video pointedly fall down in a group under the King's rule while the male drummers surround them/Rihanna's character, and support the King.

Summary: the video/song is about the meeting of East and West, resulting in the subjugation by the (masculine) West of Eastern tradition and ideals (which are, methinks, overwhelmingly feminine).

The End

Well, this has been fun, but that's it for me. I'm exhausted:) lol anyway, do let me know what you guys think. Do these two readings come through for you too? I really wonder what else one could read into the song/video:) Ciaos, folks:)

Share/Bookmark Subscribe


C McKane said...

Wow, your readings are very well thought out. I honestly hadn't even heard the song before but after watching the video I'm leaning towards your second reading as well.

I think it's an interesting point especially since many disparate cultures intermingle and interact through globalization.

Okay now I'm exhausted too :) Glad I found your post through AW forum it made my break fly by!

Isabella Amaris said...

Thanks, C McKane:)

Mira said...

I agree with C McKane, your reading of this is impressive. I also like the second interpretation - although I will add that both intepretations may be accurate. Art often works on more than one level and the same time, and it's not unusual for something to have both an element of human interactions and a larger cultural theme, as well.

I'm just stunned by the visual gorgeousness of this video, too. The part with the Indian Goddess is amazing.

Isabella Amaris said...

Thanks, Mira. Yup, agree with you completely. The music video's really cool, isn't it? I love it when a video brings out meanings in a song that I initially missed. The visual arts are such a joy, and this video in particular surprised me with its richness ... hmmm, good stuff:)