Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 November 2019

Why Coldplay’s new album can change the way celebrities see the Arab world

The band’s forthcoming new album seems like a genuine attempt to interact with the region’s vibrant artistic scenes

Chris Martin performing in Abu Dhabi Getty
Chris Martin performing in Abu Dhabi Getty

Coldplay have always been proudly unfashionable, from their affable boy-next-door demeanours to their smooth vanilla-lite compositions. They have sold more than 100 million albums by being both rock stars and approachable.

It is a neat trick, but their zest to please everyone also has the potential to backfire. Take the band’s new album, Every Day Life, for example. Set to be released on Friday, November 22, the project has myriad nods to the Arab world. There is the cover art, where the title has been translated into Arabic. There is also a song called Bani Adam, written in Arabic, on the track list (it means “Children of Adam”). The promotional campaign will be capped off with a pair of special release-day concerts in Jordan, which will be beamed live to the world over YouTube.

Arab Coldplay fans are a passionate lot. They have travelled to Abu Dhabi from across the Middle East to see the band perform three times in 10 years. However, with so much love for Chris Martin and co, it must be disconcerting for the band to see the relatively muted online response to their new album.

This is not Coldplay’s fault. It’s just that we’ve been burnt by a number of celebrities whose interaction with Middle Eastern culture can at best be charitably described as “superficial”. This includes the downright offensive, such as Khloe Kardashian’s niqab selfie during a trip to Dubai in 2015 (it even came with the caption “Habibi Love”). Then there was Rihanna’s misguided decision to hold an impromptu and pretty inappropriate photo shoot in front of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in 2013. Another cultural faux pas includes Will Smith’s decision to dress up as if he were in a Hassan Hajjaj photo while in Morocco in 2016.

While most of these antics were probably well-intentioned, they only serve to exoticise the region and fail to provide a real insight into the various and vibrant cultures of the Arab world. Maybe it’s hard for high-profile celebrities to take a leaf out of UK singer Craig David’s book and spend a night simply strolling around Deira (which he did during his 2004 tour, at the height of his fame). But musicians could do more to challenge misconceptions.

Fortunately, judging by the information available at the time of writing, Every Day Life looks like a genuine attempt by the band to fuse the region’s sensibilities into their songs. Like most things in life, it is all in the fine print. While the songwriting credits lack any Arabic names, it’s in the list of guest artists where you’ll find news to excite the region’s music industryas this includes Palestinian artists Bashar Murad and oud virtuoso group Le Trio Joubran.

Details of Coldplay’s Jordan gigs are still under wraps, but here’s hoping these great regional musicians are given a chance to shine on what will surely be the biggest platform of their careers. More than anything, the band’s attempts serve as a message to other celebrities that the Arab world is more than simply a place for tacky selfies. Yes, Khloe, I am looking at you, habibti.

Updated: November 9, 2019 09:20 AM

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