While attempting to make a groundbreaking work of art with a great director — the one and only Danny Devito — all in the “name of art,” One Direction has instead created a music video rife with cultural appropriation.
For the British boys’ new music video for their single Steal My Girl, which was released on Friday, the band called on the “greatest director of his generation” to take their work to a new level. “We’ve come to the most barren place on earth to create,” the actor dramatically declares. “Today, we bring life to the desert.” Devito as “director” wants to enliven the remote environment by destroying One Direction’s inhibitions — and apparently their common sense, too.
Throughout the 5-minute video, which isn’t actually directed by the Matilda but was done by Ben Turner, each band member dances and separately sings their sections of the pop hit with different cultural images. Harry Styles twirls with ballet dancers, Louis Tomlinson hangs with zoo animals, and Liam Payne directs a marching band, which are all innocent enough. But Niall Horan dances with an African tribe and Zayn Malik is sandwiched between two sumo wrestlers, using these ethnic groups as props all in the name of “expression.”
Horan’s part is particularly offensive. The pale Irish lad performs Western dance moves, wearing traditional tribal clothes, while positioned in the center of about a dozen men wearing similar outfits. While the natives execute a seemingly ritualistic dance, it’s almost as if Horan is mocking them with his “white guy” moves, ignorantly unable to learn or take part.
But 1D isn’t the first group to co-opt cultural images that hold the potential to piss people off and the practice is especially common in pop music. Products from Katy Perry’s Prism are filled with distasteful material. Performing Unconditionally at the AMAs she glorified Geishas; appeared as “Katy Patra” for her Dark Horse music video; and in Birthday she donned a Jewfro as a bar mitzvah DJ. Avril Lavigne’s Hello Kitty music video was particularly tone deaf (literally and figuratively) with the out of touch faux-punk singer performing with Asian backup dancers in a surrounded by sushi, cupcakes, and smiley faces. Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off angered people when she crawled through the legs of African American women twerking. And Miley Cyrus’s overall obsession with big butts and black culture is an disrespectful riff of stereotypical elements of an entire race.
In the end, the five band members, ballet dancers, zoo animals, marching band, tribal members, and Sumo wrestlers come together. They dance and fake rain falls — presumably brought on by the ceremonial rain dance — and symbolically washes away the cultural barriers that previously kept them apart. The video closes with Devito saying “that was alright” and well, he’s right. Not only was the video out of touch, it was a tad pretentious. It seems that 1D might be getting too big for their skinny jeans and Chelsea boots.