Selena Gomez is Inspired by India, and I Like It

This is not actually going to be a post where I complain about anything that I like, because there is nothing to complain about when it comes to Selena Gomez. I fell in love with her character on Wizards of Waverly Place in the very first episode (I will write more about this in a later post), and now she could write Shantaram and start an NGO dedicated to poverty tourism and I still would not be able to say anything negative about her. Her new song takes a new direction, and I love that this direction happens to be towards India (even though when describing the song, she equated “Bollywood” and “tribal” – slightly uncool, but I still love you, Selena). When I lived in India the first time, I met so many girls who had Selena as their Facebook profile picture. She clearly has a large fan base in the country, and I think it was a very smart move for her to recognize this fan base and release a song inspired by India.

The controversy surrounding the song is mostly due to her lackluster performance of it at the MTV Movie Awards. The performance admittedly was not great (but she made up for it with a stellar performance on Dancing With the Stars). However, one of the complaints was regarding the bindi she was wearing: apparently, some people think it is offensive, because bindis have religious significance and she is simply using it as a fashion statement in a performance.

This is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard in my life. In India, white people* wear bindis and everyone loves it! We’re appreciating and assimilating to their culture! Most Hindus would even agree that bindis are more of a fashion accessory than anything else these days. That’s why they have thousands of different styles and designs. They’re used all the time in Bollywood in seductive item numbers with sexually explicit lyrics and dance moves, with no problems. Every Indian dance performance in America features white people wearing bindis – I should know; I’ve been one of them – and no one complains. I literally can think of people I know personally from every major religion who have worn bindis at the suggestion of Hindu friends. Why is Selena’s performance somehow different?

Selena wearing the offending bindi

Selena wearing the offending bindi

She is not trying to put on a costume and dress up like an “Indian”. The song and her performances of it are nothing more than “Indian-inspired”, and Selena isn’t trying to make them any more than that. To me, “Come and Get It” is just a shout-out to her fans in India, and her fans in India really deserve it. Her dance moves are not authentic Indian dance moves, but they are clearly Indian-inspired. Her outfits aren’t sarees, but they are Indian-inspired – and this is all Selena Gomez is claiming them to be. If people are okay with Ghajini poorly ripping off Memento and saying it was just “inspired by” the Hollywood movie, then they should also be okay with Selena Gomez poorly ripping off India and saying it was “inspired by” Bollywood.

This song is great, and I think does a great job paying tribute to India without ever going into the territory of being offensive. If you want to complain about something in America being a disgrace to Indian culture, complain about the “Bollywood” performance in Shake It Up! or the other “Bollywood” performance in Smash.

My first thought upon hearing “Come and Get It” was that Bollywood is overdue to invite Selena to do a real Bollywood collaboration, like they did with Kylie Minogue and Akon. Selena, if I ever make and star in a Bollywood movie, please sing every song for me. You can even guest star as my best friend and have your own item number!

*not that Selena is actually white – something all the arguments I’ve read quoting “white privilege” against her have failed to point out

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13 responses to “Selena Gomez is Inspired by India, and I Like It

  1. Last week, I (very white american non hindu woman) wore a sari at a function in Hyderabad and the lady (very indian and hindu woman) who did my make up wanted me to wear a bindi.

  2. I think you should be careful about making these assertations because many of the people who are railing against her ARE Indian and I think we should be careful of being speakers for other people’s cultures.

    • I agree, and I never intended to be a speaker for an entire culture; sorry if it came across that way. A number of people asked me my opinion on the matter, knowing that I generally get very upset about people appropriating any aspect of Indian culture, and so I decided to share my opinion.

  3. You have cited good examples to justify why Selena wearing a bindi should not be a problem:
    – “In India, white people* wear bindis and everyone loves it”.
    – “They’re used all the time in Bollywood in seductive item numbers with sexually explicit lyrics and dance moves, with no problems.”
    – “Every Indian dance performance in America features white people wearing bindis”.
    It is sheer bad luck that Selena’s case was picked up by the group which opposes it 😦 Wish such groups would be in the news for truly bettering the situation of people they think they represent instead of only indulging in moral policing as per their whims.

  4. there are always people in all countries not only India who have enough time on their hands to get offended by smallest of things and make an issue out of a non-issue. If Indian accessories are being given importance outside the country…we should be happy and proud.

    • I completely agree. To clarify – not a single person in India has complained about this. Only people (primarily NRIs/ABCDs) living in America have written any of the numerous articles and comments I have read on the topic.

      I think complaining about “cultural appropriation” is something that is pretty distinctly American; we are a “melting pot” of many cultures and don’t know how to deal with this, so we have a tendency to make non-issues into issues with regards to our heritage and cultural identities. A little of this is necessary, but a lot of times (i.e. Selena wearing a bindi) it’s too much.

  5. Actually this song was written for rhianna and she passed it up. It’s not creative, or original, and she probably had little to do with its creation or representation. The girl is manufactured by the industry – but she’s still fun to listen to – when she’s auto tuned.

    • I don’t think I ever said she had anything to do with its creation, or that it was creative or original? I know she didn’t write it, but she made the decision to sing it. I’m sure she also doesn’t design her own clothes, but that doesn’t mean she has to wear absolutely anything that’s handed to her.

  6. Pingback: McDonald’s Hamburgers Invading Japan | Complaining About Things I Like·

  7. I definitely see you point on your views of cultural appropriation, but I will always defer to Desi people on this issue. I’ve read some very moving pieces on how cultural appropriation has affected and hurt people, and I never want to do that.

    • I agree that we should always consider everyone’s opinions, but also think that it is important to keep in mind that cultural identity is not dependent on ethnic origin.

  8. I have been going through your blog and I usually enjoy your pieces but i find this one to be extremely dismissive. The entire appropriation argument relies on the logic that cultures previously deemed “orthodox”, “barbaric” and were thus dominated are suddenly acceptable because predominantly western people (Gomez may not be white but functions and thrives in a predominantly white industry) think that it is “trendy”, “cool” or whatever. The fact is “poorly ripping-off India” has been going on for a long time and Indian traditions that are used to garner publicity, edginess and monetary gains does make them seem like props, even if she was not dressed as an “indian”
    Also, comparisons between ripping off a movie (memento) (not an okay thing to do) and ripping off traditions of a vast and complex culture are imbalanced and seem to belittle the culture.
    Finally, NRIs complain about this because they have to constantly explain, justify, fight to retain bits of their culture almost everyday but suddenly it is acceptable when Americans make it “trendy”. Whereas the general sentiment in India is that we should be flattered if Americans and America choose to pay us any bit of attention, no matter how superficial it might be.

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