Chris Martin’s Brain

Coldplay’s “Paradise” music video is set in South Africa. The video is mostly is an antiquated perception of the country held by many in the West.

Screenshot of Chris Martin in the music video for "Paradise."

Last week, AIAC ran a short post on the then-new music video for Coldplay’s most recent single, “Paradise.” On Monday the album went on sale. To refresh the memory: The music video shows Mr. Elephant (lead singer Chris Martin) escaping from a zoo in London, catching a plane out of Heathrow to Cape Town, South Africa, where he moonwalks for spare change.  With these modest earnings Mr. Elephant is able to buy a unicycle, which he uses to pedal across nearly abandoned highways and lonely dirt roads, through mountainous regions and a wildlife preserve of some sort (the giraffe did not appreciate his presence). Eventually, through the heat haze of the grasslands Mr Elephant finds what he’s been searching for: his herd.  Now reunited with his kin, in the joyous kicking of dirt and an amalgamation of strange dance moves, they finish the song before (white) masses in a Johannesburg stadium. And the video has had 5 million views to date.

There are many possible interpretations of the video for “Paradise.”

The verdict on AIAC then (in a very short post) was very dismissive of the video and Coldplay’s stadium rock. I wanted to give it a second look. So I waited for when the album when on sale Monday to hear the rest of the album.

Given that Coldplay, and its lead singer Chris Martin in particular, are very politically active–working with organizations such as Oxfam and Amnesty International–it is safe to assume that there is some sort of ulterior motive to the video’s content.

Mylo Xyloto (the title of the new album), tells the story of the modern-day rebel.  On par with demonstrators in Zuccotti Park here in New York, Mylo Xyloto’s unnamed character (we’ll call him Mylo, for short) exclaims,

I turn the music up, I got my records on/from underneath the rubble sing a rebel song/don’t want to see another generation drop/I’d rather be a comma than a full stop…

Mylo falls in love with a girl (if you’re following along with New York Magazine’s imaginary summary, the girl would be played by Rihanna, who collaborates on the song “Princess of China”), but ultimately gives her up, choosing to fight for the greater good over happiness for himself (“the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one,” yes, I’m referring to the Marxist logic of Spock).

In “Paradise,” which takes place early on in Mylo’s story (track three of 14), the girl dreams of paradise, of escaping from the “bullets,” where every tear matters—”every teardrop is a waterfall.”

In an interview late last year, Martin explained that Mylo Xyloto—a name which he “took from the randomness of the universe,” so he told Stephen Colbert, which prompted the response, “Chris, are you high?”—was inspired by “…anybody who’s standing up for themselves. It’s about being free to be yourself and to express yourself among negative surroundings. Being able to speak out or follow your passion, even if everybody seems against it.”

So Martin the elephant (endangered species) escapes from Britain (the oppressors) and goes home to South Africa (the oppressed), fighting all obstacles, riding a unicycle (so lonely! he can’t even get two wheels to join him!) in order to be free.  Coldplay’s previous album, Viva la Vida, was laced with themes from the French revolution; Mylo Xyloto is the 60s, MLK, Vietnam, South Africa, Egypt, Wall Street.

In this album of resistance, “Paradise” can be found by those who fight for it, like those who participated in New York’s graffiti scene in the 1970s, and by those who fought against Apartheid in South Africa.  The problem of the video, however, is that in its quiet depictions of sweeping vistas, mountains, and gentle giraffes, Coldplay’s “Paradise” in South Africa is an antiquated perception held by many in the West.

I don’t believe the video is meant to represent South Africa as a literal paradise, but it is certainly an easy connection to make.  In tipping his hat to post-apartheid, Martin and the video’s director Mat Whitecross, promote outdated and problematic tropes about Africa, unmindful of the current race and power structures in South Africa, in particular.

Coldplay is a very popular band, in particular, millions of fans in the West with little knowledge of Africa other than romanticized version they see in movies, infomercials or tourist pamphlets.  At some level the video for “Paradise” just adds to Western misinformation, than they do to illuminate something about the political struggles going on right now as Martin or the band wants to claim.

Further Reading

A power crisis

Andre De Ruyter, the former CEO of Eskom, has presented himself as a simple hero trying to save South Africa’s struggling power utility against corrupt forces. But this racially charged narrative is ultimately self-serving.

Cinematic universality

Fatou Cissé’s directorial debut meditates on the uncertain fate and importance of Malian cinema amidst the growing dismissiveness towards the humanities across the world.

The meanings of Heath Streak

Zimbabwean cricketing legend Heath Streak’s career mirrors many of the unresolved tensions of race and class in Zimbabwe. Yet few white Zimbabwean sporting figures are able to stir interest and conversation across the nation’s many divides.


After winning Italy’s Serie A with Napoli, Victor Osimhen has cemented his claim to being Africa’s biggest footballing icon. But is the trend of individual stardom good for sports and politics?

The magic man

Chris Blackwell’s long-awaited autobiography shows him as a romantic rogue; a risk taker whose life compass has been an open mind and gift to hear and see slightly into the future.

How to think about colonialism

Contemporary approaches to the legacy of colonialism tend to narrowly emphasize political agency as the solution to Africa’s problems. But agency is configured through historically particular relations of which we are not sole authors.

More than just a flag

South Africa’s apartheid flag has been declared hate speech by a top court. But while courts are important and their judgments matter, racism is a long and internationally entrenched social phenomenon that cannot be undone via judicial processes.