Chris Martin’s Brain

Last week, AIAC ran a short post on the then-new video for Coldplay’s most recent single, “Paradise.” On Monday the album went on sale.

To refresh the memory:

The 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.

Nearly 5 million views later on Youtube, there are many possible interpretations of the video for “Paradise.”

The verdict on AIAC then 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.



  1. what a lame video. It’s like they thought: “well, what could we do that’ll show we were on two different continents in the same video?” And the first thought they had was: “ah! african safari! lets figure out a way to include the african safari!” uninspired. what a poor concept. what a whack song. and what a cheap shot when martin has to remove his mask just to show the audience it’s really him. if they wanted the anonymity afforded by body suits why did he care? if it’s not about ‘them’ because they’re clearly trying to have the audience journey with this elephant – why the reveal? the shots from the concert would’ve been proof enough, surely?
    indeed, what a wasted opportunity to access millions and have them watch something where they think, er yes, that makes some sense. whoever the director was, all I have to say is: 5 4 3 2 1 your time is UP, sorreeee!

  2. Right. I wondered why he took the ‘phant mask off. Then I remembered: in Viva la Vida, his ace is all up in our business for most of the video. Chris needs to be in the centre of things, and recognised as the wing nut that’s holding Western Revolution together. He’s Gwenyth Paltrow’s yang, remember?

  3. I agree with the critique, plus the “animal suit music video” is so played out it could become a genre on its own. On the plus side, my neighborhood bicycle shop is in the video, Woodstock Cycleworks… so Coldplay get SOME coolness points from me there.

  4. I would also agree with critique above especially when it comes to antiquated perceptions of South Africa or Africa by the West. I would also add that while Coldplay’s intention may not be to represent South Africa as the paradise in question….this depiction, to many, so clearly references South Africa and specifically Cape Town, South Africa (overhead shot of city from plane). So, once again, as mentioned above it’s an obvious reference to “post-apartheid paradise”.

    The lyrics to this song are also very detached from its accompanying visuals. This very vague and ambiguous journey to paradise pulls no intimate / personal weight.

    Coldplay should focus on representations / imagery connected to histories they have wealth of knowledge about or personal attachment to rather than following the popular western trend of ‘hugging Africa’.

  5. Well, as 1 of the many Coldplay fans; i’m going to stay a Coldplay fan until they either break up or something else happens (God forbidden that anything bad does happen!) and i’ll support whatever theyre singing ^_^

  6. (white) masses? I was there at the Coldplay concert and I’m not white.. Also, while I was there, I didn’t see white or black, I just saw Coldplay fans. That’s when you know that the new generation HAS actually left apartheid far behind – when we’ve stopped comparing ratios of colour and just see fellow South Africans.
    Compared to all the countries I’ve been to South Africa is certainly paradise for me!
    Chris Martin and his music is pure genius
    This is what you all sound like to me! :

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