MØ Says ‘Lean on’ Music Video Was ‘Cultural Appropriation, for Sure’

  • MØ recently spoke to Insider about the legacy of “Lean On,” her 2015 collab with Major Lazer.
  • Despite the song’s popularity, the India-inspired music video has been criticized as appropriation.
  • “I’m not perfect and it’s a learning process, but I mean, it was problematic,” MØ said.

Nearly seven years after the release of Major Lazer’s “Lean On,” MØ’s name is still synonymous with the smash hit.

However, the Danish singer-songwriter has complicated feelings about its legacy — particularly the music video, which was largely filmed in India.

“I was so excited making that video and I was so excited to be invited into Major Lazer’s visual universe because I always thought they had such a cool style,” MØ told Insider.

“The video is so beautiful and amazing, but I definitely think it’s cultural appropriation, for sure,” she said. “And I’m so happy that people were making me aware of it, because, at the time, I didn’t really understand.”

When the song was released, Major Lazer was comprised of American EDM star Diplo, Trinidadian producer Jillionaire, and Jamaican-American DJ Walshy Fire.

According to Diplo, MØ was enlisted as the song’s featured vocalist after Rihanna and Nicki Minaj turned it down. She helped rewrite the song at a faster tempo, building upon an instrumental from German producer Jr Blender. French producer DJ Snake provided the high-pitched wordless hook.

Diplo later praised MØ’s contribution, telling Time that she “sounds better than anybody was going to sound on that record.”

“Lean On” quickly became the biggest hit of 2015. It was crowned Spotify’s most-streamed song of all time in a matter of months (a title later ceded to Drake’s “One Dance”) and was recently certified diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

In less than a year, the music video became one of few to surpass 1 billion views on YouTube. It has since surpassed 3 billion.

For all its popularity, however, “Lean On” was met with critical skepticism and accusations of appropriation. MØ, Diplo, and their fellow artists are featured in the video wearing “traditional Indian style and garb” and performing Bollywood-inspired choreography while surrounded by South Asian dancers.

Diplo, who has credited India with inspiring him to “keep pushing the boundaries” of music, balked at these critiques in 2018.

“I don’t…really…fucking care,” he told The Guardian. “What kind of music am I supposed to make?”

“Being a white American, you have zero cultural capital, unless you’re doing Appalachian fiddle music or something. I’m just a product of my environment,” he added.

For her part, MØ told Insider that she wasn’t educated about the line between cultural appreciation and appropriation when the video was filmed — but now believes “it’s so important to talk about.”

“I understand it much better now,” she said. “I’m still learning. It’s really something that I think a lot about now, with aesthetics and how I approach my look and myself and my songs. I’m not perfect and it’s a learning process, but, I mean, it was problematic.”

MØ, who will release her third album “Motordrome” on Friday, also said she’s grateful for fans who embraced “Lean On” and continue to support her music.

“Now, after years have passed and looking back at it, I’m just so overwhelmed that that actually happened,” she said.

“I was very much just an up-and-coming indie-pop artist. And then that song, just all of a sudden, made all the doors swing open for me,” she continued. “And it was truly overwhelming, but it was also the adventure of my life.”

Read Insider’s full interview with MØ here.