Since his debut in 2019, singer, lyricist, and music producer AP Dhillon has sung his way into the hearts of millions of Punjabi music fans across the globe.
From his song “Saada Pyaar,” which softly tugs on listener’s heart strings, to his iconic Brown boy anthem “Brown Munde,” each track has helped put Dhillon in a prime spot in the music game, with a large fan base that only continues to grow.
His sound transcends language and cultural barriers, and pushes the envelope for what it means to be a musician in the South Asian diaspora, while paving the way for others to also break barriers and follow their dreams.
But with such a large audience from across the globe, comes great responsibility.
In particular, South Asian artists have a responsibility towards the wider community, who have been eagerly waiting for this type of representation that can challenge stereotypes both in and outside of the community.
However, his latest music video for the track “Ma Belle,” has amassed criticism from many, given that the model cast in the video is not South Asian.
The video, which dropped just over a week ago, has already passed 3 million views on Youtube.
With the song reaching such a wide audience in a short period of time, some may think that this in and of itself can be seen as a huge win for putting brown music on the map.
So why is it a big deal if the model in Dhillon’s latest track is not South Asian?
To put things into perspective, it's important to understand that artists such as Dhillon are in an important position to create opportunities for South Asians that were not there before.
And while the model in the video did a great job and the chemistry between the two was definitely there, fans took to social media to voice that they would have loved to see a South Asian model slaying the role.
In addition, there are already issues of colourism and internalized racism that run rampant in South Asian culture, so reclaiming that space and casting a South Asian model would have been an opportunity to celebrate the beauty of brown women.
It's been for far too long that ethnic features such as darker skin, curvy waists and dark eyes have been put down in favour of Eurocentric features and lighter skin (think about Fair & Lovely skin lightening cream!).
In fact, many South Asian women can relate to having their skin colour or bodies commented on and compared to their “lighter,” or more “beautiful” relatives.
Dhillon, who is considered a heartthrob for many South Asian women, choosing to cast a white model in his Punjabi music video is like adding salt to an unhealed wound.
South Asian men such as Dhillon should be showing off and sharing their culture with the rest of the world, including our beautiful women.
But this is an issue that goes beyond Dhillon and beyond the music industry as a whole.
South Asian women featured in music videos, magazines, or almost any type of media in general are also usually lighter-skinned and white-passing.
South Asian women of all other colours, shapes, and sizes, have been fighting to be seen, heard, and appreciated for far too long.
In a recent Twitter post, Brown Girl Tokes mentions that everyone is upset Desi girls aren’t getting representation, but what about all the South Asians that aren’t light skin, petite or white passing? Don’t they deserve to be represented as well?
And she’s absolutely right.
It is no surprise that certain looks come with certain privileges in the South Asian community.
This is evident when it comes to Dhillon’s video, as a white model can be viewed as a symbol of status and power.
Of course it's important to note that interracial couples deserve to be represented too, but this isn’t about that.
Fans were looking forward to seeing a fellow South Asian woman in the spotlight, someone perhaps with less Eurocentric features, and showcasing the kind of beauty that is often overlooked and under-appreciated.
Representation is important, and highlighting a different kind of beauty, especially in video for an artist as big as AP Dhillon, could help the audience appreciate the unique beauty of a diverse model.
Thankfully the community came together to let Dhillon know how they felt, and hopefully next time when given the opportunity to show up for his community, he will look for new and innovative ways to put on for his fellow South Asian women.
If you haven’t watched the video, you can watch it right here:
Be sure to let us know whether you think the criticism against Dhillon is just, or if he didn’t deserve all the flack he received from casting a white woman in his video.
Manisha is a writer and reporter with previous radio and television experience, who is passionate about connecting audiences to the stories and voices that matter to them most. Check her out on Instagram: @exclusivelymanisha