Kolaveri to Gangnam: the most is yet to be
Nov 06 2012
The first line Dhanush sang was “Why this Kolaveri di?” which literally means “Why do you have this murderous rage against me, lady?” Of course, the question is a light-hearted one and not intended seriously. A public interest litigation, however, has been filed in the Kerala high court by one Mr Madaswamy (that’s what his name is) claiming that the violent lyrics are “badly influencing minds of young children.” He has petitioned that the song not to be screened in public.
The song uses an ancient Tamil folk rhythm using a combination old folk and modern instruments. The team used old instruments like the nadaswaram and shehnai, blending them with saxophone and other instruments such as the urumee, thavil drums, acoustic guitar, keyboards mixed with electronic synthesizer. The vocals utilise the singing style of Tamil folk culture. An electronic wink and nudge from Rajnikanth helped. The official version was released on November 21, 2011 and by the beginning of 2012, it had 30 million YouTube views. Now, it has crossed 50 million views — many viewers do not understand or speak a word of Tamil. It has shrunk geographies, cut across language barriers, jumped cultures and gone viral.
Copies and parodies were released. I have even seen a clip that depicted Japanese women dancing to Why this Kolaveri di? The crowning moment of Dhanush came when India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh invited Dhanush for a dinner party along with Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda at his New Delhi residence.
The team that created Kolaveri never imagined in its wildest dreams the success it eventually achieved. It was not planned or engineered — it just happened. There were no expensive promotions. But the catchy song went viral because of the internet. Internet connected millions of people across the globe through an open content distribution platform like YouTube enabled its popularity. A Tanglish song with nonsense lyrics showcases a blend of old eastern and new western instruments and goes viral across the globe? A new and powerful phenomenon indeed. Perhaps, Dhanush will not be able to do an encore. But is the social media sensation in music over? You ain’t seen nothing yet! Take the case of the new sensation Gangnam Style — the single by Korean pop artist Park Jae-sang, better known by his stage name, PSY. Gangnam has nothing to do with gangs singing rap in a strange language. Gangnam is a suburb of Seoul. When I lived in Seoul in the early 1980s, Gangnam–gu (Nam in Hangul means south, gang is river and gu is district — so we can roughly translate this as south bank district) was a depressed and poor area. But three decades of development and gentrification have transformed this area into the most expensive part of Seoul inhabited by the super-rich, chic and trendy. Just for context, the total land value of the Greater Gangnam District now accounts for 10 per cent of the nation’s combined land price and is 3.5 times higher per square foot than the national average. The song is a satire on imposters and fakes.
In the words of its creator: “People who are actually from Gangnam never proclaim that they are — it’s only the posers and wannabes that put on these airs and say that they are “Gangnam Style” — so this song is actually poking fun at the kind of people who are trying so hard to be something that they’re not.” The essence of Gangnam Style according to PSY is to “dress classy and dance cheesy”.
The music video is a phenomenal success. At the time of writing, the music video was viewed 628 million times. It has entered the Guinness Book of Records as the most liked video. By the end of October 2012, the song reached number one position in 33 countries including Australia, Canada, France, Germany and the UK. The song topped China’s Baidu 500 download list. Although the lyrics are almost entirely in Hangul, a number of English words like “style”, “sexy lady” and “baby” are part of the song.
Born in Gangnam district, PSY has spent many years in the US. In a recent interview, he joked that he created a record by being a freshman four years in a row in two US educational institutions Boston University (BU) and Berklee College of Music, both in Massachusetts. In BU, he tried to study business administration and in Berklee, he studied contemporary music — never progressing to higher classes because “creative people cannot learn old stuff”.
Gangnum Style is part horse stepping and part horse riding, which has caught the imagination of the world by the storm. The unlikeliest of a pop star from Korea has become a super-hero. PSY has delivered his Peter Sellers style “Being There” dialogue on the American talk show “Today”: “I’m not handsome, I’m not tall, I’m not muscular, I’m not skinny, but I’m sitting here.”
A neglected pop star, who could not attend his grandfather’s funeral because he was locked up on allegations of having smoked marijuana, is the darling of world of business and political leaders today. Gangnam Style’s dance moves have been performed by business and political leaders including Google’s executive chairman Eric Schimdt. David Cameron and Ban Ki-Moon. Ban Ki-Moon hailed “Gangnam Style” as a “force for world peace”. On November 7, PSY will address England’s prestigious Oxford University.
Ladies and gentlemen, it has been quite an exciting journey from Kolaveri di to Gangnam Style! But trust me, more surprises are waiting round the corner. The most is yet to be.
(The writer is managing director of Deloitte Consulting, India. These are his personal views)