CNN recently declared Why this Kolaveri Di? (meaning something like "Why this murderous rage, girl?") this its song of the year. Haven't heard of it? It was released in mid-November as promotion for the upcoming Tamil movie 3, and quickly became a viral sensation around the desi internets. Sung by actor Dhanush in a drunken "Tanglish" (that's a hybrid of Tamil and English), the original clip has swiftly racked up over 32 million views on Youtube, while various other spinoff, remix and parody versions in various languages (Malay, Punjabi, Arabic) have garnered another 20-odd million views. It's won a Youtube Gold Award for the greatest number of hits within a certain time frame.
Here is the song itself:
In a sense the song playfully references the way contemporary Tamil speech has co-opted numerous English words, even though the precise meaning of some of them might require translation to the average English speaker. A "soup boy", for example, refers to a guy who has lost out in love.
My first encounter with the song was at a Punjabi Sikh wedding reception, as members of the groom's family performed a choreographed dance to it; anyone who's been to an Indian wedding knows that sort of thing is not unusual. My second encounter was after seeing the CNN report and needing to figure out "why the fuss?" My initial reaction: meh. It's ok.
I then proceeded to sing it to myself on repeat for the next 3 hours.
Is that the key, then? Is it merely the song's catchiness, pure and simple, that has allowed it to win fans across linguistic and cultural barriers? Or is it something more? Because there are many songs that are extremely catchy that never cross into any sort of public consciousness. After talking to some Tamil peeps, this is what I can deduce:
* Dhanush is a popular Tamil movie star.
* Dhanush's father-in-law is the superstar Rajnikanth, who is sort of like the Tamil version of Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro and Jesus rolled into one. Anything even vaguely associated with Rajnikanth automatically gets the Midas touch in South India. Rajnikanth's daughter Aishwarya is also in this clip and she's hot.
* Indian media was plugging this Youtube clip like crazy, so its status as a "viral" hit was somewhat engineered.
* Dhanush's singing drunkenly about getting drunk appeals to a lot of young folks (think Afroman's Because I got high as an example) and the theme (guy getting rejected by a mean girl) is easy to identify with.
* The fact that it's in English, or at least a sort of English, means that Indians who aren't Tamil can also relate to it easily enough.
* The large number of English-speaking Indians and Sri Lankans around the world can be amused by this Indianized variant on the language.
I dunno. Just enjoy.