High theory, Low ‘Kolaveri Di’: Why I am a Fan of this Flop Song: AS Ajith Kumar
Guest post by AS AJITH KUMAR
YouTube’s search results for the `Kolaveri di ’ song are amazing. It is hard to pick the `original’ from the plethora of `kolaveri di ’ songs -the `reply cover version’, kids version by Naveen Nigam, the damn version, and many more. I was very excited to find this possibility-a song has initiated a dialogue, and that too a musical engagement. This I think are the new possibilities that the new media has brought into the field of music. Here is not the two- way process that we are familiar with, between the music and the listener, but a number of activities in multiple tracks.
The ‘listener’ is more visible now, and has more powers. He/she shares, likes, comments, makes his/her own videos and broadcasts them by herself/himself. I am not trying to jump into a sort of technological determinism, but approaching the shifts in the music field – in the making, listening, broadcasting and sharing of music. I would say that it is within this context that we have to reflect on the popularity of the `kolaveri di ’ song.
Yes, the producers of the movie might have tried viral marketing. But isn’t there more than marketing and consumption here? It is a music video that is being shared and a big amount of internet activity created around it. Why do youtubers take such effort to interact with such music videos? I think internet music and mobile music have brought a new kind of way music- making, listening and sharing. `Ring tone ‘was a new form of music that came with the mobile phones. With music directors like A R Rahman entering the scene `ring tones’ were no more an alert tone for a call. They began to be considered as a music pieces. Airtel claimed that in 2009, Airtel users completed over 200 million music downloads. This was a surprise when film songs were the most popular music style in India, and later Nokia even launched an album titled `connections’ composed by A R Rahman. Now with the facilities of mobile phones the concept of sharing which is the main factor of `popular’ music became a reality. This audio space was different from the music hall, radio, television and had specific social dimensions. Similarly lot of shifts happened in internet music too. The `kolaveri’ video must be one that was specially made for the YouTube audience. Hence it is not the song itself that has made it so popular. And again it is interesting that it became hit among a multi-lingual audience. The song must have been offering different possibilities of interaction for different people. No one can give an easy answer to the question `why did kolaveri become so popular? I think we don’t need such an answer. But we could try to understand the tendencies.
Analyzing the politics of music is a complicated matter. It is never an easy matter like- a particular music piece carries a political message. But politics is connected or embodied in music structures, the habits of listening, making, and broadcasting and in the discourses about the music that defines and locates a particular style of music in the society. `Popular’ music has to be seen as a site of constant struggles and negotiations. We don’t need much effort to discover Kolaveri di’s `misogynist messages ‘.but I think we have to address its politics in its complexities and multiple dimensions.
At the right beginning, the song claims itself to be a flop song. Dhanush has repeatedly said that kolaveri di is absolute nonsense and the video is also made to confirm the `nonsensicality’. In the middle ,even the music instruments shows this nonsensicality by running `off pitch’. But this` out of pitch ‘notes become part of the fun here. This loose structure and the carelessness towards the rigidities of music could be one factor that attracts `us’. We have seen that singers with `imperfect ‘voices have made more impact these days’. May be this brings `music ‘closer. I think, regarding the politics of contemporary music this is a crucial move. The music reality shows at least in Kerala could be seen as an effort to recapture the `real’ /`pure’ singer (who is trained in classical music) in the contemporary society. The evaluation always circles round rigid rules and conventional ideas in music. The effort is to put the singers in right track /right pitch. The music of kolaveri ridicules these perfections. The question “rhythm correct’’ tells us that it doesn’t care about perfection. And another interesting dimension is that the song disturbs the stereotype of the `Tamilian’.
Now coming back to the popularity of this song does popularity make a work of art` low’? I remember a similar situation in Kerala when a song titled ‘Lajjavathiye’ become one of the greatest hit in Malayalam film music history. It triggered a big amount of discussions than any other song could create. Anxieties were expressed over youngsters falling for such `low’ music .One of the allegations was it didn’t suit`Malayalee’ culture. Some art film directors said that` youngsters were dancing in the theaters like ” the people do in Tamil Nadu”. Malayali culture is most often defined against the other –the low Tamil. It was the beats ,that made the people to dance that sounded `Tamil’ in ‘Lajjavathiye’. The `popularity’ and the influence it made were seen as a threat. Liking a particular song or having a particular music taste is often `considered ‘as a reflection of one’s character or social status. In Kerala I have felt that even now, appreciating `classical music’ or `classic ‘movie songs is considered respect-worthy, but liking western popular isn’t considered so. The` intelligent’ and the `mature/good’ listeners took pain to announce that they have not fallen prey to the` bad influence’ of `Lajjavathiye’. I think it is happening in the case of Kolaveri di also.