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High theory, Low ‘Kolaveri Di’: Why I am a Fan of this Flop Song: AS Ajith Kumar

December 8, 2011

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.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. vallyettans permalink
    December 9, 2011 7:05 AM

    i never dreamt that this song is worth a write-why this ‘kolaveri’

  2. Pankaj Sharan permalink
    December 9, 2011 9:22 AM

    No one seems to be judging the song on its musical merits. Popular music cannot be judged by the same criterion as introspective classical music. And the magnitude of a `crowd phenomenon’ cannot be used to prove its artistic value.

    It is very satisfying that the producers of the song, while obviously enjoying the success, are aware of this.

    The true test of popular music is whether it lasts. All true art lasts.

    • Ajith kumar a s permalink
      December 9, 2011 2:54 PM

      Pankaj sharan, the `merit’ of music is concerned with the politics of music which classify musical genres as `classical’ or `popular ‘ and which construct some kind of music superior to the other.as you say same criterion cannot be applied to different music styles.the approach to textual analysis of music should take in consideration that `music’ as such is NOT a closed entity .the style,gestures,phrases and listening are determined by social and historical factors. your understanding of `classical music’, i think,falls right within the discourses that has constructed certain music styles as `classical’ with the advent of modernity in music.music as a personal expression or `coming from ones heart’ or introspective is an idea that came to the music world with the modernity in music.
      i would quote shkehar kapoor on A R Rahman ” Rahman does not believe music resides in him, but that he sources it from a field of consciousness that exists eternally. He believes that to access or to be able to reach that ‘field’ you need to be very pious. I believe as long as he continues to believe the music is not his, that he is merely the conduit, he will have no limitations.”
      `test of time’ is another myth related to the idea of the `classical’.

  3. December 9, 2011 8:31 PM

    Simple lyrics, Simple Music, Awesome publicity/marketing and Young generation are four factors which helped in the success of this song.

  4. KSS permalink
    December 13, 2011 4:12 PM

    You hear it. Enjoy it. Hear it again Simple loves it. Just that. And that is the great music because I enjoy it. I could sort of relate it to something deep inside me.
    Everything else – the whys & the external reasons that you find for it being good or bad are not relevant.
    You enjoy it. Would like to hear it again & again. That is the great thing about this.Kolaveri Di’.

  5. December 23, 2011 6:33 PM

    i agree with what AJITH has to say about politics of music. thats the classcists vs popular music. it slike music transofrms into more reachable audience. in HIndi film music several years back C RAMCHANDRA did that in a movie called ALBELA. people the viewers took to dancing not tapping in theaters and went crazy much to disapproval of the classical music lovers. the popularity redefined and now ALBELA SONGS are termed as golden age songs! may i ask why this KOLAVERI about the popularity of the song?

  6. Mayanthi lakshika rangamuwa permalink
    May 1, 2012 8:49 AM

    Wish you all the best!!!! Kolaveri

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