Something about ‘catchy songs‘ get lodged in our brains, unlike their ‘non-catchy’ counterparts. Repetition of overused phrases in an unpredictable melody that forms the chorus is easy to remember tends to get stuck in our head.
Bolna Aunty Aau Kya is the new addition to the list of ‘cringe-pop’, and falls in the category of performers and performances of Taher Shah, Bhim Niroula, etc. Similarities can be drawn between them to the extent of their ability to turn the most dull lyrics into something that’s pleasurable. It’s not because they’re conventionally artistic, rather, because they’re not, they are genius works. They empty the our notions of ‘high culture and art’. Now let us examine the power play in the consumption, production and distribution of such music.
When young men and women gather in parks and streets of Delhi to shout Bolna Aunty Aau Kya, it is a moment of ecstasy and excess, where the non-elite and the elite not only enter a union, where misogyny undercuts class but they are also linked in their mutual ‘admiration’ for the song. The song is unhinged on our ideals of morality, it is upfront, it is direct and bold. At one level, it may be seen as a subversion. It is, but it’s also not.
The song at once, demystifies the sexuality of the ‘aunty’, who is generally either viewed as sexually satiated or starved. Unveiling the insincere shroud of morality that often dictates and gets dictated by dominant patriarchal notions of puritanism and righteousness around women’s sexuality. ‘Aunty’s’ sexuality has a mysterious pull, she marks a resistance to the patriarchal order, within which she is placed. She is the prohibition, the limit to/of desire. She is the ultimate male fantasy.
However, the problem is not in the transference of ‘aunty’ to ‘babe’, but how this doesn’t change the aspect within which sexual expression always already remains violent – ‘aunty ki ghunty bajaana’. Women’s desire for sex needs to be explored and articulated differently, going beyond the bourgeois ideas of ‘disgrace’ of idealised Bhartiya Naaris by ‘disreputable’ men and also beyond just being seen as ‘objects’ of male sexual desires. The problem lies in the desire to control, the unpredictable, inaccessible sexuality of ‘aunty’, whose sexuality may in fact be more aggressive and even raunchier than our scope of grasping it.
Just calling it sexist, offensive and attempting to shut it down only fuels the moral police that seeks to shut down all sexual expression. So that’s not what I’m interested in, rather, I want to study the inter-relational bond that develops between the elite and non-elite in the process of consumption and distribution of cringe pop.
In our combined laughter to the song, we (elite-non-elite) are linked to one-another while also preserving a great isolation and distance. Posed this way, two things take place here in a parallel manner, one where the enactment of class privilege strengthens an overriding tendency towards the production of patriarchal culture(s). A ‘mock-genuine’ appreciation of talent also brings to the fore the necessary break in the idea of ‘normal’ in the internet space, where only certain knowledges are able to de-classify themselves to cut across social classes – Bollywood scoop, ‘Ghaati-Party’ music, crime reports, etc.
What remains peculiar and even revolutionary in the songs of Om Prakash, Baba Sehgal, Honey Singh is that they undo the semblance of orderliness, in our minds. They remind us that the internet economy is a bubble, which can ‘explode’ and ‘break the internet’ with empty speech. That it can sustain itself merely through its emptiness to become the ‘talking point.’
The song at once, demystifies the sexuality of the ‘aunty’, who is generally either viewed as sexually satiated or starved.
Now, look at this, here is a ‘politically neutral’ junta deriving cheap thrills from a self-confessed ‘rap(e)’ song. While, Om Prakash Rap King is aware of his provocation, “Meri toh yeh rape saari duniya bajayenge. Har gaaliyo mein dekh mere fan benege. Rap ka rape ka yeh baap ki rani kab ayegi”. He’s clearly having ‘fun’ blurring the boundaries of ‘classy’ and ‘massy.’
It is necessarily ‘funny’ why Om Prakash’s voice isn’t something society needs to listen to, because after all, it wasn’t ‘supposed’ to be said in the first place. But now that ‘he’ is the one to say it, the elite sections of society participate in its reproduction and redistribution by repeatedly hearing and humming it while simultaneously disowning the verses – to colour their classism in the shades of ‘cool’.
But what do binge-watching urban cringe-pop consumers do with such music? They attempt to mask their classism by being one with it, in their refusal to recognize the similarities in the words enunciated and differences in the subjective location of the person enunciating them – I love Om Prakash, but I am not Om Prakash. I can both enjoy him while discarding him. That’s the beauty of ‘cringe-pop,’ because I recognize the coexistence of the contradiction – so bad, its good.
Therefore, when I engage in the re-uttering of his songs, I’m not answerable to anyone for what he said. I’m not liable to giving an explanation to anyone who wants to know ‘why’ I like him, in case they are unable to decipher that the reasons to ‘laugh’ stem from both ‘prejudice and annoyance’. But there is merit to ‘loving’ Om Prakash, because I am able to propagate misogyny with complete impunity while distancing myself from his (thoughts) even as I retain my power to authorise and pronounce his (songs) as ‘cool’. We can exonerate ourselves while demonising him.
Recall why we loved watching bad reality TV auditions and interviews – where humiliation of the ‘other’ was a source of pleasure. The difference between you and them gets bridged even as the gap widens socially, economically as well as through space and time. We laugh at their humiliation, never wanting to be at the receiving end of such a thing. There, we are able to ‘respect’ them for withstanding the abuse. Their ‘failures and courage’ makes them human and us more relieved and at peace with ourselves for not being ‘them’.
So, we announce our class privilege by such episodic celebration of ‘funny accents/dance/nasal twang/uninspiring lyrics’ of the ‘cringe-pop’ icons! Their apparent ‘lowliness/brazenness’ is not only a source of fun (in the narrow sense of mockery) but also one of pleasure of expression of an unfulfilled fantasy – a reflection of our own repressed perversity that always sticks out despite attempts at concealment.
we announce our class privilege by such episodic celebration of ‘funny accents/dance/nasal twang/uninspiring lyrics’ of the ‘cringe-pop’ icons!
This is our own attempt at going beyond the prohibitions imposed on our ‘enjoyment’, this is our chance to go beyond the pleasure principle without being the primary ‘accused’ for revealing the excess of our repressed desires. We have not ‘broken’ the codes of conduct, we have merely embraced it. We, the elite, now have an outlet to participate in exposing the myth of our moral elitism, but only from the outside, as spectators constructing a counter-myth of ‘actually loving the other’, to save ourselves from our own guilt for not acknowledging our class privilege based elitism.
Two paradoxes run parallel:
1) If we are going against cultural moral codes, then why not go all-out? Why only stop at selectively embracing the patriarchal-male articulation of desire?
2) Why after all then, given the class antagonism, should we be seen embracing these songs rather than dismissing them as ‘lowly?’
We don’t we dismiss it, possibly because apart from being ‘catchy’, it mirrors our desires. Om Prakash Rap King says what we want to say, but don’t. Even though some of what he says is deeply sexist as it is articulated in the language of entitlement:
He is not, however, any more problematic than most of the Bollywood songs which too focus on sex as something ‘for’ the man. Thus, the easy ‘acceptance’. Om Prakash’s song does not just rupture the dominant patriarchal ideology by exoticising the ‘aunty’ who is often placed outside of the realm of desire, but also reconstitutes patriarchy by giving the old a new form. He is not a Yo Yo Honey Singh, typical North Indian masculine figure. Rather, he is a young boy symbolising a ‘flawed masculinity’, coquettishly expressing his unusual fantasy for an older ‘aunty’. Therefore, even though his ‘request’ to bajao the ghunty is problematic, but it also opens up a can of worms of the ‘obscene’, for us to examine.
What is the thread that binds our shared laughter? It is the affirmation that we all ‘get the joke.’
Are we, the spectators, interested in exploring his subversive capacity? What does it say about us, since we are the ones holding public events? First, there is an obvious lack of cultures of public participation. We don’t collectivize to sing songs of protest, lest we be seen as ‘feminazis’. We are busy imitating the Rap King, because it signals that you understand the joke or/and that it represents you in some way. We are mutating the content with ‘relatability’, copying it, adding our voice to the dialogue of interpreting the song. What is the thread that binds our shared laughter? It is the affirmation that we all ‘get the joke.’
My hunch is that we, the elite, self-serve through imitation, the cultures of misogyny we want to preserve while shaping it’s impact on culture as such. We are signalling what works through us to remain relevant and are amazed every few months to find ‘musical geniuses’, whose real genius goes amiss. We are happy in our ability to propagate misogyny, without taking ownership. We are happy to laugh at the expense of others, even as it is a consciously constructed performance. We are separated from the production cycle and yet remain transmitters of patriarchal knowledge. We are happy to be singing simple, truth-reflecting songs, which point at the banality of evil.
Featured Image Credit: Youtube