Column: The lure of the viral song

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No good deed goes unpunished. Recently, purely on a whim, I decided to turn on the radio. Within minutes, I was subjected to the new campaign jingle for the ruling party. It was a sort of refashioning of the freakishly popular jingle from 2014, this time rhyming “raftaar”, “ek baar” and “Modi sarkar”.

Mind you, this has happened quite late in the election cycle, probably towards the latter parts of the 10,000 phases we’ve had so far. And yet, I hadn’t heard it before. It hadn’t created a buzz in the bubble-like demographic I exist in, unlike last time.

There’s another video on YouTube, titled ‘Raftaar – Phir Ek Baar Modi Sarkar’, put out by the official BJP channel that has 1.5 million subscribers. Yet, at the time of writing, the video’s been out for 11 days and has managed only 3,70,000 views. Rather than suggesting any real disgruntlement with the party, I’d wager that the lack of chatter is because the novelty of the concept has worn off. In 2014, all this stuff was fun and exciting. This time, in what can only be called the hyper-information age, it’s predictable.

As I sat out the 45-second BJP jingle, I couldn’t help but remember a song I’d suppressed a while ago. I’m talking, of course, about ‘Lamberghini’ (sic) by The Doorbeen featuring Ragini. Just a month or two ago, this bloody song was everywhere. In Ubers, on TV, on the Net, at restaurants and bars. I had a spate of weddings to go to earlier this year, and each one had ‘Lamberghini’ playing four or five times a night. It was a nightmare.

Damn catchy

Actually, it wasn’t. Truth be told, I couldn’t help but enjoy it. It was just so damn catchy. I couldn’t decide if my appreciation for it was ironic. Or because the melody, the main hook of the song, is taken from an old Punjabi folk song that has been used often down the years. Or because of its ubiquity.

This happens often with viral songs now. Something will appear out of nowhere and take over public consciousness for a few weeks or months — and then drop off the face of the earth. Remember Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape Of You’? Or the brilliant ‘Despacito’? Or, closer home, ‘Apna Time Aayega’?

This isn’t strictly new. When I was growing up, there was ‘Macarena’. Then came the ‘The Ketchup Song’. Not so long ago, ‘Gangnam Style’ by Psy was the most viewed video on YouTube. But what has changed is the life cycle of these earworms. They tend to last, now, for shorter bursts, after which the next new thing takes over. Which is at odds with how music in general works. When I like a song/ album, I tend to stick with it.

Time bombs

That rule doesn’t seem to apply to these flippant one-offs, which are basically defective time-bombs. There’s a brief period of mass panic as the clock ticks. And then there’s an implosion. Is it because of the quality? Objectively judging whether a piece of music is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is fraught terrain and quite meaningless. But in terms of technicality, it could be the easily accessible notes and scales these songs use. Melodies which can be digested quickly and just as quickly excreted. A lot of music I like tends to grow on me. But not these songs. I hear them once, they get lodged in my head, then I forcefully eject them.

Or do they gain this mass appeal not because of any aesthetic wizardry but simply a sophisticated marketing campaign? If something is everywhere, then it’s bound to incite conversation. Some people will naturally hate it, and they’ll post excruciating updates about it on social media, as with ‘Lamberghini’. It only further increases the song’s visibility.

Or, just as likely, is it a case of there just being too much information out there? For every annoying viral song, we’ll have a readymade replacement within weeks, making for seamless motion. It makes more sense, then, to have a healthy distance — a kind of cynical detachment — from contemporary popular trends. Not out of any misplaced snobbery but purely as a means of self-preservation.

The author and freelance culture writer from New Delhi wishes he’d studied engineering instead.



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