I would love to see what a Google search of the term ‘kolaveri’returned prior to November 16, 2011.
On November 16, 2011 an innocuous YouTube promo of a Tanglish song “Why This Kolaveri Di’ affected the world like no Indian song ever did or ever will. Extraordinarily simple lyrics plus an even simpler tune and the production values of a home video together should not give rise to a hit. A regional actor and part-time singer mouthing the words to a meaningless song with all the fuzz and feel of a bathroom drunk should not be viewed enthusiastically by over 50 million people. It makes zero sense. There have been 500 or more Tanglish songs that have been catchier. None of them raised a ruckus outside rickshaw stands and pot-luck dinners involving people from Tamil Nadu.
Anyone who tells you they know why this song succeeded and resonated worldwide, is lying. Even Gangnam style has its hot chicks and crazy dance moves. Kolaveri has 4 spoilt children of privilege of the Tamil film industry pretending to be busy. In an alternate universe, Kolaveri is the anthem of drunks relegated to midnight footage on Tamil cable channels. Or it is a symbol of everything that is wrong in an industry and culture where who you know and were born to are much more inportant than what you can do. Somehow someway it made its way to the mainstream and way way beyond!
This is not a post that is going to try to explain the success of the song. I can’t….
This is also not a blog post that recreates the fairly fresh deluge of memories and events alongside the worldwide phenomenon…..This is just a rambling of thoughts from a bewildered fan of the song and all things Tanglish, who is still in shock and awe thinking about the amazing success this song had.
I remember being a Tamil speaking teenager in Bangalore in the 90’s. It wasn’t a lot of fun. Curd rice was far too easy a nickname and the culture and movies that defined my language to my friends were way less cooler than Indipop and Western music and Bollywood. Channel [v] had just rolled around and AR Rahman was big but not yet big enough to make a dent in the perception of Tamil pop-culture outside Tamil Nadu. There was an interview of young dance sensation Prabhu Deva on Star Movies that was more notorious for his horrendous english than his amazing dancing skills. For a very long time it was pretty far-fetched and preposterous to think that a song in Tamil would ever penetrate the pop-culture universe of anyone else. This is not to call the Tamil songs or culture inferior to others or to seek other people’s approval. It is just to point out the absence of any potential cross cultural appeal in a language and movie industry designed for the region and by the region.
So when Kolaveri conquered decades old “South is South and North is North” stereotype while also becoming a nation’s biggest pop-culture phenomenon in ages, I was and am still shocked and surprised. I still don’t get it. It’s been a year. Ganan songs do not make it to CNN America (video above). This just happened. It’s a good time to remember and remind ourselves that what we witnessed in those few weeks in November 2011 were unique, unprecedented and unexplainable. There will never quite be another Kolaveri Di…..
Happy Birthday Kolaveri! Hopefully I understand you better as you get older.