Yo Yo’s pull

There is quite a lot one can infer about a person’s nature and character from the type of music that appeals to them. Although drawing parallels and inferences might not be the correct way to go about it, it does help in ascertaining which song should be played next in the queue. Gone are the days when people listen to entire albums at a go, with choices being made for the next CD, cassette or record. Online streaming has made it possible to flip from Dizzy Gillespie to Rihanna in a few clicks, Bluetooth pairing making it easier to shift between devices eliminating hassles of switching wires. All of this, intended with the philosophy of enabling choice has meant that little inference can be drawn from the playlist generated over five hours at a gathering of twelve individuals.

I remember revealing to a concerned friend a while back, that all I needed to know about a girl, before I could decide whether to date her or not were her music tastes and preferences. I realised a small while back, how unrealistic that statement was. The kind of music that actually appeals to a person and the kind of music they end up suggesting as choices for the next in queue, could not be more radically different. It was almost as if, everyone was an amalgamation of at least seventeen different personalities. Browsing through their playlists on the phone and examining the amount of variety that existed, far from holding up a mirror to their characters was one muddled mess of influences, voluntary and coercive.

There are some songs that break through, though. Since I’ve abandoned seeking individuality in music preferences, I’ve had a keener eye towards the lowest common denominator and I’m proud to have the revelation crystallised — Yo Yo Honey Singh

No piece of text involving a music artist can be envisaged without the author’s prejudice seeping all over, and it is to guard against this prejudice, that I would lay it all upfront. I have loved some of Yo Yo, been rather unfazed by most and hated quite a few tracks. In no means, do I despise the artist; in fact a recent interview of his, on a popular comedy show, actually seemed to make a lot of sense. The reason I decided to write about this particularity was my inability to have a clear idea of why most of his music seemed to be such an effective way to slice across the young social fabric of India (and even coerce some of the ones outside!). The appeal of Yo Yo’s songs cuts across age, class, caste, intellect, sex and language, an accomplishment, which is understated quite a bit.

Kishore Kumar was an incredible artist and I know a lot of friends who would still stick on to the radio station for a couple of seconds longer, if they heard one of his songs at the correct time of the day, however one of the limitations of his charm seems to be a clear linguistic divide. Over the course of the last seven years, I have forged quite a few friendships with young men and women from the four southern states of India and Kishore Kumar to them, most of them, is quite an alien concept. Having never grown up with these songs playing in the background of their childhood, their knowledge of the great artist remains confined to Wikipedia mentions. The interesting facet here is that all of these people understood Hindi completely and spoke the language too, in various stages of fluency. Withstanding the urge to jump to any conclusions, the availability of music has changed dramatically in the last few decades. In the years that a Kishore Kumar reigned over Bollywood, the Internet, let alone YouTube was an unheard of concept. The only way one would have had access to his music was through movies, which hardly had a theatrical release in the Southern markets, or the arduous process of buying music cassettes or in fact, long distance bus rides with Kishore Da’s distorted voice blaring over cheap music systems.

Yo Yo faces no such barriers. All of my South Indian friends, even the ones, who prefer to stay away from Bollywood theatricals, are enveloped by Yo Yo’s tunes. Drawing a reference to Thalaiva, was as much of Shah Rukh’s strategic genius to ensure that there was something engaging about Chennai Express and as much an opportunity for Yo Yo to reach out to millions of potential untapped fans down south. Clubbing this with the fact that the artist’s original popularity was on the back of songs in Punjabi, from which he later digressed to Hindi choruses and Punjabi rap verses and subsequently to songs entirely in Hindi, makes this achievement even more substantial.

Now is the time where my personal interpretations begin to interfere with the soulless barrage of statistics. I absolutely loved a Yo Yo song called “Brown Rang” and the only other song of his I liked more that that was a song called “Choot” — a song which I believe was the unmistakable start of the artist’s popularity, his undeniably best ever rap and yet a song hardly played any more, unless you are at a drunk sausage fest in one of the Punjab engineering colleges, but I’ll come to that in a while. The transition in YoYo’s work from Brown Rang to Blue eyes, is unmistakably clear. Rap, or some bit of it, has always prided itself on rapid delivery, something that I believe Eminem took too literally with RapGod. This is partially the reason why some languages would be prone to better suited for rap than others. Languages that require painful enunciation (read German) would in my opinion be less prone to rapping, which is where Punjabi works brilliantly. There is a subtle smoothness in the language, especially in the cuss words which seem to just slip off the tongue with minimal effort. This, coupled with Yo Yo’s commercial success, has been behind the slew of rappers the Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh region has produced in the last few years. Without getting into a bland discussion on etymology, the shift from Punjabi to Hindi meant simpler verses, which read more like second grade poems than cunningly arranged rap. This transition to overly simplified verses was naturally accompanied by a broad basing of listeners, whether this was the cause or effect is something which only Yo Yo can answer.

Add to this the potency of simplified beats and melodies born out of a maximum of three piano keys. Electronic Dance Music or EDM as it is popularly called has proven the affinity of human beings to dullness, accompanied by fancy lights, which is why EDM cuts across national boundaries so easily. Appealing to the lowest common denominator of musical preferences and the absence of lyrics means that the music is able to register even during the highest stages of drug abuse, while brain activity ceases to a minimum (although even the contrary may also be argued). Without digressing into a critique of EDM, and having laid on the table, the abject hatred I possess towards it, the uncomplicated nature of Yo Yo’s tunes means that even one year olds, with barely any concept of music and no knowledge of languages, find themselves grooving to the songs. This explains, in a bit, the age group skew that seems to be enjoying these songs. Older Indians, having been exposed to R.D. Burman’s inspired complexity find it more difficult to accept the bare nature of this music — just as they seem to classify EDM as white noise. Ironically, this is not far from what a lot of my friends use EDM for, white noise while making dull PowerPoint slides at work or working out at the gym.

Where Yo Yo scores over Toni Igy is however the local cultural reference the songs draw upon. The basic philosophies of media globalization make sure that maintaining an equal standard of production, local content would always be preferred over global influences, which is where Yo Yo scores the winning punch. References about Delhi girls shopping from Sarojini, or college girls being lured by White sports cars instantly draws more attention that mentions of a sovereign light cafe. Coupled with basic rhyme, these verses then are memorized, only to be splurged in rap battles to establish superiority in public setups.

Where lies the marvel of Yo Yo and the piece which i have found most difficult to comprehend, is the appeal of his songs with the educated, liberal minded and revolutionary young Indian woman. Yo Yo has toned down the objectification and depraving portrayal of women in his songs, quite a lot over the years, however some semblance of the ruins is still visible in the videos accompanying his songs. From porn stars gyrating madly to truck loads of bikini clad women, YoYo uses women in his songs as props to hold the viewer’s attention. This concept of a music video is nothing new though, with majority of American pop stars seemingly originating out of fashion runways rather than music tutoring, with ever so often a fat kid breaking through, only to hold the entire planet in awe, as we are shocked to realise, “Gosh! even fat girls can sing!”.

One possible explanation of the connectedness the female Indian youngsters feel with his songs, might be embedded in the basic nature of human ambitions. No one dreams of being a McKinsey consultant or having read all the works of Fitzgerald — one dreams of being pretty and beautiful, loved and awed by all; one dreams of being rich and spoilt to enjoy luxuries without realising they are so. Dreamy eyed gorgeous women, dancing away amongst fumes of ecstacy, is what we all really want to be. This is the reason we plan our New Year eve months in advance, join Instagram, and slog through the working week, waiting for the weekend, where we can finally be our true selves, reveal our basic human instincts, get wasted and in bed with the cutest guy in the club. What we really are from Monday to Friday is just a facade or in an ironic way the price we need to pay to sustain our true tendencies. Maybe this is the reason why my girl friends tend to shout out the lyrics to Yo Yo’s songs, or maybe it is their way of revolting against a society which hardly lets them speak otherwise. Maybe Yo Yo provides them the medium to declare their independence, providing a voice to their innate frustration towards a repressive society, signalling the start of a rebellion — or maybe its just simpler to dance to his songs than Alesso’s — greater minds than me have attempted in vain to fathom the complexities of a woman’s mind.

Following the Nirbhaya incident in New Delhi, Aam Aadmi Party leader, Arvind Kejriwal wanted to put a stop to thousands of drunk young men, screaming the lyrics of the song Choot at a public performance of YoYo. Finding the explicit version of the song has become a painstaking chore even in the days of YouTube. It almost seems that Yo Yo wants to obliterate any presence of the track, there are reasons enough for these activities and none of them have anything to do with music. I, however, still wait for the day when during the next Yo Yo performance at the Bristol, there would be scores of women chanting those lyrics.

Disclaimer
1) Yo Yo has since maintained that he was not responsible for authoring the lyrics of the song “Choot : Vol 1”
2) The reference about Delhi girls shopping in Sarojini, is by the coauthor of the song Choot and not Yo Yo himself. Have left the original text unedited, since the thought prevails irrespective of the examples.

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