The Pyramids behind him, he wriggles, grimaces and smiles in turn.
New Delhi: He walks down a garden clad in a gown, tiara on his head, wings on his back, magic wand in hand. “I am like an angel,” he warbles, stressing the point in no uncertain terms. She sits in an Audi taking selfies and fiddling with the car’s steering wheel. “I shot a selfie today,” she sings in Hindi, clearly proud of her phone-wielding skills.
The Pyramids behind him, he wriggles, grimaces and smiles in turn. “Sunday morning love you, Monday morning love you, Tuesday morning love you,” he intones, meticulously going over all the days of the week.
Welcome to the world of cringe pop. Popular in the West, the genre of music is now dotted with artistes — well, make that performers — from the Indian subcontinent, singing and twitching all the way to the bank.
Cringe pop, according to Wikipedia, is a genre of pop music which is “so bad that you cannot stop watching them”. And there’s no disputing that, going by the huge legions of fans that Angel singer Tahir Shah of Pakistan, selfie taker Dhinchak Pooja of India and everyday lover Bhim Niraula of Nepal command.
“There is obviously a large viewership and audience for cringe pop. But if someone doesn’t like cringe pop, they need not watch or listen to it,” pointed out singer Shubha Mudgal. Most of the subcontinental cringe consists of lyrics that may not get the Nobel Prize for literature and tunes that defy grammar. Some, like Shah, wear velvet gowns.
“I was introduced to cringe pop with Tahir Shah’s Eye to Eye. That was something insane. Though I would love to lie, the truth is that my friends and I hum this song every now and then,” said 28-year-old Chandigarh resident Anita Pathania.
The credit — or blame, depending on your tastes in music — for introducing cringe pop to the world goes to California — based singer Rebecca Black and her 2011 record-breaking Friday, occasionally described as the worst song ever.
But in recent years, the trend has been gaining ground in the subcontinent. It all started with Shah, whose 2013 Eye to Eye took the Internet by storm. The song amassed over 5 lakh views on YouTube, which paled in comparison to the 60 lakh plus hits for his second song Mankind’s Angel, launched last year.
Indian Ocean’s bassist Rahul Ram had two short Hindi words to offer when asked about cringe pop. “Dekh mat (don’t watch it),” he said. But, clearly, no one is listening. In 2017, when India’s Dhinchak Pooja dethroned Shah with her Selfie maine le li aaj, the video notched up 2.5 crore views.
Dhinchak Pooja — using just the second name doesn’t work — marked her 2015 debut with Swag wali topi. Her latest is Bapu dede thoda cash (Bapu, give me some cash). “If something is good people watch it, but if it is bad people watch it more. Good or bad is just not the criterion as long people like it,” said rapper-singer Baba Sehgal, who shot to fame in 1992 with Thanda thanda pani (Cold, cold water).
Most of their compositions are on YouTube. While the video-sharing site did not reply to queries on earnings, field experts estimated the composers earned `2-7 lakh a month, with high viewerships leading to sponsors and more money. “To those who don’t appreciate the singers, I would say they are just being jealous and nothing else,” said Sehgal.
Of course, there is more to cringe than just the lyrics and tune. Backg-rounds and garments help. And Nepal’s Niroula, till recently a banker, has seemingly founded a new school of dance: the Bhim stomach wiggle.
“He just steals the show when he complements his songs with his broad comedy dance steps,” Pathania said. The artiste, based in the UK, first hit the spot with his much viewed song video Sunday morning love you. Released in 2014 it got over 1 million views on YouTube.
Other such singers are coming up — though some are surprised at their work being labelled cringe. Singer Sonu Nigam has jumped on to the bandwagon with his Dilon ka shooter (Heart-shooter). Among the others making a mark are Vennu Malesh and Om Prakash Mishra.
And who can forget Dera chief Baba Gurmeet Singh, whose song Love Charger sent a shock down most viewers’ spines? Unlike others, though, his cringe was not limited to his songs alone.