x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Songs for novelty value

With the Taiwanese singer Jay Chou launching his own novelty hit, in the hopes of being the next Gangnam Style, we take a look at other novelty songs from different countries.

Jay Chou. Sam Yeh / AFP
Jay Chou. Sam Yeh / AFP

Jay Chou is the next Asian pop star to release a novelty hit with Gong Gong with a Headache. The Taiwanese singer has done his utmost to copy the success of South Korean rival Psy’s Gangnam Style by giving the track a zany – and admittedly funny – video and signature dance moves. Gangnam Style may have breathed new life into the novelty song, but the international genre has a storied history. At its most basic it offers a few guilty chuckles, but once the jokes are done, they offer revealing cultural insights. Here are a few hits and misses from around the world.

Jay Chou: Gong Gong with a Headache (2012)

Released last week, the Taiwanese superstar’s latest track is about the hard life of ancient Chinese eunuchs, called Gong Gongs. Set in the days of the Chinese empire, the video is the tale of a loyal servant falling foul of corruption when surrounded by the emperor’s riches. The song is a mish-mash of styles with Chou rapping his way throughout over a hooky oriental beat. But really it’s all about the video clip, with Gong Gongs breakdancing and Jay Chou twirling bling around like a boss.

Las Ketchup: The Ketchup Song (2002)

With seven million copies and topping the charts in more than 20 countries, this ditty by the Spanish pop group Las Ketchup took over 2002. The song’s verse is about a dude called Diego waiting to hear his favourite song at a nightclub. Then the chorus veers off into a Spanglish version of The Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight. The track has its own dance moves, which include a fair bit of wiggling with crossing arms and legs.

Eiffel 65: Blue (1999)

It would have made sense if the Italian dance group chose the colour blue to reflect their love for the national football team. But in interviews, they stated since the song colour was picked randomly, they thought they may as well continue the weirdness by adding a nonsensical chorus in there, too. For the record, it’s: “Blue, Da Ba Dee Da Be Da” as opposed to the more existential (and much better) “Blue, If I was green I would die.”

Baha Men: Who Let the Dogs Out (2002)

To be fair to the Baha Men, the song is true to the band’s ethos. The London-based Bahamian group have already produced four albums worth of Caribbean-flavoured pop far more interesting than this. A cover of Trinidad and Tobago’s Anslem Douglas’s 1998 song, the Baha Men recorded the track for the new Rugrats Movie. Since then, nearly every family film with a dog used the track for montages.

Joe Dolce Music Theatre: Shaddap You Face (1980)

Any song with a big accordion solo deserves some sort of recognition. The American-born Australian singer-songwriter Joe Dolce is also a published poet and essayist. His earlier songs in the 1970s were folk missives against the Australian government for their treatment of newly arrived refugees. Shaddap You Face is a witty take on the immigrant story, an ode to his grandparents who met most of Dolce’s young gripes with “What’s the matter, you?” and “Shaddap you face.” The song topped the chart in 16 countries and was the highest-selling Australian single for more than three decades.

Haifa Wehbi:  Boos

El Wawa (2006)

It was the question intriguing the public and bothering the censors: what is this Wawa that the Lebanese pop-star is asking us to kiss? According to the innocent video and the widely accepted translation of this Arabic colloquial term, wawa means owie; English slang for minor injuries sustained by infants. Not everyone was convinced, however, and such misgivings ensured its hit status across the Arab world.

Thank God we are Not Nigerians/Ghanaians (2012

A witty musical rivalry spawned off the back of Ghana’s Pidgin-rap duo FOKIN Bois track Thank God We Are Not Nigerians. The song, a viral hit on YouTube, released last year before a friendly football match between both nations, contains the couplets: “You created Nollywood, yes more of it/ But too many witches and wizards in your films/ Thank God we’re not a Nigerians.” Not long after, an anonymous Nigerian singer posted a retort with put-downs including: “Our traditional rulers are cruising around in Bentley, Mercedes Benz, and BMW/ But yours are still hanging on wooden limos. Charlie, thank God we are not Ghanaians.”