5 years ago, no one had heard of Honey Singh. He was born Hirdesh Singh but is now known as Yo Yo Honey Singh, the rather strange appellation that he insists upon going by. Today, he is everywhere – on the radio, in music videos, in movies, in nightclubs and blasting from the speakers of ‘shikari’ cars. Honey Singh not only commands fawning adulation from the masses in his native Chandigarh and Punjab, but has the rest of India shaking a leg to his music; he even has top Bollywood stars such as Shah Rukh Khan dancing to his beats.
What make Honey Singh the phenomenon he is? His is an unremarkable face when shorn of the customary props – the shades, the hat, the bling. In spite of the many controversies he has been embroiled in, consider the following facts about Honey Singh:
- He has 7.7 million+ likes on his Facebook page
- He has fans in 27 countries
- His YouTube videos have been viewed over 210 million times and counting
- He is demand to perform all over the world; has shared the stage with A listers such as SRK, Madhuri Dixit, Rani Mukherjee
- His is Bollywood’s highest paid singer. He was reportedly paid Rs. 70 lakh for his song in upcoming film Mastaan (yet to be released)
- He topped the chart for trending videos on YouTube for the year 2012 with his song Brown Rang
Honey Singh has his finger on the pulse of today
His songs constantly among top chartbuster lists – think of some of the top recent songs and it turns out Honey Singh sang them or composed the music or did both. Songs such as Angreji Beat Pe (from the movie Cocktail), Rani Tu Main Raja (Son of Sardar) Break up party, Kikli Kalirdi (Luv shuv te Chicken Khurana), Party on my Mind (Race2) Lungi Dance (Chennai Express), the Title Track and Party All Night (from Boss).
Quite simply his songs stick in the head – hummable tunes, thumping great beats and terrific hooks mean that there is not a party or a club or a radio station that is not playing one or other of his songs.
Honey Singh is rooted in his ethos. It is well known that he prefers to sing his songs in Hindi and Punjabi rather than English. Though the natty suits, the carefully tended facial hair and the rapper bling could have belonged to any international artist, his music retains an essentially folksy, desi sound and feel. It is rather apt that his album is called International Villager – the album that featured his No 1 hit Brown Rang.
Though he plays a cool dude in many of his videos he has displayed an ability to laugh at himself too. His ability to draw on current lingo, to use street speak in his songs makes his music instantly relatable. His finger on the pulse of the youth is certainly a part of his attraction.
The controversial Honey Singh
So what of the controversy that surrounds the man, his music and particularly his lyrics? While purists may scoff at his musical renditions and the more erudite may scorn his success, there is also the more serious charge leveled against the man – that of belittling women and encouraging violence towards women. Certainly his lyrics are… ahem! Unusual to say the least:
Dhoyegi tu kachche,
Aur gande bartann
Dekhegi saas bahu aur durdarshan
Banke reh jayegi tu house biwi
Aur chaubis ghante tera yaar hoga on TV
Phir TV dekh ke tu bahot pachtayegi
Fir yo yo honey yo yo honey singh hi tu gaayegi
Aur bachcho ko sunayegi aur yehi batlayegi
Agar galti se mujhse na hota ye paap
Toh yehi hote bachcho tumhare baap ha.
These lyrics penned by him from his song Break Up Party are certainly not the conventional warbling of the heartbroken lover who has been dumped. In his interview Honey Singh defended his lyrics saying this was his way of telling heartbroken young people not to wallow in misery after the breakdown of a relationship; but instead to get on with life and to cock a snook at conventional suffering.
Yo Yo Honey Singh feels that he and his music are a reflection of the times that we live in; that he isn’t being offensive just being made a subject of controversy. Indeed he doesn’t seem to court controversy – even at the height of the controversy when his New Year Eve concert was ultimately cancelled, he was not much in evidence in the media. In one of his rare interviews, the rapper claimed that he never wrote, composed or even listened to any song that demeaned women or which in any way encouraged violence against women.
Even more recently the Delhi High Court ordered that offensive words be deleted from his song Party All Night (Boss). So for some reason controversy and Honey Singh continue to be more than nodding acquaintances. He may or may not court controversy, but controversial he remains. And this controversy keeps him firmly in the spotlight. If this inevitably draws attention to his highly listenable songs, well so much the better for him.
He claims to be misunderstood. Others claim he is obscene, vulgar and pernicious. I freely admit that most songs I have heard of his I have enjoyed – I think the Break Up Party song is hilarious. Even the lungi dance, which both my daughters know verbatim, is to me a great song, and one that makes me laugh – especially Singh’s faux South Indian accent and the nonsensical lyrics. Since I could not find any evidence of the alleged song sung by Honey Singh (which is supposed to admit to and encourage violence against women) and as someone who enjoys the music of Yo Yo Honey Singh, I for one am willing to give the signer the benefit of the doubt.