The psychology of cringe-pop fans: Why people like Omprakash Mishra’s Aunty ki Ghanti?
From taking to the streets to “celebrate” his song to sending death threats to a journalist, who demanded YouTube to remove the video, there are plenty of fans who defend YouTuber Omprakash Mishra’s Aunty ki Ghanti song as “entertaining” and “catchy”.
The self-proclaimed ‘Rap King’ is the latest to join the likes of Dhinchak Pooja and Taher Shah, who are regarded as the stars of cringe-pop – a genre of pop music which is “so bad that you cannot stop watching them”.
Some 30,000 people on YouTube have liked Mishra’s song, which most critics have called out for its crass and violent sexism. Many have criticised the song for its “cringe-worthiness” and its suggestive and misogynistic lyrics have attracted intense media scrutiny.
Mishra’s song was released in December 2015 but got recently discovered by Indian meme pages, who catapulted him to social media stardom overnight.
The lyrics go something like this, “Bol na aunty aau kya, Sot mai lagau kya, Bol na auntie aau kya, Ghanti mai bajau kya (Aunty should I come over, Should I flap your boobs, Will you like a thrust. (Translation by ScoopWhoop)”.
In the song, Mishra talks explicitly about his desire to establish a sexual relationship with an older woman (aunty) and even slut-shames her.
“I don’t feel the lyrics are offensive. He has just used double meaning words,” Sumit Kumar Gupta, a professional from Delhi, says.
“For me ‘sot’ means so many things. Not only one meaning. When we go for a drink then we say, Bhai aaj sot lagani hai. When in office someone does a great job, we say, ‘Aaj to sot laga diya’.”
“We watch anything for our entertainment, and this song entertains us. That’s all,” he adds.
Varun Joshi, a mechanical engineer from Nangal, shares a similar view. “I have been listening to the song for some time now. I find it funny ... and so catchy,” he says.
Clinical psychologist Dr Pulkit Sharma explains why such “sexist” songs appeal to the masses, particularly men.
“In the recent times, people have been increasingly exposed to a variety of sexual stimuli on the internet. When people routinely watch such things, they develop a need for something more extreme, novel and away from the imagination to feel excited about. In that context, songs with slightly vulgar or off the track lyrics provide them with the desired stimulus,” Sharma says.
“Omprakash’s song appears to his fans as something new and off the track... We have heard/know of men having sexual relations with older women. But we did not have a song explicitly describing the act or expressing a desire for it,” he adds.
No doubt, his fan-base is made of mostly men and a look at his Facebook page supports it.
Then, there are others who don’t understand the lyrics. For them, it’s all about the entertainment factor.
“No, follow koun kar raha hai (lyrics)... koi knowledge thodi na provide kr raha hai vo (Who is following his lyrics? He is not providing any knowledge,” says Bhavesh Singh, a fan from Delhi.
“New style...thoda sa ye ki...different songs sun ne me maja. Enjoyment dete hai, Hasne ko bhi mil jata hai. (I like his new style. His song is different from others. Gives me ‘enjoyment’ and I get to laugh when I hear such songs).”
Paul Barsom, professor of music composition at Pennsylvania State University in Pennsylvania, United States, in a study listed several factors that might cause a song to be catchy - familiarity, cultural connection and repetition are some of them.
“We love the song for its lyrics. He uses a line everywhere “Sot lagani hai”. That’s so catchy,” says Delhi’s Gupta.
“His song makes me cringe but it also has a nice hymn to it. The chorus gets stuck in your head,” YouTuber Aditya Karda says.
However, Dr Sharma raises an important point here.
He says, “Music is about the vibration. If it’s a vulgar song, no matter whether you understand it or not, the message can be conveyed through the tune and other ways.”
A paper on ‘Women and Gender in Music’ has also detailed how ‘sexist’ messages are often “cloaked behind dance tunes or catchy lyrical hooks.”
Strangely, there are some who admit the lyrics are “sexist” but they do not find it problematic.
“Omprakash’s lyrics are sleazy, I agree, they have a dirty meaning to them, well this isn’t the first song of this type,” Karda says. He gives examples of other Bollywood songs to defend his point.
It cannot be refuted that the music industry worldwide is guilty of cashing in on ‘misogynistic’ lyrics. Hip-hop artists such as Eminem and Honey Singh have woven their songs with sexual metaphors and euphemisms. Bollywood, too, is infamous for normalising rape culture, stalking, and objectification of women.
“’Sexist’ songs often reflect the broader social attitudes, and our entertainment industry has a major role to play in normalising misogyny,” explains Sanjay Srivastava, professor of sociology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“Our celebrity culture tends to be socially conservative and deeply patriarchal in many ways. They don’t question or challenge regressive ideas. And when someone starts questioning, it seems outrageous to people. Take Kangana Ranaut’s case for example,” he adds.
While the song’s “vulgar” lyrics got people hooked on it, Mishra’s “ordinariness” also helped his fans relate to him more than other celebrities.
“I support him because he is just struggling as everyone does in their life,” says Gupta.
And as a YouTuber, Karda says he relates to Mishra’s struggle. “YouTubers work really hard. They burn the midnight oil to make videos. Only a YouTuber could feel how bad it would be for a fellow YouTuber to have his video removed,” he says.
Dr Sharma explains that such identification happens not just with the content but also with the star.
“Mishra is like any other ordinary folk, so people relate more to him (than Hollywood rappers or Bollywood celebrities),” he says.
Interestingly, even though Mishra has a strong male-fan following, he has a few female supporters as well.
“I find Omprakash very entertaining. The fact that he is delusional and he doesn’t know that he is annoying makes him funnier,” Fathemah Ali told the Hindustan Times.
Some female fans such as Fathima Begum have left comments on Mishra’s Facebook page in his support.
“If we accepted sunny leone...then what is the problem in this case? Make more like aunty ki ghanti,” Begum writes.
Dr Sharma states “herd mentality” as the possible explanation for it. “People find acceptability and pleasure in following the crowd,” he says.
What is worrying in Mishra’s case is the rise of a group of cringe-pop fans, who are laughing with him and not at him. They can even turn into social media trolls in support of their “star”.
As worrying as it may sound, Dr Sharma says with consistent exposure to cringe-pop, many have got immune to such songs and have started enjoying them. And Mishra’s “sexist” lyrics served as a stronger ‘stimulus’ for the mass.
So what’s the probable impact of such songs on the society?
“The biggest problem of such songs is that they perpetuate the ideas they draw upon rather than question the very ideas. In most other countries popular culture serves as a source of questioning. But we don’t have such songs where we question. That’s where the problem lies,” explains JNU’s Srivastava.
“It’s not that a person suddenly becomes abusive after listening to such songs. But it’s either one of the two things. Most people are indifferent or they don’t think it is such a terrible thing as it’s just a part of the popular culture,” he adds.
Will this trend change anytime soon?
“I don’t think in the foreseeable future the questioning will be on a major scale, but it will change as more and more young women begin to question,” Srivastava says.