“Here, watch this,” said my friend’s sixteen-year-old brother, handing us his phone. Justin Bieber’s “Baby” music video – which you can find here – was beginning to play on his screen. I rolled my eyes.
I wish I could chalk up my lack of “Bieber-fever” to maturity instead of my America-cultural illiterateness. Yet my South Asian friends often attempt to connect with me over someone from the popular music world and I find myself at an unfortunate loss. They look on, mildly alarmed, as I hum a tune I think is Michael Jackson or admit I know Rihanna is a singer, but when it comes to any lyrics…
“This dance is fun!” says my friend as the girl in the video dramatically spurns Bieber.
“Sure.” I try to sound enthused.
“But…” she hesitates. “He sounds like a girl.”
“Well, umm… a lot of boys sound like that before… uhh…”
“Is this hip hop?” asks my friend.
“Well, no I don’t think so,” I reply.
“Hip hop comes from America right?”
“And ‘Pops’ and ‘Rocks’ also come from America?”
“They are popular in America.” Assuming you mean ‘pop’ and ‘rock’.
The video ends with a repeat of the chorus, which is – essentially – “Baby, baby, baby, ohhh. Like baby, baby, baby, no. I thought you’d always be mine.”
“What does it mean?” she asks.
I translate the gist of the song.
“Wait! This is a sad song?” she exclaims.
I stop for a minute. The upbeat music and “fun” dance moves conveyed the complete opposite.
“Yes,” I affirm, unsure how to explain any further.
She hands the phone back to her brother, looking very confused by her encounter with Bieber.
Glad I’m not the only one!