Stay Dhinchak! Delving Into Dhinchak Pooja’s Stardom
(This piece was originally published on 25 May 2017 and is being republished from The Quint’s archives.)
A young girl in a white off-shoulder top laughs in a photograph posted on Facebook. The sunlight bounces off her shades as she poses in front of Delhi’s Lotus Temple. The photo is captioned "Stay happy for no reason”, followed by three emojis. It's a photo like any other, with one exception.
Posted on a page liked by 65,368 Facebook users, the top comment on the photo blames the girl's latest songs for causing "kaan mein... lungs mein cancer."
Welcome to the world of Dhinchak Pooja.
If you have been anywhere near social media recently, you've heard of Dhinchak Pooja. Or at least heard her viral songs ‘Swag Wali Topi’ and ‘Daaru’, 'Selfie Maine Le Li Aaj' – and her latest offering, ‘Dilon Ka Shooter’.
The cringe-pop genre has seen singers like Taher Shah and Vennu Mallesh attain cult following, and true to form, Dhinchak Pooja’s songs are truly cringeworthy. But a dive into her impressive online presence reveals a feisty young girl, loyal fans, a cut-throat world of YouTubers and online hatred which frames Dhinchak Pooja in a “how dare she” argument.
#StayDhinchak: Subverting Ideas of ‘Cool’
When I first saw ‘Swag Wali Topi’ on YouTube, I was confident I was watching a meta-commentary on the unironically cringeworthy mainstream hip-hop scene in India. Surely, Dhinchak Pooja repeatedly singing two words tunelessly while hanging out of a sunroof of an expensive car was a dig at the Yo Yo Honey Singhs of the world.
But, no. This was a legitimate music video. The YouTube comments for all her videos have been disabled, but a quick Twitter search for “Dhinchak Pooja” reveals the amount of elitist, and even misogynist, hate directed against her.
Dhinchak Pooja’s music is truly terrible, but those who mock her appear to be picking on her physical attributes and her self-obsession, not to mention the boys who dance awkwardly in the videos.
However, it is hard to ignore that in all three of her videos, she has dismantled the idea of a stylish, expensive music video set to celebrity auto-tuned voices – with an admirable devil-may-care attitude. The internet seems to be intent on making fun of her, when really we should be admiring her guts (and dare I say, genius?) in converting our tendency to ‘outrage-and-meme-fy’ into sustainable fame.
‘Sar Par Mere Rehta Taj’: Publicity, Covers and Power of Internet
On his Facebook page, DJ Hiten calls himself a producer and singer from Jalandhar. A day after Dhinchak Pooja’s ‘Selfie Maine Le Li Aaj’ was uploaded on YouTube, he posted a ‘cover’ of the song on his Facebook page.
The video has 2,09,000 views. Dhinchak Pooja endorsed DJ Hiten’s cover on her Facebook page, calling it "awesome". At the time of writing, the original song had nearly 5 million views on YouTube.
DJ Hiten is not alone. A quick search of Dhinchak Pooja on YouTube throws up numerous ‘react’ videos, roasts, "how to annoy" videos – all piggybacking on the inherent hatred and jokes Dhinchak Pooja’s music brings along with it.
Her songs have created a buzz which would be the envy of most PR firms. She appears to be fully aware of the attention. On her Facebook page, she posted a status slamming fellow YouTuber CarryMinati for making a video of her.
In response, CarryMinati posted a nearly nine-minute video on Dhinchak Pooja, titled ‘SHE IS BACK WITH SELFIE’.
‘Selfie Maine Le Li Aaj’: Bye Male Gaze
‘Selfie Maine Le Li Aaj’ has been called a lot of things by people – earworm, cancer, terrible. But watching multiple selfies of Dhinchak Pooja crowd my screen in a Picasa-like collage, I distinctly thought of the word ‘feminist’.
According to Laura Mulvey’s theory of male gaze, our view of the world is inherently masculine – we see people, things and places from a male point of view. In popular culture, selfies are perceived to be an activity that is dominated by women, and are thus looked down upon as being shallow, superficial and narcissistic.
But a selfie by a woman subverts that. In an essay published in Harvard Crimson, Nian Hu writes that when a woman takes a selfie, she "makes it abundantly clear that they do not need men, nor the male gaze, in order to feel beautiful".
So, Dhinchak Pooja’s unabashed celebration of ‘selfies’ in her latest song is liberating, and subversive. It’s almost as if she’s saying, “I don't care if you find me good looking. I think I am."
Cyberbullying, or The Ugly Side of Cringe-Pop Stardom
“They were all supportive and really enjoyed the video until I got this negative feedback.” These aren’t Dhinchak Pooja’s words, but that of Jacintha Morris. Remember her?
"My son-in-law asked me to pull down the video, but how could I? It was my dream project, something I had invested so much in,” Morris told Deccan Chronicle. The song ‘Is Suzann a Singer?’ from the 52-year old mother of two from Kerala, gained viral notoriety when it was released in 2016. She took the video off YouTube, after viewers called her a "sex maniac" and a "crazy woman".
In subsequent interviews, she said she was unaware of the possible repercussions of the video. She said she got "goosebumps" and "almost collapsed" when her family told her about the trolling she was facing on social media.
Dhinchak Pooja appears to be enjoying the attention, even if it centres mostly on relentless hate and jokes on her music. But at a time when online trolling is increasingly known to trigger dangerous real-time consequences, can Dhinchak Pooja live down the notoriety she has garnered with her ‘swag’?
Her Facebook page is littered with exhortations to #staydhinchak, in a manner reminiscent of most Bollywood celebrities’ adherence to their brand. Despite the memes and roast videos, it’s clear that it doesn’t matter what you and I think of her. Dhinchak Pooja thinks she’s a star. Her music is available on Google Play, Amazon music and iTunes. And as she firmly stays on the ‘Trending’ stack of the day, she’s having the last laugh.
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