Hirdesh Singh aka Yo Yo Honey Singh dreams of winning a Grammy. He’s even got a rap number about it. But don’t you snigger yet. It has been a whole year since he was booed off the stage and into courtrooms for allegedly crooning to rather excessively derogatory lyrics in a track titled Main Hoon Balatkari or I am a Rapist (a court later ruled there was no proof linking him to the song). But tables have turned, and how.
The 30-year-old rapper from Hoshiarpur is on a career high that industry insiders are terming “the biggest on the pop circuit in recent times”. At an award ceremony recently, Shahrukh Khan, who Yo Yo collaborated with on last year’s massive hit Lungi Dance, anointed him ‘Hero of 2013’. Barely a month into the new year, Yo Yo delivered two breezy hits—Sunny, Sunny and ABCD from Yaariyaan.
And as an ultimate stab at redemption and legitimisation, he has rapped to the music and lyrics of Vishal Bharadwaj and Gulzar, the most ‘respectable’ duo producing critically acclaimed songs, in Horn OK Please from Dedh Ishqiya. Yo Yo’s is now the face of celebrity events, bling modelling alongside the movie stars. No wonder the popular joke in Punjab these days is: ‘Pitbull in your song is out, Honey Singh is in.’
But Honey Singh never meant to strike gold as ‘Yo Yo Honey Singh, the rock star’, as he calls himself. In an interview to film critic Anupama Chopra last week, Yo Yo defended himself saying the language he uses is the vocabulary of today’s youth. He’s simply a product of his times. “’Bomb figure’, that’s how they talk. When I composed a song on Bhagat Singh, it flopped. But my other songs about partying and all that are superhits!” He claims he wants to “represent Indian swag, without singing in English”.
“He does speak to the masses, in their language,” says lyricist-singer Swanand Kirkire. “It’s a disturbing reality, but his point of view seems to be working. For example, in Party All Night, when he sings Aunty police bula legi, he connects directly with his young audience.”
And now that he has made it big, all of Bollywood is trying to claim him. From rapping in peripheral music circles since 2006, a stint at Trinity School, UK, and then back to the Punjab-Haryana belt, Yo Yo has cleverly moulded himself to the mainstream format. “He has alienated himself from his earlier aggressive tone, and restricted himself to the populist sphere,” notes musicologist Pavan Jha, who feels everyone in the industry, legends included, is now compelled to consider Yo Yo’s commercial worth, reach and ability to roll out earworm after earworm. He’s still ruffling feathers, of course. “He’s not welcome for many composers and artists because his tracks tend to dominate the album, and they feel threatened,” says music critic @rohwit, who prefers to be identified by his Twitter handle.
But on his steep ascent to a certain kind of acceptability and clout, he’s got the industry muscle backing him. For major labels T-Series, Shemaroo, Honey is the flavour of the season. “There is a lot of support from within the commercial forces in the industry to cement Honey Singh in the national sphere, and he himself is aligning himself to the needs of the mainstream,” believes Jha. Toning down his bad boy image, and cleaning up his act somewhat seems to have won him fans from unexpected quarters. Even those who dismissed him earlier are happy to shake a leg to his chartbusters. “Ultimately, it’s the way he plays around with his beats that wins. They are repetitive, but there is an intricate interplay between beat and tune, great rhythm, combined with a cheeky choice of lyrics that make for a guilty pleasure listen,” sums up @rohwit. Like it or not, last year’s ‘despicable’ rapper is Bollywood’s latest item number.
His Tune’s A-Changin’
Main Hoon Balatkari (2011-12)
Peeche se aaya main
Utari uski saari...
This was the highly-controversial track that glorified the rape of a woman who was alone at night that led to an FIR against Honey Singh
Re monsoon ka mausam aaya
Tan mann me romance hai chhaya
Ab tto hans ke bol re chhori
Tere liye ik cheez hun laaya
Dekh ke jisko jhoom padegi..
Endorsed by Anurag Kashyap, the video featured Singh as Satan with his slaves around him, the ‘weed pila de’ line alternated with ‘neat pila de’
Lungi Dance (2013)
Moochhon ko thoda round
Anna ke jaisa chashma lagake
Coconut me lassi milake
Aa jaao sare mood banake...
This massive hit cements Singh’s endorsement from the top rung in Bollywood (read: SRK), as well as a fan base down south
Blue Eyes (2013)
Blue eyes hypnotise teri kardi ai mennu
I swear! chhoti dress mein bomb lagdi mennu
Glossy lips, uff yeh tricks...
The feminists raised a brow at the ‘bomb lagdi mennu’ reference, but it didn’t stop the song from becoming a hit on radio
Sunny Sunny (2014)
Aaj blue hai paani
Paani pani paani paani paani
Aur din bhi sunny
Sunny sunny sunny sunny sunny
Aajaao on the beach yaar...
This breezy track singlehandedly lifted youth film ‘Yariyaan’ to become January’s biggest earworm, cheesy lyrics no bar
Yo Yo Swing
- After six years of Punjabi rap with limited success, hits rock bottom with the Balatkari song, which he claims he didn’t write, only sang; later denied singing too.
- FIR filed against him for lewd music, later all cases quashed by Chandigarh HC due to “lack of proof associating the vulgar numbers with Honey Singh”.
- Activists launch online petitions calling for a ban on his shows due to offensive lyrics against women, some shows cancelled.
- Zooms to top of the popularity charts with Lungi Dance from Chennai Express. He is now supposedly the highest paid artiste in Bollywood music.
- Controversy strikes again with song Party All Night for film Boss being pulled up for an offensive word. The word muted by Censor Board.
- More hits, collaborations; is now face of award ceremonies, celeb cricket events, endorsed by stars like Shahrukh. Works with Gulzar-Vishal Bharadwaj for Dedh Ishqiya.