Hideous Swedish vegan-concious rapper Promoe released a new single a little while ago that sounded nothing like his previous material. "Svennebanan" (literally: Honky Banana, but figuratively a derogatory equivalent of Joe Sixpack) is a track heaping bile on the cultural practices of the Swedish working class, deriding their trips to Thailand, their musical taste and their use of morning-after pills. The music, in what Promoe believes is satirical move, is a simplified version of the kind of electro-rap that Maskinen puts out, and the video consists of supposedly authentic footage of people from Gothenburg out on a stag night on a Finland boat. (I swear my mother is briefly visible at 2:28.)
What no-one was probably expecting, least of all Promoe himself, is that the video has become extremely popular, the most viewed Swedish video on Youtube in fact. The single is predicted to become a huge summer hit, and the people buying it would be precisely the people mocked. (In effect a domestic, class-based version of tourist-watching.) If you read the Youtube comments, Promoe's fans are scoffing at the stupidity of Svennebanan, buying a song that makes fun of him, by someone who thinks he and his ilk are scum. By their way of seeing it, Svennebanan is a loser who doesn't get the ironic subtlety.
It seems to me the truth is probably the opposite. Svennebanan is working strategically, and knows exactly what he's doing. Because by adopting the song as their own, the Swedish working class is able to neutralise it and mock Promoe back in return. Just as epithets like "queer" have become symbols of pride for other oppressed groups, there are signs that "Svennebanan" could become a rallying anthem, a celebration of precisely the values that Promoe despises. That, of course, would be the real irony.
And of course it's nothing new or localised at all.
Mockingly adopting the values of the upper classes or the ruling elite is a classic way to turn the politics of music into your own. I was reminded of this while looking through Central >merican music the other day, and finding this track by Garifuna musician DJ Kabeto:
The Garifuna are some of the most smothered people on earth by the world music crowd. Super-hyped musicians like Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Women's Project are projected as the typically servile, pre-modern types who make pleasant music for the consumption of Europeans, while still prefferably living in grass huts, for the authenticity, y'see. The "traditional" culture of the garifuna is even protected by the UNESCO as world unique. As such, the pressures from outside must be horrendously strong to conform.
In that context, the subversion of DJ Kabeto is genius. Instead of making an urban video with cars and modernity, he pretends to visually go along with the grass huts theme. But then he pushes to ridiculous extremes, with fake tribal tat aplenty, "african" headdresses and hula skirts mocking the whole idea of a genuine indigenous culture. By displaying the ridiculousness of the world's stereotypes about the Garifuna, Kabeto is able to disseminate his message like no straight track could do.
Perhaps that should be the next step of Svennebanan too. I hope for the day the working class here in Sweden take it upon themselves to start making music for mocking their "superiors"...