Dancing to Punjabi songs in the club after a few drinks with our friends is a fond memory we all have of a pre covid era. Their upbeat tunes, catchy lyrics and famous dance steps make the songs impossible to groove to. However, while these songs go on to become a #1 hit, it is about time we pay attention to their lyrics too. We’ve all sung the chorus of popular Punjabi songs at some point in our lives but rarely ever given thought about what the rest of the song is saying. Well, it’s high time we do.
Bollywood has been known to frequently remix original Punjabi songs but somewhere along the line, the song’s original message seems to get lost. Punjabi music in Bollywood is so popular that it accounts for almost 15% of Bollywood’s streaming music and is second to obviously, Hindi songs. These remixed Punjabi songs tend to perpetuate the already rampant themes of sexism, women objectification, stalking, toxic masculinity among others that are already rampant in Hindi Bollywood songs. A close look at most of the popular and trending Punjabi songs will show you how they mostly tend to stereotype women in the worst way possible.
Punjabi culture is portrayed as being solely all about the money
The stereotype of Punjabi’s living lavishly has been around for quite some time but some of these music videos take it a few steps further. Many regional, as well as Bollywood singers, tend to focus their songs around fast and expensive cars, foreign locations, large mansions and high-end brands. In fact, many popular songs even name brands like Gucci, Prada, Armani and of course, the people’s favourite- Lamborghini.
Song’s like Simranjeet Singhs ‘Gucci Armani’ or Jass Manak’s ‘Prada’ only perpetuate the notion that all Punjabi’s care about is living opulently while showing off their money and branded clothes and cars. In fact, popular Bhangra dancer and singer Mika Singh says "Punjabi dil se hi branded hote hain (We come branded at heart). A lot of people may own Hummers, but no one in Asia has an orange one. My favourite watch is the Rs 40-lakh Rolex”.
While excessive opulence may be a trend that most Punjabi singers want to actively showcase in their song, their portrayal of Punjabi women has been often seen as subliminally offensive.
Punjabi songs tend to portray women as ‘Gold Diggers’
It is no secret that Punjabi songs tend to showcase their ‘Live life king size’ ideology in their music. However, a running theme in recent popular Punjabi songs is how only men can afford this lifestyle and women are often asking their boyfriends to buy them expensive things and if refused, they would leave them or sulk till they are given those things, thus earning the ‘gold digger’ tag.
The song ‘Naah’ by Harrdy Sandhu has garnered a staggering 486 million views on YouTube with the main premise of him denying his girlfriend shoes, earrings etc. With lyrics like ‘Oh kudi mainu kehndi ,Mainu jutti lai de sohneya, Main keha naah goriye’ ( The girl says to me Get me a pair of shoes darling I say no darling No darling!). Throughout the song, Harrdy sings about the list of demands his girlfriend keeps making and how he sings because he cannot keep her happy.
Another superhit song ‘Lehenga’ by Jass Manak, with a shocking 1 Billion views on Youtube, resonates the same message. In the video, we see a good looking couple arguing over how the girlfriend want’s him to buy her a new pair of shoes and as she passes a shop, she also wants him to buy an expensive lehenga. Throughout the video, we see her sulking and pleading with the boyfriend to buy her stuff while he keeps saying no but then ultimately gives in to her request and they live happily ever after (insert major eye roll here). With lyrics like ‘Mainu lehenga, Mainu lehenga lai de mehanga ja marjaneya’ (Get me a Lehanga dress. Buy for me that Lehanga dress, baby) allow listeners to have a mindset that a woman will only want to be with a rich man simply because she wants expensive things.
‘Damsel in Distress’ is also a running theme for women in Punjabi Songs
Apart from being portrayed as a gold digger, women are also shown to be incapable of fulfilling their own desires for the finer things in life and hence, need their boyfriend to fulfil that. While not all Punjabi songs portray this, the majority of the ‘popular’ once’s that I have heard seem to have this running theme.
‘Lamberghini’ by The Doorbeen was arguably one of the most played dance songs in 2019. While we all loved the catchy chorus and it’s trending dance steps, the lyrics seem a bit off-putting. Throughout the song, the girl seems to be asking her friend for a ride in his ‘Lamborghini’ because she has fallen in love with him after seeing his fancy car. While a great party song, it’s lyrics have sexist undertones and is added to the growing list of songs that portray women as financially incapable.
The song ‘Palazzo’ by Kulwinder Billa & Shivjot is equally problematic. The video shows the actress walking downstairs in her palazzo’s and two men checking her out. When she complains to her boyfriend about them, he simply laughs at the men’s remarks and instead blames her for looking beautiful and attracting their attention. With lyrics like ‘Je 3-4 gabru halaake kitte na, fayada ki palazzo paake nikle da’ (if 3-4 men do not get killed by your looks, what is the use of getting dressed up in a palazzo) it reinforces the idea that women solely get dressed up for men and to cater to the male gaze. The fact that she cannot defend herself and has to rely on her boyfriend to ‘save her’ from the multiple men that are stalking her, only seem to perpetuate the outdated ‘damsel in distress’ notion.
While many of the trending Punjabi songs seems to be completely sexist and politically incorrect, not all Punjabi songs echo the same ideals.
Singers are trying to change the sexist image that Punjabi songs have garnered
In an interview with Hindustan Times, singer Jasbir Singh points out everything that is wrong with the Punjabi music that Bollywood seems to be churning out. He says “ Bollywood isn’t my target at all. The problem with Bollywood is that earlier the lyrics used to be lighter and these days it’s too much swearing and trash in the songs. So I have to say no to songs that do become hits later on but are essentially very dirty. So I feel that if I sang those songs, even I won’t be allowed to break bread at the dhabas in Punjab like a few other singers”
Singers like Gurdas Mann, Harbhajan Mann or Hans Raj Hans seem to do justice in trying to bring out the true essence of Punjabi music and that is exactly what Jasbir Singh is trying to achieve too. “We wanted to make a different song from the ones we hear these days. One with clean lyrics because Punjabi songs do get blamed now for promoting swearing, violence and vulgarity. We wanted to avoid that and make something good”, he says.
Music tends to influence a lot of its viewers and hence they should aim at empowering women by not portraying them as ‘gold diggers’ or financially dependent on their boyfriends solely for materialistic purposes. So while we all want to dance to the next trending Punjabi song at a party, we also want them to be more socially accurate and accountable for the kind of message they are putting forth.