I thought about this last night at DJ Station in Bangkok as I listened to a Thai guy wearing skinny jeans and an asymmetrical punk haircut (in all honesty, they were so wearing him) mangling the lyrics to Katy Perry's "T.G.I.F. (Last Friday Night)" as only someone who doesn't speak a word of English can do. In fact, several songs later, as I was on the dance floor jumping up and down, shouting the lyrics to "If We Ever Meet Again" by Timbaland and Katy Perry, I noticed that people were staring at me. They looked confused. Either I was making a total ass of myself, or they simply had no idea what I was going on about.
Frankly, I'm perplexed, too. I've been back in Bangkok for exactly one week, and I'm still trying to figure out the pop culture. On TV, it's a strange, interesting mix of east meets west. Flipping though the channels, I come across Thai telenovelas featuring cheap-looking special effects and beautiful men and women overacting badly, several English-language news stations all over-covering the U.S. credit-rating drama (more overacting, this time from anchors feigning economic expertise), MTV (boy bands are still hot here!), and HBO.
Last week, HBO ran a Rocky marathon. One Rocky film per night. On Wednesday, I caught bits and pieces of Rocky III, and I was surprised by how little of it I actually remember. Oh good, It's Complicated comes on after Get Him to the Greek. It's a guilty pleasure. The Meryl Streep comedy, not the Russell Brand one. Who are you to judge me?
At the Irish pub where I had lunch last week, the playlist was a lot better than my cheese omelet. And eclectic, too. "What's Up" by 4 Non Blondes. "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears. "Creep" by TLC. "Wake Up Alone" by Amy Winehouse. How bizarre, I thought, wondering what genius had dug up this great, under-played Back to Black track. And how bizarre that I heard "How Bizarre" by OMC, too. You never hear that one anywhere anymore. May Winehouse and OMC's Pauly Fuemana rest in peace.
At night, the musical selections are a bit more predictable. Everywhere I go, I seem to hear or see (via video) the same old songs: "Run the World (Girls)" by Beyoncé, "The Edge of Glory" by Lady Gaga, "Till the World Ends" by Britney Spears, "S&M" by Rihanna, and remixes of Jennifer Lopez's "I'm Into You," Bruno Mars' "Grenade" and Adele's "Rolling in the Deep."
At DJ Station, all of the drag queens want to be black divas. Last night, one was Whitney Houston lip syncing to "A Song for You." Another was Lionel Richie impersonating Diana Ross cooing "Endless Love." A Ciara lookalike did Paula Abdul's "Straight Up." As I watched her clunky dance moves, I wondered why drag queens don't seem to care about Donna Summer. "She World Hard for the Money" should be a drag anthem!
But the bigger question is how the queens can so perfectly mime English lyrics when the music is playing, while barely being able to string together a complete sentence in English when it's turned off. Then it hit me: That's the power of music, of entertainment. It crosses borders, uniting people from all over the world all over the world. Politicians would kill for that kind of power. Lady Gaga and Katy Perry already have it.