31 January 2011

Hungarian Pop

I have been shamed by Hungarians for listening to their pop. I was told the lyrics were stupid (which applies to all pop music, really) and completely lacking the depth and imagery of their folk songs. They said it was "too American" and ridiculous. Did this stop me from watching VIVA? Absolutely not. Mostly because watching TV in Hungarian hurts your head after a while.

Barbee (ezalegjobb.jay.hu)
SP (neon.hu)
The funny thing is, I unabashedly like their pop. A lot of the music on VIVA was imported, but they have a pretty lively music scene considering the size of their country and the number of Hungarian speakers in the world. The first song I heard was "Kapj el!" by Barbee and despite the vapidness of the song, it was catchy. The next was "Ne add fel" by SP and I mostly loved it for being ridiculous, but then my love turned pretty serious. I began to listen to Hungarian pop more because it's simplicity made it possible for me to hear the words and figure out the meaning through my tenuous grasp of Hungarian. It's the equivalent of basic language instruction without a teacher or a textbook (but I was taking lessons).  So I kept watching it but I stopped telling people about it.

So why am I bothering to devote an entire post to something Hungarians claim is stupid and unrepresentative of their culture?  I came to realize that pop is unrepresentative of their traditional culture, but not of their culture.  I would make the same argument for American pop because it may not be rooted in tradition, but it certainly reflects the sensibility of the young generation.  Hungarians my age or older (I regrettably did not know any youthful Hungarians) talked about how Westernized it was, but I could only wonder if that is the generational divide.  Could the youth of Hungary be more westernized now than ten years ago?  I certainly could argue that they are given the prevalence of the internet and globalized communication.  They know what's cool in America.  It's hard not to know, but they still buy music in their own language!  VIVA, the MTV of Europe, does a very even balance of Hungarian and English music and I'm sure that's purposeful.  Hungarians are very protective of their language.

What I find commendable is that instead of merely consuming imported music, Hungarian youth are also creating their own pop music in their own language.  Hungarian is a very melodic language and people reiterated how great Hungarian is for music and singing.  This wasn't brainwashing because it's full of vowels, it employs a linguistic technique called "vowel harmony", and it really does roll of the tongue.  Vowel harmony groups vowels together to give the same quality of sound, which surprisingly makes speaking the language considerably easier once you get the hang of it.  I found Hungarian to sound very beautiful and melodic.  It makes sense that Hungarians want to carry the tradition of the language is music.  While it may not be as rich in tradition as folk songs, those songs are from a time that teenagers can't relate to unless they're still farming out in the backwaters.  Most of the consumers of pop culture are concerned with the modern world and not the agrarian past, which is understandable.  They have to learn to navigate a globalized world of diminished borders.  The perfect example of this is Nguyen Thanh Hien, who is a Hungarian pop singer.

Hien, as she is called, is a recent darling of the Hungarian scene.  She competed on Megasztár, a televised singing competition, and though she didn't win, she got a record deal out of it.  She was born in Vietnam but raised in Hungary.  Her song "Túl Szép" (Too Pretty) is a fantastic first hit for her because it's great and the message is so relevant to modern Hungarians (the video has English translation).   Her line "I hope you find beauty in my eyes, which were never blue" hits on the heart of the matter.  Hungary is not the most ethnically diverse place and the few minorities stick out like sore thumbs.  (I was never assumed to be Hungarian and I'm of white European stock.)  She is the face of a new, more globalized Hungary.  She's not ethnically Hungarian, but she's making a career of singing in Hungarian in the place she's lived most of her life.  She's collaborated with SP, another big hit at the moment who is Hungarian, a perfect image of acceptance.  Their collaborative song, "Tudom Jól" is pretty dang catchy, if I do say so myself.  But beyond this, the popularity of the song goes to show that the younger generation agrees with her and accepts her despite the obvious difference.

There are more artists than I'm highlighting here.  I mostly want to bring attention to the effort to preserve the unique tongue through modern vehicles.  If kids hunger after American things, at least they're bringing the culture of their language to the table and harnessing that energy.  I understand the sentiment that it's removed from Hungarian roots, but they're not forsaking their Hungarian identity entirely.  Hungary is now part of the Schengen zone so they are opening up to the world.  This means they have to consciously keep their culture and language alive and pop music can aide this.  Sure, the culture behind rap is not Hungarian, but language packs away culture.  Hungarian rap is not all about bitches, money, and Kristal, so one could say that these artists are not carbon copying, but putting on their own spin on the genre.  I will touch on rap in Germany later this week and this is a point I will bring up there.  The tradition of the music may not be culturally rooted, but it's not without cultural ties to the country.  I feel like although pop music is not the most rich source of culture, it's one way to preserve what you have in the face of Westernization and changing concerns.