Music | The Carnaval Novelty Song: Scourge of Brazil
By now everyone is familiar with the hedonistic sights and sounds of Brazil’s Carnaval, which reached its finale last week. But we should also take a moment to examine the short history of a cultural phenomenon that's become as synonymous with Carnaval season as elaborate floats, skimpy costumes and rampant promiscuity: the novelty pop song.
Every year some idiot-savant comes up with the feelgood hit of the Brazilian summer, a cartoonish earworm with the subtlety and nuance of a vuvuzela, which is blasted out of every car window and soundsystem, covered, spoofed and memed to death until Carnaval ends - at which point it is immediately consigned to the graveyard of history, as everyone sobers up.
As an outsider living in Brazil I've often considered making my fortune writing such a song, as it seems to require no discernible talent or effort. But it's surprisingly hard to predict what will catch on with the masses from one year to the next. The only common factor is that it should sound good blasting out of the back of a flatbed truck by the beach, and even that's stretching the definition of "good".
My first exposure to this cultural quirk was in 2014, when I first visited Brazil and "Lepo Lepo" was all over the airwaves like a bad rash. In many ways "Lepo Lepo" is the platonic ideal of a Carnaval one-hit-wonder: minimal production values, four chords, a lively pagode beat, a gibberish title which is apparently a euphemism for the singer's genitals, and a sprinkling of populism (the chorus goes: "I don't have a car / don't have a roof / if she stays with me it's because she likes my / ha ha ha ha ha ha ha lepo lepoooo"). It does very little to dispel unwanted Brazilian stereotypes, but perhaps that’s the point. The song and its authors, Psirico, were simply too beautiful for this world, and have not been heard of since.
In February 2015 I was based in England, so missed out on the musical herpes that is "Baile de Favela", but I was back in Brazil in 2016 for "Metralhadora" by Banda Vingadora, who stepped in at the last minute when it looked like Carnaval was going to pass by without a defining song. We are forever grateful for their efforts in those trying times.
In 2017 the scales tipped from mildly amusing to actively offensive with a tinny dribble of a song called "Deu Onda", whose coarse braying is a far cry from the tender romanticism of "Lepo Lepo". The chorus is "what am I to do? / My d*ck's in love with you". Hilariously, in the censored radio edit these lyrics were changed to “My dad’s in love with you”. I pray you never have to hear it.
(A quick aside: note the subtle difference between Carnaval one-hit-wonders and songs like "Ai Se Eu Te Pego" and "Beijinho no Ombro", which were also big hits during Carnaval but were obviously engineered to last a little longer, and are still played to this day. Similarly, "Gangnam Style" was imported from overseas in 2012, as was “Despacito” in 2017, but they’re too globally ubiquitous to really qualify here.)
Now the sound of summer 2019 has arrived, and it's bloody awful: the boorish narrator of Gabriel Diniz’s “Jennifer” tells his partner not to worry her pretty little head about the covert affair she’s just walked in on, and the chorus goes (and goes, and goes): “her name is Jennifer, I met her on Tinder, she’s not my girlfriend, but she could be!”. That’s about it. And they say chivalry is dead…
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