From Underground ‘Sutta’ to Mainstream ‘Kolaveri di’: Understanding Social Media through Changing Perceptions of Popular Music in the Indian Subcontinent

Vikas Jain


This paper is an investigation into the development of social media soundscape of South Asian cyberspace in the latter half of the decade of 2000s and the early years of 2010s. The locus that this paper treads in this attempt is the trajectory of changing perceptions of what has been called underground music as opposed to what is generally known as mainstream music. The inquiry begins by locating popular songs such as ‘BC Sutta’ released by the Pakistani singer Saqib Abdullah in 2005 and ‘Kolaveri di’ released by Telugu film star Dhanush in 2011 at the opposite ends of this spectrum. Neither of the songs was produced or distributed in the traditional manner by corporate production houses. Also to be noted is that both these songs became known and extremely popular, especially among the youth, only through circulation on the Internet. Why, then, was BC Sutta considered ‘underground’ and Kolaveri di as ‘mainstream’? The paper suggests that this owes to the development of Web 2.0 technologies, such as social media, that democratised and redistributed the agencies of production and consumption of popular music in South Asia. It argues that this democratisation takes place because of the reconfiguration and redistribution of what French Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu had called ‘Cultural Capital’, and what Australian scholars Michael Emmison and John Frow have identified as ‘Information technology as cultural capital.’ In this process, the paper also makes overtures toward providing a corrective to the lack – identified by cultural geographer Susan Smith – in culture studies of attention given to soundscapes.



Underground Music, Social Media, Youtube, South Asia

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