We’re on a bus in Turkey. It’s 5am. And we’re ripped from sleep by none other than Celine Dion. The bus driver has put her Titanic hit on repeat and cranked the volume to 11 which, as you can imagine, kind of felt like an iceberg repeatedly ramming your face. At first we thought the driver had gone nutso, but as we me made our way around the world, we realized he wasn’t the only one.
We heard it blasting from a knock-off purse stall in a Bangkok night market. We heard it on Bali beaches, in Cambodian bars, Indian airports, and Saigon taxis. Then on a misty mountainside in the Himalayas, just when we thought we’d escaped it, our guide’s cell phone rings. Yup, it’s also a ringtone. The world’s obsession with the Titanic tune is unmatched. Near, far, wherever we were, it found us.
We were expecting to hear a lot more local music, whatever that means. Maybe some pan pipes, exotic single-stringed instruments, or warbling tribal vocals. But, as we found out, most people listen to American music (albeit a few years behind).
It wasn’t unusual to hear someone who speaks not a shred of English bust out with something like “Drop it like it’s hot!” and have no idea what it means. And we definitely weren’t expecting the black Escalade with ground-shaking bass, tinted glass rolled down to reveal Bedouins in white robes car-dancing to “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”. Or the Korean man who desperately wanted to know if Boyz 2 Men was still together, but had to ask us using hand signals and his cell phone playlist.
As the lunar New Year approached in Vietnam, a song called “Happy New Year” was playing EVERYWHERE. We wondered why Vietnamese people would write an English song for an Asian holiday, but then we saw the music video and realized it was ABBA. A very young ABBA. Is it possible they don’t even realize they’re Vietnamese pop-superstars??
As surprising and, thanks to Celine, creepy as it was, hearing familiar music made us feel closer to the people we were meeting. It gave us instant commonality. And as much as the world disagrees about, um, everything, it’s really nice to know that we can all agree Snoop Dogg is the shiz.