Golden Globes history was made last week when RRR became the first ever Indian film to win at the awards. Getting the gong for Best Original Song, RRR’s stand-out track ‘Naatu Naatu’ accompanies a brilliantly choreographed, intense dance sequence in this alternate history epic.
Winning the Best Original Song award is no small feat for a relative outsider, especially when the competition is pop royalty; other nominees were Rihanna, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga.
And it’s not just that a film from the so-called Tollywood (Telugu language) segment of Indian cinema won that’s impressive. RRR was also the first Telugu-language film even to be nominated for a Golden Globe, and it’s the first-ever Asian film to win the best song award.
But what’s so different about ‘Naatu Naatu’, compared to the other nominees and previous winners?
The answer: a lot.
In fact, the song’s sound is so different, that we might well look back on this win as a watershed moment for Hollywood’s recognition of Indian cinematic music.
Traditionally, the songs that win in this category are slow (sub-110BPM), heartfelt pop ballads with medium and low energy. We’re talking tracks like Gaga’s ‘Shallow’, and La La Land’s ‘City of Stars’. In the last ten years, Bond themes have won twice, with most of the rest accompanying melancholy cinematic moments.
‘Naatu Naatu’, written by musical director M. M. Keeravani and lyricist Chandrabose, couldn’t provide greater contrast. It’s the centrepiece of a high-energy routine in which the two lead actors (and singers), Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava, engage the British in a dance-off. Spoiler Alert: the film’s heroes dance their enemies to exhaustion.
Consequently, the sonic character of ‘Naatu Naatu’ is a massive departure from any previous winner.
Several things separate the track ‘Naatu Naatu’ from previous winners. The first is energy. With its high energy, it’s in the minority. The only other winning track in the last ten years with remotely comparable energy is Elton John’s ‘(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again’, which featured in Rocketman, the biopic fronted by Taron Egerton.
The second big difference is mood. The Musiio tagging AI recognises that the track is primarily Frantic with elements of Euphoric, Dancy and Restless moods. This is diametrically opposed to the Heartfelt and Melancholy moods that tend to win in this category.
Genres are entirely different too. The AI detects Electronic and Indian genres for ‘Naatu Naatu’ – two genres that are completely absent from the last 10 years of winning track data.
And, with a tempo of 160 BPM, it’s over 30 BPM faster than any other winning track in the last decade. To call this a departure would be a massive understatement, but it’s a welcome one.
Who might we have predicted would win based on the mood, genre, tempo and energy data from previous winners? Rihanna’s ‘Lift Me Up’ from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the nearest match to previous years. But, as awards begin to appreciate a wider variety of cultures, we cannot rely on past data.
Fundamentally, the inclusion of films from other cultures does masses for wider cultural understanding, and is long overdue. The days of non-Western films being relegated to ‘Non-English Language Film’ categories seem to be numbered. And we hope to see more nominations now Oscar season is nearly upon us.
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