Frodo, you’re not in Kansas anymore: Music abroad

One of the scariest things about living abroad is hearing the frightening English-language songs in bars and coffee houses that pass as music overseas.

Shanghai coffee house (not the one playing the song in question)

That’s not the scary part. No, scary part’s having to wonder if they’re playing these songs because they’re popular back home in North America.

I envision my future self returning home—like Frodo and Sam returning to the Shire in LOTR—only to find the Shire’s become as bad as Mordor.

China travel tip #81: Take pictures of other diners’ meals to explain to the waiter what you’d like. (Chengdu)

Right now as I slurp my noodles, the hostel cafe is playing a repetitive ditty that implores its listener:

Shut up and sleep with me, come on, why don’t you sleep with me/
Shut up and sleep with me, come on, uh-huh, and sleep with me/
Shut up and sleep with me…

Then comes the chorus: “Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up…”

You have to wonder, did the lyricists struggle with that “uh-huh” in the second line? You know, to make you think you know where he’s going and then, WHAM! He springs an “uh-huh” on you. Where did that come from!

Street music (Laos)

My friend Tanya went to England when Cher’s “Do You Believe In Life After Love?” song came out. It was the first song I recall that featured noticeable computer-aided pitch alteration to keep the singer’s voice in tune. Tanya said it was all the rage in the clubs. She told them that Americans would laugh if a DJ tried to play this crap at home. Then she came back and not only was the song a bigger hit in the United States, the computer-aided voice track would become an accepted staple of pop music, an innovation that would allow good-looking teenage dancers to finally take their rightful place as seemingly competent pop singers.

Victoria Peak (Hong Kong)

Speaking of which, about ten years ago I went to Germany right as American Idol was getting popular. The Germans were crazy over their incarnation of the talent show, called something like German Superstar. I told them, sure we had American Idol, but Americans weren’t stupid enough to fall for it that hardcore. After all, Americans couldn’t be manipulated quite as easily as the Germans. (This was before the Iraq War.) Then I come home to find all of primetime television had been replaced by a slew of second-rate talent shows. It was like Ryan Seacrest was screaming at me, “Hi Frodo! Welcome back to the Shire! Oh, by the way, while you were out…”

All I hope is that my North American comrades keep strong and do as this upscale Shanghai department store implores its independent-minded consumers…

Shopping mall display (Shanghai)

About sinestor

Originally from Los Angeles/Long Beach, California, I'm currently spending a year exploring the amazing world known as China. My main website is Every Day's a Holiday.


  1. “Shut up” is a rather tame epithet compared to the foul language that is all the rage here in North American pop hits lately. I was surprised last year to admit that I liked two of the catchiest songs on the radio, “F–k You”, by Cee Lo Green, and “F—‘n Perfect”, by P!nk. These are far from the only ones, but even Aurora, at four years old, wanted them (the radio-safe versions) on her “favourite music” playlist. Maybe I’m more sensitive about it now that I have a young child listening to the radio, but I remember when I was about 13 or 14, I would turn red with embarrassment every time a song about kissing, or “doing it”, or just about any song by Prince would come on the radio within our parents’ hearing. It wasn’t that often.

    • It wasn’t so much the language they used as the complete lack of originality. Or thought. The ‘singer’—to put it generously—was just saying the line over and over, as if to say, “Look, I can speak six words in English!” And I don’t have anything against rap either. It wasn’t rap. At least rap singers have to modulate their voices and think up more than one lyric.

  2. Tom Krogstad

    Bravo my friend. Some people might say you are sounding tike an old fart. But I don’t think so. Your words are well spoken because they are truly heartfelt. Everyone talks how each generation crosses a new line, and that has been true. But now We have lapsed from a series of isolated civilations that care to one worldthat doesn’t seem to. It’s gonna change now because it has to. The only problem – it has changed in the past because either mongol hordes or self-righteous new-worlders took over and imposed their vision. And we had to start again. Hopefully this time we can find a third way.

    • Uh-oh, I’m scared to think I might be crossing into the world of old-fartdom. Your point about (if I’m getting it right) separate civilizations that care to one big one that doesn’t, is right on. Maybe it is time to revamp my old organization: Apathy International.

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