Perhaps like no other Pakistani song before it, Pasoori, has broken out as an international hit.
Much has been said about Pasoori, and despite this there is still space to wonder why this song is so appealing. Hits can never be explained perfectly. I’m adding my two cents in the hope that the best parts of Pasoori may be replicated by more Pakistani music.
Pasoori’s musicality is modern, without identifiably belonging to a particular genre. To South Asian ears, the vocal melody draws from a familiar vocabulary. But there are no extended classical alaaps, no overt desi tropes that bound the song to be from Pakistan. The instrumental arrangement draws on the trends of modern pop from across the world, which makes the song relevant to global ears without a barrier to entry.1
Above all, Pasoori is unpretentious. It is fun; it doesn’t try to be something to certain people; it just tries to be a good song. And it is. Often songs feel the need to make a point. To fight a holy fight with a goal to disrupt their audience’s thinking. Pasoori does not. It’s not trying to change who you are, it tries to help you be you. And it does that for a whole lot more people than anyone expected.
The song’s video is more rooted in a place, and while that place seems Pakistani it shares elements from other locations. In a sense it is reminiscent of Akbar Ahmed’s play Noor, which is located in an ambiguous Muslim country – identifying that many of the concerns of these societies are shared. While the video is less homogenous with global culture than the audio, instead of pushing away foreign audiences it pulls them in. The video here is an adornment to the song, and the cultural emblems within provide reason for interest. The audio is what sticks and becomes the hit.