Monday, October 22, 2012

Laowai Style - the lyrics! (a Gangnam parody)

Ganging Up

Unless you have been based in the most rural parts of China without Internet access for a year, you will have come across the Gangnam Style music video (over 500 million views on YouTube!) - extremely catchy and definitely fun. And as with most popular music on the Net, that video has been parodied to death.

The "Laowai Syle" parody is of particular interest to us in the Chinese/Mandarin circles, and a number of sites & blogs are already linking to it, such as Confused Laowai, ChinaSmack & Lost Laowai.

Here's the video, have a watch if you haven't already. The lyrics written by Jesse Appell for this parody are really good, and they contain some interesting insights into Mandarin, which are worth exploring - and I'll do that below.



Finding the lyrics

I've looked around the web trying to find the lyrics - and came up empty-handed. So I spent some time this evening transcribing the lyrics off the above video. I opened a nice bottle of South African red wine to help the process (1999 KWV Cabernet Sauvignon, sometimes I spoil myself), and overall had a good time.

Along the way I fixed a couple of spelling errors that appeared in the official subtitles, especially the one entire line about the BMW, where they got it totally wrong!

And for those wanting to make it a little intellectual, I have included some "lessons" that might be extracted from the lyrics - you can find them in the final section of this post, below.


Laowai Style - lyrics

大哥是老外Style (This guy is Laowai Style)
老外Style (Laowai Style)

大哥是长期住在北京的老外
(I'm the type of Laowai who's lived in Beijing a long time)
每天吃中国菜也不会用勺吃的老外
(The type of Laowai who eats Chinese food every day and doesn't use a spoon)
过马路也不等红绿灯变绿的老外
(The type of Laowai who doesn't wait for the traffic light to turn green)
普通老百姓的老外
(Just a regular guy who's a Laowai)
哥是那种老外 (I'm that type of Laowai)
被朋友封为K歌之王那种老外
(Whose friends have crowned him the King of Karaoke, that kind of Laowai)
在清华研究中国文化的那种老外
(Who researches Chinese culture at Tsinghua, that kind of Laowai)
觉得燕京喝酒本来好和那种老外
(Who thinks Yanjing beer is actually pretty good, that kind of Laowai)

大哥那种老外 (I'm that type of Laowai)

北京生活丰富多彩 (Life in Beijing is rich & vibrant)
拍照片就发微博 (Taking pictures and putting them on Weibo)
北京这城市,我不想离开 (This city of Beijing, I don't want to leave)
那么多中国朋友 (So many great Chinese friends)
哥们儿姐们儿跟我大声的说 (Guys and Gals sing it with me loud!)

大哥是老外Style (This guy is Laowai Style)
老外Style (Laowai Style)
大哥是老外Style (This guy is Laowai Style)
老外Style (Laowai Style)
大哥是老外Style (This guy is Laowai Style)

黑!老外来了! (Heeey! The Laowai is here!)
大哥是老外Style (This guy is Laowai Style)
黑!老外来了! (Heeey! The Laowai is here!)
大哥是老外Style (This guy is Laowai Style)

哥是大篮球打地特别臭的老外
(I'm the type of Laowai who sucks as basketball)
在秀水街买东西也不会被骗地老外
(The type of Laowai who buys stuff at Silk Street but doesn't get ripped off) ?
不开宝马骑着二手电动车的老外
(The type of Laowai who doesn't drive a BMW and instead drives a second-hand electric bike)
普通老百姓的老外
(Just a regular guy who's a Laowai)
哥是那种老外 (This guy's that kind of Laowai)
高峰期绝过避免北三环
(Who absolutely avoids the North Third Ring Road at rush hour)
那种老外 (That kind of Laowai)
省钱只有破破烂烂手机
(Who saves money by having a crappy phone)
那种老外 (That kind of Laowai)
只喝王老吉,不吃肯德基
(Who only drinks Wang Laoji and doesn't eat KFC)
那种老外 (That kind of Laowai)

就是那种老外 (I'm that kind of Laowai)

北京生活丰富多彩 (Life in Beijing is rich & vibrant)
拍照片就发微博 (Taking pictures and putting them on Weibo)
北京这城市,我不想离开 (This city of Beijing, I don't want to leave)
那么多中国朋友 (So many great Chinese friends)
哥们儿姐们儿跟我大声的说 (Guys and Gals sing it with me loud!)

大哥是老外Style (This guy is Laowai Style)
老外Style (Laowai Style)
大哥是老外Style (This guy is Laowai Style)
老外Style (Laowai Style)
大哥是老外Style (This guy is Laowai Style)

黑!老外来了! (Heeey! The Laowai is here!)
大哥是老外Style (This guy is Laowai Style)
黑!老外来了! (Heeey! The Laowai is here!)
大哥是老外Style (This guy is Laowai Style)

你跟我玩儿,你跟我一起玩儿 (Come play with me, everyone play with me)
世界各国朋友大家跟我一起玩儿 (Friends from all around the world, come and play with me)
你跟我玩儿,你跟我一起玩儿 (Come play with me, everyone play with me)
世界各国朋友大家跟我一起玩儿 (Friends from all around the world, come and play with me)

我说什么呢? (You know what I'm sayin'?)
大哥是老外Style (This guy is Laowai Style)

黑!老外来了! (Heeey! The Laowai is here!)
大哥是老外Style (This guy is Laowai Style)
黑!老外来了! (Heeey! The Laowai is here!)
大哥是老外Style (This guy is Laowai Style)

大哥老外Style (This guy is Laowai Style)



Laowai Style - lessons

(1)
老百性: Literally this is "old 100 surnames": The basic meaning, as I learned this evening, is 'regular' - as the lyrics suggest. It's like saying that it's what lots of people do.

(2)
When Niel from Confused Laowai linked to my blog, it was to a post entitled "The sentence with (the girl with (the dragon tattoo) )".  Yes, that heading does look a little confusing, but it's an interesting construct that is common in Mandarin, which is heavily relied upon in the lyrics of this song. First, read the above article I wrote. Then the following annotations will make more sense:

     大哥是(长期住在北京)的老外
     He is (lived a long time in Beijing)'s Laowai

     在秀水街买东西也不会被骗地老外
     ( (On Silk Street) (buy things) (not cheated) )'s Laowai

(3)
哥们儿: The official pinyin of this is "gēmenr" - 'gē'​being 'big brother', 'men' for plural, and 'er' for Beijing-style enunciation. Actually, this word sounds more like "gummer" and the closest translation I can think of for this is "Dudes" :-)

(4)
破破烂烂 (pòpòlànlàn): This AABB pattern is quite common in Mandarin - probably the most common one being 马马虎虎 (mǎmahūhū, or: horse horse tiger tiger), which means 'so-so' or 'neither here nor there'). In this case, the literal translation is broken-broken-spoiled-spoiled, which has the meaning in the English lyrics as "crappy".

Literary genius indeed!


Edits: (1) Corrected to 姓 as per Peckish' comment below; (2) Fixed the line relating to the BMW, thanks to a message from Yen about what it actually said!   


5 comments:

  1. Haha – watching that video is quite funny – cringeworthy at times .
    Great job with the lyrics and explanations as there’s actually a lot of useful vocab in there to study and a lot of ‘de’ patterns for re-enforcement. (The wine did a great job!)
    ‘老百性’ should this be ‘老百姓’ instead?You may or may not be interested in this but I first came across this concept in the book River Town by Peter Hessler. I read it before I went to China as I guess I thought the book would help with mental preparation. I copy a bit of this text from an essay on the book http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/7362 rather than try and find the location in the book where it was mentioned (that might take ages) and because the essay gives some cultural insight into the phrase’s origins.

    These rebellions became the stuff of legends, but had little practical impact. Over the centuries, the peasants came to believe that it was better to ignore politics than to be a part of it. Perhaps this sort of apathy is really a product of an instinct for survival. This solid, yet politically inert mass is referred to in Chinese as the “Old Hundred Names,” a reference to the folkloric belief that in ancient China, everybody belonged to one of only a hundred families, with a corresponding hundred surnames. There is an ethnic reference here as well; if you are “Old Hundred Names,” you are a “true” Chinese or “Han” person — not one of the non-Chinese tribes that subsisted outside the core of China in ancient times. As non-Chinese, these people often had different family names. Many of these people were assimilated and became “true” Chinese in time, but the idea persists.


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    1. Hi Peckish

      Firstly, well spotted on the typo - while I was transcribing I didn't notice that I used 老百性 instead of 老百姓. I will edit the post.

      Secondly, that's a fantastic quote, thanks for sharing it. I didn't realise there was so much of a story behind it. It's not uncommon for Chinese expressions to contains numbers ... like 十分 (ten parts, meaning 'completely') or 四周 (four circumference, meaning 'all around') ... so I thought 老百姓 included 100 as a general comment, not realising it was (originally, anyway) linked to a list of 100 names.

      Thanks again!

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  2. Great analysis and thanks for transcribing the lyrics!

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    1. Thanks to KWV, it was a lot more fun than it sounds! :-)

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