"My mom does not like you despite your fair face, you will not be spared if my dad comes to know about you, but still I love you boy…"
Thus goes the lyric of a popular Punjabi song called Jaani Tera Naa. The lines not only form the chorus but also the summary of the track.
Since its release in September 2017 on YouTube, the song has amassed a whopping 305 million views. The comments show that majority of the audience just adores the track.
From Yo Yo Honey Singh to Guru Randhawa to Badshah, digital distribution channels, especially YouTube, have helped Punjabi singers become immensely popular among a very large audience both at home and abroad in the recent years. Punjabi music has also grown a massive influence on Bollywood, which seems to be using more and more Punjabi tunes in its film tracks.
Livemint reported last year that streaming of Punjabi music was growing faster than Hindi music.
Music makes Punjabis who they are
Punjabi music is very catchy. You do not need to understand the language to feel the good vibes it produces.
"Punjabi, as a language, is bouncy and peppy. It resonates very well with music," Manmeet Singh of noted music director duo Meet Bros told Livemint.
In Punjab, music is a rich tradition, and a big part of the local culture and history. Poets have used Punjabi folk music to write ballads. There are musical varieties to celebrate different occasions – such as tappa music for winter festival lohri and suhag for weddings. Sufi and bhangra genres are also prominent.
Punjabi songs have lively rhythms and energetic beats. The music is played in salons, bars and gyms – places where people gather and spend a while.
Punjabi music has a special appeal in weddings and social events. Even those who are too shy to be on the dance floor will find it hard not to groove to the uplifting music.
Lyrics of Punjabi songs are mostly about trending subjects. The music easily connects with youngsters. In their personal lives, they often find themselves in situations that the songs describe – such as romance, branded clothes, friendship and college.
In Jaani Tera Naa, the idea that the girl loves the boy despite her parents' disapproval of him reflects relationship norms in the Indian society.
In Guru Randhawa's Made in India, which earned 488 million YouTube views, the boy is a taxi driver but wants to impress a celebrity girl.
Even though it breaks his bank account, he still rents a Maserati, an Italian luxury car, because it is more important for him to fulfill the fantasy of wooing a celebrity.
Big non-film music industry
The Indian music scene is dominated by Bollywood to a large extent, but Punjab has a strong independent music production scene. Punjabi music is not attached to films, and this enables artists to explore themes that the traditional film industry would not.
The Economic Times said that in 2018, Punjab had become the biggest non-film music industry in India. The industry worth 700 crore rupees was almost five times the size of the Telegu music industry.
The deep influence of Punjabi music has resulted in recreation of Punjabi tracks for Bollywood films, most of which have been big hits.
Manmeet Singh of Meet Bros told Livemint that Hindi film music has been incorporating Punjabi lyrics and tunes since the 1970s. "But the watershed moment was the arrival of YouTube in India in the mid-2000s."
Another key factor is Punjabi's proximity with Hindi. Those who understand Hindi will find it easy to grasp Punjabi, but not other regional languages such as Tamil or Telegu.
Pitfalls of digital popularity
The Punjabi music industry is where new pop sensations can reach stardom almost overnight. But rising on the back of digital distribution channels does not make artists immune to allegations of anomaly.
The credibility of YouTube views as a metric for success has often been questioned in the industry and allegations of artists and record companies engineering the views have surfaced.
But artists have denied this. Guru Randhawa, whose track Lahore accumulated 847 million views, told the Economic Times, "We upload our songs online and leave. We are not that jobless to devise ways to garner fake views."
According to Dinesh Auluck, cofounder of Punjab's largest music label Speed Records, YouTube views are a poor indicator of success.
Many new artists, he said, have millions of views but even 10 people would not show up if they announce a show.