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Norwegian Music Video Offends Kyrgyzstanis

For small, landlocked and little-known countries such as Kyrgyzstan, “self-branding” is a slow and difficult process. So, when stars from foreign countries arrive to shoot a video in your countryside, the hope is that the message they take home with them is the right one. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out like that.

Norwegian brothers and TV tag-team Ylvis, have created a stir among Kyrgyz Internet users with their song “Zhanym” (“dear”, or “my soul” translated from Kyrgyz). The two brothers, comedians and musicians Bard and Vegard Ylvisakers visited Kyrgyzstan last summer to record a song in a mixture of Russian and Kyrgyz, which they later released and performed in Norway. The lyrics of the original “Zhanym” were fairly innocuous, but their decision to perform an “explicit” version of the song for a Norwegian TV channel provoked a mixed reaction from local Internet users.

Almas Ysman, a blogger for RFE/RL's Kyrgyzstan service, explained [ru] befuddlement over Ylvis's x-rated version of Zhanym, linking to a now deleted video of their performance:

“Культурный шок” испытали многие кыргызстанцы после просмотра концертной версии сомнительной песни про нашу страну. На Youtube гуляет видео со скандальной песней “Жаным” в исполнении двух родных братьевYlvisåker, выступающих в группе YLVIS.

Все бы ничего, но в песне вперемежку с русским текстом используется жесткий мат на кыргызском языке. При этом братья размахивают кыргызским флагом, стоя на машине, где вместо номеров написано “шлюха” по-русски. А зрители, не понимая о чем поют братья, хлопают и радуются. Думаю, если бы то же самое спели на норвежском языке и про Норвегию, реакция в зале наверняка была бы другой.

Many Kyrgyzstanis experienced a “culture shock” having watched a concert version of a dubious song about our country. On YouTube there is a video of the scandalous song “Zhanym” performed by two brothers of the surname Ylvisaker, representing the group YLVIS.

It wouldn't matter, but in the song, subtitled with Russian text [the brothers] used harsh Kyrgyz swear words. Moreover the brothers flail around a Kyrgyz flag from the window of a car with the registration plate “Bitch No. 1″. And the [Norwegian] audience, not understanding what the brothers are singing about, clap and enjoy themselves. I think that if they had sung the same about Norway in Norwegian, the audience's reaction would have been a little different.

In particular, the rude phrase “Кандай коток” (“коток” refers to male genitalia in Kyrgyz) was in the eye of the internet storm that followed. Ylvis have since apologized, maintaining [ru] that it wasn't their intention to insult local people, and that they included the swear words as a way of ridiculing the show's producers, who had no idea what the words meant. The official video of the song, free of swear words, is below:

Social media users tended to either view the song as a lighthearted slice of nonsense, or as an insult promoting the wrong image of Kyrgyzstan.

Writing on the Kloop news blog, Ulan Shamiev said [ru]:

Браво! Молодцы, сразу видно что талантливые ребята))

Bravo!Good job, guys! I can see that they are talented))

Others found ulterior motives in Ylvis’ Kyrgyzstan adventure, ranging from the promotion of sex tourism to extreme cultural snobbery.

YouTuber Blujdayushiistrannik said [ru]:

Во первых , в этом видео создаётся межнациональная рознь. Во вторых , они жестоко матерятся. И на номере машины ВАЗ 2105 написано ” ШЛЮХА1 ” и , как это понимать??? Как Вам может нравиться эта ” песня “? Этим моральным уродам нужно ноги переломать! Их в самом мягком случае сажать в тюрьму надо( ну или на бутылку )! Такого ” видео ” не должно быть на YouTube , а для Норвегии позор то , что они позволили выступить таким людям перед публикой.

Firstly, this video creates inter-ethnic tensions. Secondly, they are cursing in Kyrgyz. And the number of the car is “Bitch 1″ – how should I understand it?? How can you like this “song”? We need to break the legs of such moral freaks! The softest solution should be putting them into prison! This “video” should not be on YouTube, and shame on Norway for allowing them to perform in public.

Photo of Ylvis performing on Norwegian TV, shared on the blog of Ulugbek Akishev.

Ylvis performing on Norwegian TV, shared on the blog of Ulugbek Akishev.

Journalist and music critic Ulukbek Akishev accused [ru] the duo of “knowingly spreading a false presentation of Kyrgyzstan” on his blog. Noting the reputation for tolerance of Scandinavian countries like Norway, Akishev bemoaned the absence of these values in the brothers’ performances before concluding [ru]:
В общем, я пока не меняю своего мнения о народах Северной Европы, как бэ, по таким дебилам мнение о народе не формируют

Generally, I will not change my opinion of the peoples of Northern Europe, since you don't go forming opinions on whole nations based on morons like them

One commenter on the Kloop news blog (probably) posed [ru] as a firebrand nationalist MP, Zhyldyz Zholdosheva, famous for her support for “Persona Non Grata” motions in the parliament:

Ih nado obyavit’ personami «NON GRATA»! Ya gotova vam dat’ interview po povodu etoy pesni i eye ispolniteley, pozvonite mne, «klooptsy». Deputat JK KR, Zhyldyz Zholdosheva

We have to declare them as “persona non grata”! I am ready to give an interview on this song and the duo. Call me, Kloop! Kyrgyz MP. Zhyldyz Zholdosheva

But Norwegian citizen Ivar Dale, who worked in Kyrgyzstan for a long time, argued [ru] on RFE/RL's Kyrgyz service that Ylvis would not have wanted to offend anybody on purpose:

Ylvis – это норвежские комики и довольно известные. Обычно их программы очень смешные.

Ylvis are fairly famous comics in Norway, and their shows are usually very funny

In addition to performing “Zhanym” the duo also shot [Nor] humorous episodes for the Norwegian channel TV Norge about their adventures in Kyrgyzstan, in which local blogger Ilya Lukash plays a starring role.

This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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