Dirt: Shadi goes viral
Unpacking the South Asian wedding Reel.
Osama Shehzad on what makes social media’s desi wedding dance content feel more authentic than performative.
After I saw the recently trending shadi dance video by "Quick Style" for one of their team member's Pakistani wedding, I immediately shared it with my sister. She replied with the usual "you just saw this?!" and then told me that she had found our mom on the couch with headphones plugged in, watching the same video and bobbing her head with a big smile. The video has garnered over 10 million views in a week. There are millions of other shadi dance videos on the internet — but why does this one feel different? Why is it so fun to watch?
Shadi dances are a group of reluctant acquaintances being forced to come together to dance at their mutual friend's wedding: two decent (and most eager) dancers in the front and others assembled in rows of descending ability (and enthusiasm) behind them. The Left Sharks in the back row (which is where I am always assigned) are there just to give the illusion that the bride and groom have a lot of friends who are willing to do this shit for them. However, as soon as the Famous Wedding Show video starts, you can tell this isn't that usual assemblage; here everyone is an insanely talented and professional dancer.
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Any South Asian can testify that we are bombarded with shadi dance videos on Instagram all the time. Shadi dances are an unfortunate requirement of the modern desi wedding. All of them are the same, some more terrible than the others, and at this point it is impossible to feel moved by them. Often friends will share videos of their dances, and I'll reluctantly double tap to like them just because I feel bad for the amount of effort they put into something so unnecessarily performative. It is here, on the Instagram Explore feed, that I first started seeing snippets of the Quick Style shadi dance. Quick Style is a Norwegian dance group with members of diverse nationalities and backgrounds. What irked me even more about these reels was how it was seemingly mostly white people dancing to Bollywood music. Why is it, I thought, that anytime white people do anything desi, it has to go viral to reward them for checking our culture out? I skipped these reels without paying much attention to them.
A few days later, as I was searching for a twelve to fifteen minute YouTube video to pair with my dinner, I noticed the "FAMOUS WEDDING SHOW (FULL) 2022 - Quick Style" video thumbnail. This time I was intrigued, potentially by the cross-platform familiarity — or by the thumbnail composition. The unappealing vertical reel image on Instagram was zoomed in on a ponytailed white man mid-dance, however the YouTube horizontal thumbnail showed a more complete picture: the dancers encircled by the familiar Pakistani-shadi-in-the-west aesthetic and it was this sense of familiarity that made me click on the video.
I was hooked from the first song, Kana Yari, maybe because it was from Coke Studio (all Pakistanis have a weakness for Coke Studio songs). This year's Coke Studio, now in its fourteenth year, was especially delightful, with Pasoori being a global hit and even being written about by the New Yorker. Kana Yari is the other banger from the latest season and its singer, Eva B, was profiled by the Guardian. Kana Yari is quickly followed by Kala Chasma, which might be the most danced to shadi song of all time.
Desi weddings are portrayed in popular culture, as seen on Amazon's Made in Heaven and Netflix's The Big Day, as lavish multi-day affairs — such weddings do happen but are exclusively for the absurdly rich. For most desi people, the weddings are modest affairs — often each wedding looks identical to the other. In the US, that means that there is the same venue that every desi wedding in that city happens at, and the same local desi restaurant catering food. These weddings and their decors are nothing to show off on Instagram — and that is what we see in the background of the Quick Style video. We see the familiar stage where the bride and groom sit on white chairs with cream drapings, small chandeliers, and white flowers in their background. Fancy weddings with dances that are meant to be showcased on Instagram later, will have a dance floor that has its lights changing according to the music, whereas this one just has white hospital lighting all around. It is the wedding that most of us have attended, and the wedding that most of us will probably have. (One of the recent episodes of Ms Marvel got praise for the same — finally showing a relatable and realistic desi wedding on TV.)
The audience is both familiar and familial. There is an unimpressed kid in sunglasses in the background and other kids sitting crosslegged on the floor or in their parents' laps. There are frozen uncles who are hesitant to show their full appreciation but the smiles on their faces signal restrained joy. One can imagine them going to the group afterwards and patting them on the back with a "you did a good job." There are woo-ing aunties in embroidered shalwar kameezes who are enthusiastically clapping. At one point an aunty fully entranced by the performance, flashes a double thumbs up towards the boys. And this probably being an alcohol-free Pakistani wedding, we also spot the one-liter Coca Cola bottle on the table. We even see an uncle peeping in from the window, enjoying the show from outside but hesitant to join the party.
The song list for the Quick Style performance continues with the perfect blend: popular bangers like "Sadi Gali"; forgotten hits of the past like "Chura Ke Dil Mera"; and a song in English, "I'll Be Missing You" by Diddy. After watching the video multiple times and sharing it with friends, I started watching more Quick Style dance videos. As the YouTube clip description tells us, the wedding was that of their team leader Suleman Malik. It was no coincidence that they were so at ease dancing to South Asian songs. After watching their previous videos where they dance to songs from Afghanistan to Ethiopia to Syria, one realizes how genuine their appreciation for global music is. This is what makes their dance to Kala Chashma and Sadi Gali, songs that we've seen so often danced to, feel different. In an Instagram post from last year, they share their philosophy: "17 years ago we fell in Love with the culture of Hip Hop. One of the youngest culture in the world. Now it's time for us to explore more culture that have less representation but so much beauty and wisdom."
At a Pakistani friend's wedding a few years ago, I saw his father dancing like I had never imagined he would dance. When I told uncle that I never realized he had such moves, he placed his hand on his chest and shouted back over the loud music, "beta, it comes from the heart." — Osama Shehzad