Saudi Women Stunt Hard (And Dis Men) In A Music Video Gone Viral

Feb 1, 2017
Originally published on February 1, 2017 11:36 pm

There's a music video that's been racking up millions of views for the last few weeks — and it comes from Saudi Arabia. NPR Music's Anastasia Tsioulcas describes the scene:

"There's this amazing setup. You see women wearing full niqab — so they've got their faces covered, their hair covered, clad in black, it seems. And then they burst out in super-colorful outfits and doing all kinds of silly things, playing basketball and riding bumper cars," she says.

In a conversation on All Things Considered, Tsioulcas tells Ari Shapiro how the visual, inspired by a lesser-known, low-budget clip from 2014, has become a viral sensation. Hear their conversation at the audio link, and read an edited version below.

Ari Shapiro: I don't speak Arabic, but I know a good tune when I hear one. What do the lyrics say?

Anastasia Tsioulcas: So, that's where the real interest in this video is. The name of the song is "Hwages," which means something like "concerns" or "obsessions." And the lyrics are pretty subversive. They start out, "May men disappear, they give us psychological illnesses / None of them are sane, each one has an illness.

Basically saying, by definition, "Men are mentally ill." A bunch of Saudi women singing this.

Absolutely.

And what's amazing is how much this as really taken off across the Middle East: It's become hugely, hugely, popular. Who are the people behind this?

We don't know who the women are, but the video director is named Majed Alesa. He has become this viral video machine in Saudi. He now has this platform and he can amplify his message to his millions and millions of followers.

So, at one point in the video, there's a cut-out of Donald Trump that rises on a proscenium behind a stand that says half in Arabic and half in English, "The House of Men."

Has there been much pushback to it?

You know, it's funny — I haven't seen a lot of official pushback. You see YouTube comments in both English and Arabic saying, "This is not a women's movement, don't judge on this, our values are still really important to us." But you also see a lot of very positive feedback.

Throughout Saudi Arabia, throughout the Gulf, throughout the entire Middle-East, this is getting a lot of play and a lot of conversation. And you can dance to it.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There is a music video that I've become obsessed with over the last few weeks. And I'm not the only one. This video has racked up millions of views. And it comes from Saudi Arabia. Here to talk with me about it is NPR Music's Anastasia Tsioulcas. Hey, Anastasia.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Before we discuss this song, can we just listen to a little bit of it?

TSIOULCAS: I wish we would.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HWAGES")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Arabic).

SHAPIRO: I don't speak Arabic, but I know a good tune when I hear one. And the music video is something people just have to see. Can you describe it?

TSIOULCAS: Well, there's this amazing setup. You see women wearing full niqab. So they've got their faces covered, their hair covered. They're clad in black, it seems. And then they burst out in super colorful outfits and they're doing all kinds of silly things. They're playing basketball and they're riding bumper cars and...

SHAPIRO: The outfits are still really modest, but they're, like, DayGlo fluorescent pink and chartreuse and neon yellow. And they're, like, rollerblading and...

TSIOULCAS: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

TSIOULCAS: And so are the men in the video who are wearing, like - there's one guy in this very snazzy floral shirt. It's not exactly what you think of when you think of Saudi Arabia and sort of dour, honestly, and kind of conservative clothing.

SHAPIRO: What do the lyrics say?

TSIOULCAS: So that's where the real interest in this video is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HWAGES")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Arabic).

TSIOULCAS: The name of the song as "Hwages," which means something like concerns or obsessions. And the lyrics are pretty subversive. So they start out, may men disappear, they give us psychological illnesses. And none of these men are sane. Each one has an illness.

SHAPIRO: Basically saying by definition, men are mentally ill - a bunch of Saudi women singing this.

TSIOULCAS: Absolutely.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HWAGES")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Arabic).

SHAPIRO: And what's amazing is how much this has just really taken off across the Middle East. It's become hugely, hugely popular. Who are the people behind this?

TSIOULCAS: So we don't know who the women are, but the director is a Saudi video director named Majedalesa. And he has become this sort of viral video machine in Saudi. And he has now this platform. And he can amplify his message to his millions and millions of followers. So at one point in the video there's a cut-out of Donald Trump that rises on a proscenium behind a stand that says in - half in Arabic and half English, the house of men.

SHAPIRO: Has there been much pushback to it?

TSIOULCAS: You know, it's funny. I have not seen a lot of official pushback. I haven't seen any - you see YouTube comments in both English and Arabic saying, you know, this is not a women's movement and don't judge us on this video and our values are still really important to us. But you see a lot of very positive feedback. I mean, throughout Saudi Arabia, throughout the Gulf, throughout the entire Middle East, this is getting a lot of play and a lot of conversation. And you can dance to it.

SHAPIRO: All right, well, let's go out dancing. Anastasia Tsioulcas of NPR Music, thanks a lot.

TSIOULCAS: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HWAGES")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Arabic). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.