If you’ve been keeping up with YouTube culture, you’ve seen the hit video of Tay Zonday singing “Chocolate Rain.” For those of you who haven’t, you can watch it here. The video is known for its minimalism. Wearing a white t-shirt and glasses, Zonday, a University of Minnesota graduate student whose real name is Adam Bahner, sings into a condenser microphone. For a few seconds at the beginning, a caption appears on the screen, saying, “I move away from the mic to breathe in,” a line that has become an icon for parody. Zonday sings all nineteen verses of the four and a half minute song and smiles at the camera at the end.
It’s hard to tell exactly what the appeal of the video is. Perhaps it’s the singsong catchiness of the song (some have called it “hypnotic”), which repeats the same tune in each line and punctuates them all with “Chocolate rain!” Perhaps it’s Zonday’s startlingly sonorous voice, contradicting his boyish face. Or perhaps it’s his song’s message.
“Chocolate Rain,” Zonday said in an interview, “has undertones about institutional racism” in America. One verse speaks of an oppressive history:
History quickly crashing through your veins
Using you to fall back down again
Later, the words suggest that people of certain races are punished more harshly than others: “The same crime has a higher price to pay…The judge and jury swear it's not the face.” Much of rest of the song expresses similar aggravation at what Zonday sees as America’s inherent racial bias.
Along with other awards, “Chocolate Rain” won best music video in the 2007 YouTube awards. It has been imitated and parodied by numerous popular media, including the TV shows Saturday Night Live, South Park, and SpongeBob SquarePants. As of today, the YouTube video has had about 31.5 million views since it was posted in April 2007. Even the “Numa Numa” kid, whose exuberant lip-sync to a Romanian pop-song became an Internet phenomenon in 2005, falls short of “Chocolate Rain,” with his video earning only 22.5 million views.
What are we to make of Zonday’s fame? For one thing, the sensation over his video tells us something about the power of YouTube in the Internet generation. For another thing, it tells us something about the power of the grievance message in the angry generation. And as “Chocolate Rain” demonstrates, a little bit of anger goes a long way.
Last year, NAS Executive Director Peter Wood wrote the book A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now, which discusses how “New Anger” has become a way to empower one’s self-esteem by continually rehearsing an “often vague and elastic” grievance. Wood explores how “angri-culture” became a national ideal. “New Anger,” Wood writes, “feels liberating; it is exhibitionist and theatrical, even as it lodges deep claims to authenticity.” The American thirst for a grudge helps account for the attractiveness of Zonday’s repetitious song; it also helps account for the theme of anger during this fall’s presidential election.
Dr. Wood was recently interviewed on XM’s POTUS ’08 channel about A Bee in the Mouth. The interview aired at 1:00 P.M. on Wednesday, October 29. Wood’s segment appeared about 22 minutes into the show (nearly the halfway mark). Click here to download the radio show. In addition, Ed Driscoll, who conducted the interview, created a video based on the premises of A Bee in the Mouth. The video includes an excerpt from the radio broadcast, along with some memorable clips of various shows of anger. To watch this video, click here. Stay tuned to see whether it appears in a South Park episode.