Dear T-Pain, “Brown Twitter” Really? FYI, 500 Million Indians Use the Internet

Pop Culture

Dear T-Pain, “Brown Twitter” Really? FYI, 500 Million Indians Use the Internet

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. It’s a simple concept, one that we’re taught as children. So why is everyone acting surprised that T-Pain’s latest song lifted a Bollywood track’s beat, when our Indian composers have been ripping off the work of Western artists for decades? If Anu Malik and Pritam can make a career out of plagiarised compositions, surely T-Pain is allowed one little beat to sample on his track?

I didn’t get to hear the track in question, “That’s Yo Money”, because by the time I got around to looking it up, YouTube had already taken it down. Surely, this must have caused Mr T much pain, since YouTube allows even TikTok compilations and Dhinchak Pooja’s “music” videos to remain on the site.

The video was removed probably because of the copyright violation; T-Pain allegedly lifted Arijit Singh’s “Tum Hi Ho” from Aashiqui 2. It’s hilarious to think how many classic Bollywood tunes and scenes would have been redacted from the cinematic record if copyrights had been respected by our plagiarising stalwarts. From the climax scene of Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Badshah being lifted from Rush Hour, to a legend like RD Burman copying “If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium” for his timeless tune “Chura Liya Hai Tumne Jo Dil Ko”, Bollywood thrived off creative “inspiration” long before social media began playing the role of intellectual property watchdog.

Today however, with the internet being inextricably intertwined with our daily lives, getting away with an artistic shortcut is harder to pull off, as T-Pain found out. After the video was deleted, the rapper tweeted about how he was being dragged by “brown Twitter”, which sparked a fresh round of outrage. Clearly, T-Pain is the kind of person who, after having his right hand burned, will try and put out the fire with his left.

There was a time when the representation of Indians in global media was limited to one-dimensional portrayals.

The Indian community online didn’t take too kindly to being dismissively referred to as “brown Twitter”, and wasted no time letting T-Pain know. Just like that, T-Pain had joined the ranks of former Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel and tennis player Maria Sharapova as one of the clueless westerners who drowned in a tsunami of Twitter hatred by saying something offensive about India and Indians. Their stories should serve as cautionary tales to people who think Indians are still living in a country overrun by snake charmers and wild elephants, whose residents still think computers run on black magic.

According to statistics released last year, Indians make up the second-largest group of internet users by nationality, topped only by China. As of October this year, India claimed first place in number of Facebook users. Even the long-reigning king of YouTube, Pewdiepie, who has held the title of “most subscribed to” channel for years, is facing stiff competition from the Indian channel T-Series. In fact, the Pewdiepie vs T-Series subscriber count battle is a microcosm of the larger phenomenon of Indian people asserting themselves online – no matter which side your sympathies lie.

There was a time when the representation of Indians in global media was limited to one-dimensional portrayals, like the comic relief of Apu from The Simpsons, or the campy (but admittedly menacing) portrayal of Mola Ram by Amrish Puri in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Even as there was more nuance added to Indian characters, for example Raj Koothrappali from The Big Bang Theory, they remained in the background, never rising above being approximations of what the Western world thought Indians would act like. The emergence of talented performers like Mindy Kaling and Hasan Minhaj has helped in dismantling stereotypes, but the world at large still seems to draw most of its cues from Apu and his ilk.

It is probably why T-Pain thought he could dismiss accusations of plagiarism as a hissy fit thrown by “brown Twitter”. While he thought he was throwing shade at some geeks sitting on the sole computer in their entire forest hamlet, he was actually taking on one of the largest, most vocal groups of people on the internet.

Remember, Mr T-Pain, we Indians are everywhere. And we take great pride in the fact that internet giant Google is headed by a person of Indian origin. Our internet community is always online, and always watchful. Whether it’s offensive doormats being sold on Amazon or a rapper helping himself to some Bollywood tunes, we’re sure to catch it, screenshot it, and cause enough online clamour for it to be pulled down.

Can’t believe it, can you?