Catching “If I Catch You”

Looking at Brazil’s growth through the rise of “Ai, Se Eu Te Pego,” by Bryan McCann, fabulous Georgetown professor. (h/t to Sam!)

This is the Brazilian cultural industry at its most potent: its pop wizards have several decades of practice in capturing a hint of the deepest flavors in Brazilian music and swirling them in the cauldron of sweet confection, emerging with pop that still has some connection to roots.

It helps that Teló is telegenic, but within Brazil, it helps even more that he is country. Over the past twenty years Brazil’s middle class has grown from a small sliver of the population to a substantial base. That growth stems from booming agribusiness—frozen chicken, concentrated orange-juice, sugar cane refined into ethanol. Is it an accident that Teló’s value-added country-pop bears such striking similarities to these market-ready commodities?

The new middle-class not only depends on agribusiness, it is based in the countryside. Twenty-five years ago, the rural interior of Teló’s home-state of Paraná was about as culturally compelling as southern Indiana, and the countryside of Mato Grosso, where his career eventually took off, was an impoverished backland known primarily for intractable malaria. Today, you can walk into a café in Medianeira, Paraná or Conquista d’Oeste, Mato Grosso and expect global niceties like wi-fi, espresso, and drizzled vinaigrette. But the sound system will mostly be playing sertaneja-pop, because this class emergence is defined by staking a claim to belonging, rather than imitating outsiders, whether from Los Angeles or Rio de Janeiro. “Ai, Se Eu Te Pego” was tailor-made for this audience and its taste for uncomplicated pleasures that subordinate coastal influence to the comforting taste of home.

The global spread of “Ai, Se Eu Te Pego,” meanwhile, reflects the current enthusiasm for all things Brazilian, from Neymar (bicycle kicks) to Embraer (regional jets). This is why Brazil was awarded both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro: the green-and-yellow sells well these days. “Ai, Se Eu Te Pego” does not have enough staying power to take us all the way through the World Cup, but you can bet it will generate a new legion of Brazilophiles and spawn a new burst of accordion pop between now and then. Michel Teló has one-hit wonder written all over him, but what a hit. C’mon. “Nossa, nossa, assim você me mata.” “Goodness, gracious, looking that way you kill me.” You know you love it.

Read the whole article at PopMatters.

Brazil Georgetown Ai Se Eu Te Pego music international relations Teló Michel Teló