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Misheard lyrics have been around forever. This phenomena predates the internet; but the internet gave the public a forum in which to share them. The meme surfaced in many disconnected places on the internet because the compulsion to share misheard lyrics is a common human experience. For example, if you’ve ever heard Manfred Mann’s Blinded by the Light then you’ve probably misheard some lyrics that sound like “wrapped up like a douche."
Early Flash Examples
Hyakugojyuuichi! is a flash animation created by Neil Cicierega in February of 2001. The animation visually consists of various pop culture references, and the audio is a track from the Japanese version of Pokemon. At 1:48, the Japanese lyrics are given subtitles. But these subitles aren’t a translation, they are simply,what the Japanese words sound like to an English-speaker; or a Phonetic Translation.
This type of flash animation was a staple of sites like Fark and New Grounds early on. A slightly older example of this is Hatten är din.
Hatten är din
This flash depicts a group in some sort of traditional costume, skewing while a hat magically floats from one head to another. To an English speaker this is simply nonsensical; but to Swedish speaking audiences, it was a hilarious parody.
The song in “Hatten är din” is actually Habbeetik an Arabic wedding song recorded in 1984 by Azar Habib.
Then in the year 2000, Patrik Nyberg and Johan Gröndahl had created a complete set of Swedish lyrics for the Arabic song which they then circulated with an MP3 via email! Soon, a flash animation was created by someone or some thing called Veckans Hatt (according to http://www.mlcsmith.com/strange/hatten/), and it was hosted it on http://come.to/hatten.
A proper English translation of the Swedish parody lyrics of the Arabic song are available on the site http://www.mlcsmith.com/strange/hatten
Phonetic Translations on Youtube
Today there are many examples of Phonetic Translations on Youtube. A fine specimen of this meme is Fart in the Duck.
Fart in the Duck is a phonetic translation of a song appearing on the Dutch children’s show “Kabouter Plop”, or roughly “Gnome Plop.”
And then there’s the song Renai Sentai Shitsu Ranger by Japanese pop group Nochiura Natsumi with phonetic subtitles.
One of the most popular phonetic translation videos on Youtube today is Crazy Indian Video created by Youtube user Buffalax on August 18th, 2007. The original song is “Kalluri Vaanil” by Tamil artists Prabhu Deva and Jaya Sheel, but is known around the interwebs as “Benny Lava.”
When any viral video garners millions of views, parodies are likely to follow. In this case, the Benny Lava English phonetic subtitles are actually being sung.
An interesting sidenote: A Google Trends analysis shows that Kalluri Vaanil peaked briefly in the second half of 2006 before eventually flat-lining. However, with the arrival of the Benny Lava parody in the last quarter of 2007, there was a significant resurgence in interest for Kalluri Vaanil. Although Benny Lava had helped to revive Kalluri Vaanil, it has become more popular than the original, even in India. This lends statistical credence to the adage, “Parody is the sincerest form of flattery.”
Buffalax has created quite a name for himself within the meme of phonetic translations. In fact, nearly every video he makes is a phonetic translation; and of those, the view counts vary from the tens of thousands to the millions.
Tunak Tunak Tun by Indian singer Daler Mehndi, Buffalaxed
Songs sung in foreign languages can indeed sound like funny English phrases. One might assume that creating a phonetic translation of a song already in the English language might be more difficult, but there are many who have done this with success through a very simple technique.
Misheard Lyrics – Sean Paul
Even Flow – Pearl Jam
All by Myself – Eric Carmen:
Literal Music Videos are similar in form, but instead use newly recorded audio to interpret the visuals of the video.