A few years ago I returned from a trip to Spain with a somewhat disreputable CD – Rice And Curry, by Dr Bombay, AKA Swedish Eurodance chameleon Jonny Jakobsen. Browned-up for this project, and singing songs like “SOS (The Tiger Took My Family)”, Dr Bombay is the most eyebrow-raising example of how older traditions of ethnic and cultural comedy took root in Eurodance – Jakobsen has gone on to perform as Scottish stereotype Dr.Macdoo (LP title: Under The Kilt) and ‘comedy’ Mexican Carlito. And Rednex are in very much the same game.
It’s a feature of eurodance that comes out of European disco – just as anything could be discofied, from film themes to classical music to rock, so anything is fair game for novelty Eurodance treatment, and if it made people laugh too, so much the better. The genre existed in the same amoral, self-serving zone stand-up comedy sometimes claims for itself: the effect on the audience (partying, laughter) is all that matters, and anything goes to get there.
I’m not saying this because I’m personally offended by Rednex’ appropriation of hillbilly culture, it’s just a fascinating and overlooked part of Eurodance aesthetics. I doubt any rock band in 1995 could have got away with the rat-eating, drooling hick-play of the “Cotton Eye Joe” video, but if nobody’s taking the music seriously anyhow, it’s never going to get that level of scrutiny. Or to put it less kindly, there were plenty of other reasons to hate Rednex in 1995.
But does “Cotton Eye Joe” work on that basic, energetic, ass-moving level? Yeah, pretty much. It’s repetitive, but it’s based on something very repetitive – the traditional “Cotton Eyed Joe” line dance, itself rooted in old ballads. (The male vocals on Rednex sound like they might simply be sampled from an older record, in fact.) The hollering diva interludes actually change things up a little, though that decades-old hook is solid enough to stand on its own. Like most European novelties across any age of pop, you can easily imagine why it got so big. And like many, a little of it goes a very long way.
(You might reasonably ask why I like Doop and get annoyed by Rednex? Any answer would be post-rationalisation, but I think it’s the vocals – dumb instrumental hooks seem happy to work on me while they’re playing and not swirl unbidden round my head. And Rednex’ vocals are particularly shrill and penetrating – the folksy charm of the twangy country voice is quite lost when looped and backed by pounding Eurobosh beats.)