Ten years ago I was a stupid, annoying teenager and I've done my best to forget most things about being 16 (or 2007 in general), but there are some things I will never forget. Britney Spears shaving her head is one of them, Paris Hilton getting out of jail is another, and then there's "Chocolate Rain."
Of course, everyone remembers "Chocolate Rain." It was one of the first truly viral YouTube hits and over the last ten years it has amassed over 100 million views. When I think about hearing the song in 2007, I remember driving around in my friend's car listening to it on repeat, and laughing each time he sang the words "chocolate rain" because what did it even mean? It's easy to recall laughing at the song as a cultural zeitgeist, but looking back I don't remember ever thinking about what the song could mean.
"Chocolate Rain" went viral for many obvious reasons. For me, it felt like the blueprint of what a funny video should be. The keyboard, the title of the song, Zonday earnestly moving away from the mic to breathe in, his voice, how serious it all was—the list is endless. Listening to it now, ten years on, it has clearly aged like a fine internet wine, yet "Chocolate Rain" still hasn't been given the recognition it deserves as being a cutting social commentary on racism.
I first realized how deep "Chocolate Rain" was after listening to it again with my brother a few years ago. While we still laughed, once we really listened the both of us were like,"Wow, this is actually deep." I finally realized Zonday was singing about racism (duh) but didn't think very deeply about it. While Zonday is nowhere near the first person to sing a song about racial inequalities, I finally realized he knew what was up way before I really became aware of it.
While "Chocolate Rain" has popped into my mind randomly since my first "realization" the song recently re-entered my life while recording a voice-over in a studio. Hearing my own breathing was very distracting and I felt the need to "move away from the mic to breathe in," which is when I had my Oprah style "Aha" moment. After telling my deskmate that I felt I really "got" why Zonday had to move away from the mic to breathe in, I also told her about how I really felt the song on a deeper level. "What do you mean?" She asked, waiting to make fun of me.
That's when, surprising myself, I started tearing up. My colleague (who now asserts she understood how I was "deeply affected" by the song's message) had no choice but to laugh at me (I don't blame her), but she understood what was happening.
I opened Genius and reread the lyrics to her out loud, my eyes welling up even more. "Just ignore that he says 'chocolate rain' so much, pretend that isn't happening," I told her. Together, we really read this shit. And I understand now that we really didn't deserve Tay Zonday in 2007.
The thing is, everything Zonday says about "chocolate rain" (which I'm assuming is a metaphor for racism or the tears of black people?) is very real. Yes, some DO stay dry (white people) and others feel the pain! If I had a dollar for every time someone's told me racism was only in the past, I'd have at least 50 bucks on me. Not to mention the line, "Say it publicly and you're insane," because RACISM MAKES YOU THINK YOU'RE GOING CRAZY.
But Zonday doesn't stop there—he goes beyond personal experience. When he sings, "The bell curve blames the baby's DNA," he's referencing
noted racist Charles Murray
The Bell Curve,
in which Murray argues white men are intellectually superior. Did your favourite viral video ever get that deep? No.
And perhaps that's why "Chocolate Rain" hasn't disappeared. Most viral videos from 2007 like Miss South Carolina butchering a response in a Miss Teen USA pageant, a bunch of prison inmates dancing to "Thriller" and Daft Punk hands are more or less forgotten, or at least are meaningless now—but "Chocolate Rain" was will never die. The song is still remembered because it won't ever stop being funny, but also maybe there are others like me who are realizing the song goes much deeper than moving away from the mic to breathe in.
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