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Why was Pakistani pop culture so big in 2022?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This year, a Pakistani pop tune crushed global charts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PASOORI")

ALI SETHI AND SHAE GILL: (Singing in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: For the first time ever, a Pakistani woman won a Grammy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOHABBAT")

AROOJ AFTAB: (Singing in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: And a Pakistani American teen from New Jersey punched through TV screens as Ms. Marvel.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MS. MARVEL")

MATT LINTZ: (As Bruno Carrelli) So I guess super strength is not a part of the equation.

IMAN VELLANI: (As Kamala Khan) You know, maybe I should have tried harder in gym.

SHAPIRO: The first Muslim superhero to have her own comic.

SURBHI GUPTA: Showing a Pakistani American teen in a Pakistani household, that felt amazing.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Journalist Surbhi Gupta wrote about this banner year for Pakistani pop culture in New Lines Magazine.

GUPTA: We in South Asia know of this, but there were too many global moments, you know. And I was like, OK, this needs to be out there.

MCCAMMON: Gupta was born and raised in India. She writes that this is far from the first time Pakistani culture has made a global splash.

GUPTA: So, like, in the '80s, you know, my parents would talk about the Hassan siblings. They were the rage with "Disco Deewane."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DISCO DEEWANE PART I")

NAZIA HASSAN: (Singing) Disco, disco, disco deewane.

SHAPIRO: That 1981 album broke sales records in Pakistan and India, and it charted worldwide, including places like Russia and the West Indies.

MCCAMMON: This year, a Pakistani hit again drew global attention.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PASOORI")

SETHI AND GILL: (Singing in non-English language).

MCCAMMON: The song "Pasoori" by Ali Sethi and Shae Gill climbed to the top of Spotify's global viral charts, and Google searches for it beat out tracks by the K-pop group BTS and the singer Harry Styles.

SHAPIRO: Then in April, the Brooklyn-based Pakistani singer and composer Arooj Aftab won a Grammy for best global music performance for her rendition of the traditional song "Mohabbat."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOHABBAT")

AFTAB: (Singing in non-English language).

It's important to define this moment, I think, for everyone and ourselves.

MCCAMMON: We spoke with her earlier this year before she won that award. And while Aftab was excited about being nominated in a global music category, being part of the best new artist category sent a bigger message about her place on the world stage.

AFTAB: The industry has put us in these other categories for such a long time because of the sort of racial climate of America for all this while. And so this moment where I'm in this best new artist category next to all these other artists is a monumental moment.

SHAPIRO: Pakistan had monumental moments in film this year, too, with the first Pakistani film ever officially selected for the Cannes Film Festival, a transgender love story called "Joyland."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOYLAND")

SHAPIRO: Here's Gupta again.

GUPTA: It's about a family in Lahore, and it unpacks, like, different nuances of gender and patriarchy. And then, like, his relationship with this trans starlet, this was almost banned. But the international recognition that the film had had kind of forced the federal government to intervene and then pave the way for its release.

MCCAMMON: We asked her, what's spurring this renaissance? One theory - the world is ready.

GUPTA: I think it's been 20 years since 9/11. So there were a lot of stereotypes also associated to Pakistanis and Muslims, which I think now perhaps we are shedding.

MCCAMMON: Still, she says, Pakistani artists are doing it on their own terms, being authentically themselves.

GUPTA: American pop culture has such a strong influence globally to kind of define what local culture has become. But I think the beauty of Pakistani culture is that it is not pretending to be something it is not.

SHAPIRO: That's Surbhi Gupta. Her article, "Pakistani Pop Culture Has Had A Global Year," is in New Lines Magazine.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PASOORI")

SETHI AND GILL: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Hodges is an associate producer for All Things Considered. She joined the show in 2018 after seven years in the NPR newsroom as a producer and editor. She doesn't mind that you used her pens, she just likes them a certain way and asks that you put them back the way you found them, thanks. Despite years working on interviews with notable politicians, public figures, and celebrities for NPR, Hodges completely lost her cool when she heard RuPaul's voice and was told to sit quietly in a corner during the rest of the interview. She promises to do better next time.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.