Daly Hassan is a make-up artist in Egypt, and until a month ago, was totally unknown. It only took a bizarre music video published on Facebook on July 11 to turn her into a media sensation. The video – deemed "strange", "disturbing", "vulgar", and above all "terrible quality" – has been ridiculed on Egyptian social media.
The video, clearly filmed with very little budget, already has more than 5 million views on YouTube. The story in the song is simple: a young man is trying to woo a woman that he says he has loved "for 100 years". But when he tries to get close to her, he's beaten by the woman's mother. He meets the young woman later on in a fairground, where she tells him that she dreams of him putting her "on a swing" (a thinly veiled euphemism for sex). After threatening to kill him (with help from a seemingly random, bald, muscly man with a huge moustache), the woman's family finally allows the two lovers to meet and get engaged.
The male singer, Ahmed Abu Chama, was also an unknown prior to this video coming out, but it's Daly Hassan who has stolen the limelight because of her strange choice of make-up and the sexual lyrics that she sings. The song is called "Rakbini Al Mourguiha", which could be translated as "Put me on the swing". Hassan sings this phrase throughout the song, adding, "It's nice, it's comfortable".
"There's an innuendo with the to-and-fro movement [of the swing]", explains Adel Iskandar, a lecturer in communication and a specialist of Egypt at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.
The sexual lyrics and the way in which they're sung has struck a nerve in Egypt's conservative society. But it's not the only part of the video that has baffled Egyptians.
Lots of viewers have commented on the unusual, thick make-up that Hassan wears in the clip. One YouTuber says that she's got the trick down: all she has to do is to make herself up like Hassan does in the video and she, too, can become a celebrity. In a mocking video, she pastes on thick white foundation, red blusher, mascara, and coloured contact lenses.
On social media, the video drew a lot of comments. Some YouTubers posted video responses, analysing its success. In one video, a YouTuber takes the video apart sequence by sequence, criticising the actors' performances and remarking, in a faux-offended voice, on their "horrible" voices.
In another video viewed more than 380,000 times, a YouTuber decides to comment on the poor quality filming and direction of the video, highlighting continuity errors and inconsistencies. One of the things he notices is that the mother of the woman threatens the star-struck lover – but for some reason this scene appears after she has already hit him and thrown him out of her house.
Despite the general consensus that the video is terrible, it has made a real splash in the country.
"A market for ridiculous content is developing in Egypt"
Adel Iskandar, a lecturer at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, analyses the rise of this odd success.
The success of this video is part of a surprising wave. There's now a developing market for ridiculous content like this in Egypt. This video defies classification. Is it deliberately trying to mock big-budget videos? Or is it just trying to imitate them but on a much smaller budget? Are the actors playing roles, or are they like this in everyday life?
Daly Hassan did a few interviews, which have been viewed almost 800,000 times, and they can go some way to answering these questions. She says that she always dreamed of being famous in the Arab world.
Daly Hassan says that she is having "the time of her life".
It's her nasal singing voice, her heavily made-up face, the hypersexual lyrics, the way she dances, and her tight clothing that are the subject of most comments. But viewers have also commented on the fact that she is from a lower-class background, as the clip shows: the fairground where they filmed certain parts of the video is usually a destination for working-class people. Commentators love mocking her strangeness, and it's this that can turn her into a celebrity, but there's a risk it won't last long: people get easily bored of strangeness.
The comments are often sexist and discriminatory towards her social background. Most of the comments are from people in a higher social class than her. This young woman is judged and ridiculed because she tries to copy, badly, social codes from a milieu that isn't her own. She wants to belong to a different social class, and can't.
Daly Hassan used to wear a headscarf but decided not to anymore and to dress in a more flaunting, daring way to dress more like people in higher social classes would dress. But she doesn't get it right, imitates them awkwardly, and so is the butt of lots of jokes. For example, it's impossible to speak so openly about sexual things, even for someone from a higher social background.
It's possible that the producer for the video [a small production house called "Rahil intaj cinema’i"] realised the potential of exploiting poor people's desire to cross class boundaries – even though it would humiliate and ridicule them.
Although judged "decadent" and "vulgar" by many Egyptians, Daly Hassan still won the prize for the best video at the Egyptian Oscars, an awards ceremony that doesn't actually have much prestige in the Egyptian cultural scene, despite its name. The singer is, nevertheless, thrilled.