Bieber in the Bodge: Cambodian Karaoke and Other Nonsense

Who is this preened pretty boy? And what is he doing in Cambodia?

You can see Justin Bieber’s baby-faced features crudely painted on wooden signs outside barber’s shacks in far-flung Cambodian frontier towns and hear his high-pitched whine emerging in tinny raptures from the mobile phones of urban teens. So how, once again, has this pre-pubescent pup made it to the ‘third world’?

I think it has something, and perhaps everything to do, with Cambodian karaoke. The discs that are slid with rhythmical confidence into the DVD players on rickety buses countrywide.

Conceptually, they exist somewhere between a music video, a Mills and Boon novel and a Communist propaganda video. The main motifs are water buffaloes. I presume these equate to rural, pastoral, to the Khmer. Then there are SUVS – symbols of status, wealth, foreign investment and corruption.

The men are frequently unattractive – tubby with bad teeth whereas the women are pristine visions of loveliness. And the teen boys that dance around are pretty, always effeminate with immaculately coiffured hair – they are Cambodian Biebers.

These mismatched couples tend to have chance meetings and indulge in numerous amorous glances in various dusty urban spaces. They then venture out to the rice paddies and climb atop water buffaloes to cement their new found love.


There is still some great Cambodian music kicking around. Here’s the Cambodian Space Project who fuse Khmer beats with western guitar sounds:



Read more on Cambodia and its vulnerable children.

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Tom Spooner

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