Salmonella سالمونيلا (Salmonella) Tameem Youness

Following on the success of his previous hit “Enti Ay Kalam,” in January 2020 Tameem Youness released another song about coping with rejection — or more precisely, failing to cope. But whereas “Enti Ay Kalam,” in all its simplicity, could be lightheartedly enjoyed as a catchy dance tune, Youness’s new song “Salmonella” is drawing controversy.

The song is ostensibly a satire narrated from the perspective of a nice guy who really isn’t all that nice. In the song, he makes a series of romantic promises to his love interest, such as cooking her pizza, offering her his jacket when it’s cold and getting pop star Mahmoud El Esseily to sing at their wedding. But all these lovely promises come with a condition: she has to say yes. If on the other hand the girl should have the audacity to say no, then all bets are off. All this affection turns to spite, and the list of promises becomes a list of threats. In the classic style of a spurned lover, these threats lack coherence and have all the randomness of a temper tantrum. For example, the singer wishes salmonella poisoning on the girl (hence the song’s title). He also includes such other spiteful actions as throwing his own jacket on the ground, and throwing the pizza on top of Mahmoud El Esseily (who actually makes a cameo in the music video).

But for some Egyptians, this depiction cuts a little too close to the bone. Although Egypt isn’t the only country to suffer from two-faced nice guys, sexual harassment is a particularly acute problem in the country. This phenomenon looms in the background and imbues even the fantastical threats in the song with a degree of menace. Over-the-top as the song may be, it evokes a lived experience that is all too real for many Egyptian women. In their view, the song risks encouraging the phenomenon that it supposedly condemns by suggesting that women don’t have the right to say no. Or more worryingly, the type of guy targeted for satire in this song may miss the point entirely, and instead find endorsement and inspiration for his toxic behavior.

For his part, Tameem Youness insists that the song is satire, and the song’s exaggerations seem to bear that out. The romantic promises veer between the most obvious clichés, such as offering the girl his jacket and waking up next to her every day, and oddly specific offers like an air-conditioned bathroom and membership in the Gezira Club.  As if that wasn’t enough, when Mahmoud El Esseily begins to sing, he sings a line that is an incongruous amalgam of a classic Arabic love song and a modern scenario: “Oh my eye, oh night, you ordered a latte” — as if he had fallen in love with the girl at first Starbucks order.

The video as well displays an awareness that the song’s narrator is not a particularly stable or well-adjusted person. For example, as Tameem Youness’s sugary promises descend into a litany of threats, the background dancers stop dancing and start to make perplexed faces along the lines of “what’s wrong with this guy?” Then halfway through the song, in an apparent nod to Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” Youness begins to sport a bloody nose all of a sudden. Although how he got this bloody nose is never explained, it contributes to his character’s psychotic look and suggests that this is not a person for emulation.

It’s been said before that the best satire is indistinguishable from the reality. And although it does appear that “Salmonella” takes steps to make sure we do distinguish the song from the real thing, the fact that some people have mistaken the song for reality is either a mark of the song’s success as satire or a testament to the sad reality we live in.

 

I saw you once somewhere and you ordered a latte

أنا شفتك مرة في حته في يوم وطلبتي لاتيه

So I’ll keep visiting the same place until I come across you there again

ف هروحلك نفس الحتة لحد ما اقابلك فيه

And I won’t leave until I get your number, so don’t embarrass me

ومش همشي أنا قبل ما آخد رقمك فا ماتكسفنيش

And if you say no, to hell with you, tomorrow someone will come and tell you

وإن قلتلي لا يلعن ابو شكلك بكره يقابلك حد يقولك

A “no” that stick in your cuteness and hurts your pride

لا تلق طعامتك تيجي ف كرامتك تبقى

And that gives you salmonella

ويجيلك سالمونيلا

You’ll wake up and be fat, then come chasing after me, but you won’t find me

وتصحي فشلة وتجري ورايا ماتلحقنيش

That’ll teach you to tell me no

عشان تبقي تقولي لا

That’ll teach you to tell me no

عشان تبقي تقولي لا

That’ll teach you to tell me no

عشان تبقي تقولي لا

That’ll teach you to tell me no

عشان تبقي تقولي لا

If you told me something other than “no”

لو قلتيلي حاجة غير لا

Then I would get you a ring and a two-storey apartment with air conditioning in the bathroom

ده انا أجيبلك شبكة وشقة دورين حمام بتكييف

And at home I’d make you a pizza dripping with cheese

واعملك بيتزا ف بيتنا بجبنة تشد بعيد

I hope to wake up next to you for as long as I live

بتمنى اقوم من النوم جمبك ع قد ما أعيش

And Esseily will sing at our wedding and everyone will let loose

وعسيلي يغني في فرحنا والكل يهيص

Oh my eye, oh night, oh my eye, you ordered a latte

اه يا عيني يا ليل يا عيني وطلبتي لاتيه

Why do you tell me “no,” baby? Why do you tell me no?

ليه تقولي لا يا بيبي تقولي لا ليه

Oh my eye, oh night, oh my eye, you ordered a latte

اه يا عيني يا ليل يا عيني وطلبتي لاتيه

Why do you tell me “no” baby? Why do you tell me no?

ليه تقولي لا يا بيبي تقولي لا ليه

I’ll draw a picture of you on the sly, since I’m actually a fine arts student

وارسمك كده في الخباثة ما أنا اصلا فنون جميلة

And I’ll get you a membership with my friends at the Gezira Club [1]

واشتركلنا مع صحابي اللي في نادي الجزيرة

I might upset you just to make up with you and go get you flowers

يمكن اضايقك علشان اصالحك بس واروح واجبلك ورد

Before we go, take my jacket because the movie theater is cold

قبل ما نبتدي خدي جاكيتتي عشان السينما برد

But if you tell me no?

بس لو هتقولي لا؟

I’ll cut up the pizza

البيتزا هقطعها

And throw it on Esseily

هحدفها علي عسيلي

It’s my own pizza, what do you care?

بيتزايتي وانتي مالك

And watch out, I might trip you

وبكعبل خدي بالك

I’ll throw the jacket on the ground

والجاكيته ههربدها

And tear up the drawing

والرسمة هفرتكها

Reject me, it’s your decision, it’s no big deal

ارفضيني بقرارك انا عادي كده كده

But I will go around telling every guy that you’re psycho

بس هجري اقول لكل شاب انك بنت مسكبة

No wedding for you, no apartment for you — that’ll teach you to tell me no

بلا فرح بلا شقة عشان تبقي تقولي لا

Whoops it looks like I forgot about you

هوبا عادي نسيتك فجأه

It turns out you were just using colored contact lenses

عينيكي طلعت لينسيز زرقة

I’ve got a Schengen visa and you don’t

معايا شنجن وانتي لا

That’ll teach you to tell me no

عشان تبقي تقولي لا

That’ll teach you to tell me no

عشان تبقي تقولي لا

That’ll teach you to tell me no

عشان تبقي تقولي لا

That’ll teach you to tell me no

عشان تبقي تقولي لا

[1] The Gezira Club is an exclusive country club in Cairo’s posh Zamalek neighborhood.