In Your Head: One Way to Make Friends in Thailand

Thai people love music. Everyone is willing to sing – if not necessarily able – at a moment’s notice and in any company. I’ve found the quickest way to a Thai heart is through music. Those who carry a guitar into the Land of Smiles are not likely to leave with any confusion about the source of that nickname.

Like much of Thai culture, Thai music is, by American standards, very centralized. At any given time, there are four or five hot songs that the whole country is singing and playing. (Right now, those songs are ภูมิแพ้กรุงเทพ, อาย, แค่คุณ, ขอใจเธอแลกเบอร์โทร, ผมรักเมืองไทย, and แน่นอก. Or, in English, “Allergic to Bangkok,” “Shy,” “Only You,” “Can I Have Your Heart and Your Number?”, “I Love Thailand,” and “Tight-Chested.” Thai songs are almost exclusively about love or Thailand or both.) If you can play any of this group of popular songs (or any of the Thai Oldies that everyone knows), and especially if you can fake your way through the chorus in broken Thai, you’re golden. You’re the most popular Farang in the province.

But the good news if you’re not interested in singing Thai songs is that Thai pop culture also recognizes, apparently universally, a number of English tunes. The bad news is that the list of English-speaking artists popular in Thailand reads like a Who’s Who of the worst musicians ever to enter a recording studio: Bieber, Aaron McCartney, and Selena Gomez for the kids; the likes of Michael Learns to Rock and Leo Sayer for the older crowd. Even when a better band (Pearl Jam, for instance) pops up, it’s represented by a dreadful song (“Better Man,” for instance).

WITH ONE EXCEPTION: The Cranberries’ “Zombie.” Every man, woman, and child in Thailand – as in the rest of the civilized world – loves “Zombie.” I know I love “Zombie.” I know you love “Zombie,” since you obviously have the brainpower to have read this far. Everyone loves “Zombie,” as everyone should.

So we’ve got A) a playable popular English song, and B) an audience that never tires of listening to a limited number of songs. Taken together, those two circumstances add up to this convenient truth: all you have to do to be popular in Thailand is learn to play “Zombie” and whip it out every time it’s requested. (That’ll be often. I’ve worn grooves into my guitar in the finger positions for “Zombie.” I believe if I start the song now, I can just put the guitar down and it knows what to do on its own, freeing me to focus on singing the In Your Heads up an octave.)

That’s all there is to it. Learn “Zombie” and you’re a star in Thailand. I’ll update this with an instructional video soon.