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Songs That Get White People TURNT AF


Written by Luke Fisher (he/him) | @lukefish7__ | Contributing Writer

Illustration by Sahana Vijayaraghavan (she/her) | Contributing Artist

It's not hard to predict what the music issue of Debate is going to look like. I'm imagining shoutouts to impressively niche artists, guides to Auckland's underground music scene, and stories of how music has changed people's lives. Let's be clear: this is awesome. However, I'm much too musically ignorant to comprehend any of it. For this reason, I've decided to cater to my strengths. That's right, folks, I'm making a list of my top 10 white people songs.

There are a few things I want to address right off the bat. My qualifications as a white person are far-ranging. If the butter chicken isn't mild, I don't want it. When I get sushi, I extend my clammy hand past the chopsticks and grab a fork. Upon walking up a flight of stairs or carrying a mildly heavy box, I like to say, "Well, that's my workout for the day." Need I say more?

How do you define a white people song? I'm defining it as any song that elicits a cacophony of audible approval noises when played in a room full of us. Perhaps a pleasantly surprised "oooooooooh" or an "mhmmmmmm." Maybe, if you're lucky, a nod from Dad like the one at the end of The Dark Knight Rises. Also, the numerous subgenres of white people music, such as white girl songs and most classic rock, make it difficult to narrow it down to ten individual songs. A lot of certified (suburban neighbour)hood classics are going to miss out…

10. “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” by ABBA

A key measure of the quality of a white person song is its ability to raise the roof at Bar101. "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" is sure to get the entire club of future tax accountants and real-estate agents bouncing up and down. We're holding up one arm with the index finger extended as the hand bounces with the beat; united. I first heard this song from my mum's ABBA CD. She'd hate me saying that because she says it's embarrassing. "ABBA's not cool," she said. I say be proud of it. ABBA put out some truly timeless bangers.

9. “Come on Eileen” by Dexy's Midnight Runners

This song is less of a Bar101 classic and more of a family BBQ classic. "Somebody get a towel! It's come on, Eileen!" the weird uncle exclaims, to a painfully awkward silence. Inappropriate jokes (told from the third person to avoid responsibility) aside, listening to this song genuinely warms my soul. Despite only knowing the lyrics: "Come on Eileen", "at this moment", and "TOORA LOORA TOORA LOO RYE AY", I will always belt this bopper from the top of my lungs when it comes on.

8. “Classic” by MKTO

This one comes from what I see as the golden age of pop music. Listening to it makes life seem as simple as it was when it was released in 2013. I can still hear it, blasting through massive speakers at the Weetbix TRYathlon. I've just finished my race. I'm wandering around with my best friends, collecting ASB-branded wrist brands and getting photos with my medal. Life doesn't get better than this.

7. “Cotton Eye Joe” by Rednex

I don't listen to this song much, but when I do, I feel a primal urge to chew wheat straw and start line-dancing. While many people, including me, think of the 1994 Rednex version, the song has a rich history that pre-dates the American Civil War. You might also be interested to learn that the Rednex is a Swedish techno group, although they hired people acting as stereotypical hillbillies to portray them in interviews. The hillbillies claimed they were rescued from a village in Idaho before discovering their passion for music in Sweden. Top-tier marketing.

6. “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond

Another feel-good song, "Sweet Caroline", is an absolute stalwart of English sporting events. It's one of the great stadium songs; nothing can unite 60,000 people quite like "Sweet Caroline". I first heard Neil Diamond play on an episode of the Graham Norton Show. Much to my parent's surprise, I was an instant fan. It makes me feel like I'm dancing beside a fireplace with my own Caroline. In reality, I'm sitting scrolling Instagram with an empty Word document in front of me and Dorito crumbs on my belly.

5. “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” by Panic! At The Disco

I can't say I can identify much with emo culture, but that's ok because many insist that this song is "not real emo." All I know is that it's an all-time great white people anthem. The variations in pace are part of what makes this such a bop. It begins like an eBook with a slightly over-the-top backing track and then just explodes. The song is infectious and fun to sing. I find yelling about "closing the goddamn door" incredibly cathartic. It's a signal to cut loose. People complain that this song is overplayed, but it’s popular for a reason. It’s adored by the mayonnaise-loving masses.

4. “Piano Man” by Billy Joel

Billy Joel simply had to be featured on this list. As user 'lunatikkrazieasylum' puts it, "Billy Joel is probably the king of white people anthems," and that "Piano Man" is "drunk white people singalong-core." It's just another one of those songs to which we all know the lyrics. I sometimes give myself whiplash by snapping to attention when I hear the first few piano notes. 

Each character in the song is based on a real person. When we look deep inside, past our badly sunburnt skin (it was 18 degrees and cloudy, how did this happen?), we can all see some of ourselves in "Piano Man". Some may be John at the Bar, who is jovial and loved by all but is looking for more in life. Perhaps you're Paul, the real-estate novelist, struggling to find time for your personal life. Or maybe you're the businessman, grateful to not be drinking alone.

3. “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield

This could be controversial, but this is my favourite white girl song. I can't believe it was released in 2004. For me, it's one of those songs that makes you feel like a million bucks; you can do or be anything you want. In the Guardian, Bedingfield speaks about the huge pressure on young people to map out their futures. She developed the idea that every child is a "blank page and can write their own future." As I listen to it now, I begin to believe in a future in which this listicle is no longer unwritten.

2. “American Pie” by Don Mclean

Despite being the longest song on this list at 8 minutes and 36 seconds, "American Pie" is the song I'm most confident at reciting. Impressive right? Sometimes I like to demonstrate this talent on first dates. They often leave the restaurant immediately to go home and contemplate, overcome with awe after what they've just witnessed. "American Pie" would often come on during long car rides with Dad to and from cricket. I could be feeling anxious about the game ahead or crestfallen and tearful in the wake of yet another sporting failure, but "American Pie" would make me forget about it all for a while. Both the song itself and the lore Dad would drop about its origins. Thanks, Dad.

1. “Mr Brightside” by The Killers

This icon sits at the summit of all Caucasian whizzpoppers. It is truly the magnum opus of low-melanin-lustre. There are few better feelings than belting this banger out in a room full of teen drunks united by a song about infidelity. It's curious how several songs on this list have fairly sad themes, yet they make us feel euphoric. "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" involves cheating, the characters in "Piano Man" have depressing themes, and "American Pie" is born from the death of musician Buddy Holly in a plane crash. Perhaps sad songs resonate with us the strongest. 

"Mr Brightside" played during my first clubbing experience at Sugar, a nightclub that makes Bar101 seem like a sanitised laboratory. I burnt all the calories I consumed that night simply by jumping. I was glowing, not only from jumping on a floor covered in years worth of long whites but also from the radioactive RTDs I'd consumed throughout the night. The only negative? A video now exists of this moment, yet another addition to the less-than-desirable digital footprint I've developed over the years. But it's just the price I pay.

Honourable Mentions

Any Taylor Swift or Katy Perry song, "Pump Up The Jam" by Technotronic, "Party Tonight" by Mordecai and the Rigbys, "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley, and "Axel F" by Crazy Frog.


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