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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Am I Wrong" for having not looked into this hit in greater detail before?

Nico & Vinz were all over the radio in my early teens with this song, but only now did I finally put a closer lens to it.

I only realized today how little I had thought about the lyrics to today's selection, despite the song I chose having been everywhere in the aftermath of its 2013 release.

Usually, when that's the case, it's a song I've dismissed for one way or another as being subpar or not worth my time. However, that isn't the case when it comes to "Am I Wrong," the international hit by Norwegian duo Nico & Vinz. In retrospect, I realize that I was simply more interested in other elements of the song that I found more catchy or noteworthy, particularly on the rhythmic side, where Nicolay Sereba and Vincent Dery lean into their Ivorian and Ghanaian roots, respectively.

This African heritage also influenced the song's video, which is set in multiple countries on their continent of origin, including the area around the picturesque Victoria Falls on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. I appreciate the video for the cultural elements it presents from the lens of two artists paying respect to their ancestors by showcasing them, as well as for the extended version of the track it uses. Unfortunately, I've been unable to locate it on Spotify or other music streaming services, but you can nonetheless enjoy the extended percussion break thanks to YouTube:

I honestly forgot the extended break existed because it had been so long since I had looked up the video, but I'm glad I heard it again, because it allowed me to focus on the rhythm a bit more closely. I had previously thought the percussion was more complex then it really was, but I now realize it's a version of the classic "Bo Diddley beat." The beat is a variation of a common 3-2 clave (pattern) in Afro-Cuban music, so it makes all too much sense that it appears on a song with Afrobeat leanings. It's such a catchy rhythm because of the push-and-pull feeling it gives between the "3" section almost feeling like it rushes ahead and the "2" easing back into the beat. The "Bo Diddley" rhythm is further enforced by the guitar in later choruses, an element I really enjoy.

I think the reason I always thought the percussion was more complex was because its rhythm is different from the more straightforward, eighth-note rhythms of the main synth line and most of the lyrics, including the backing vocals. Differing or conflicting rhythmic levels can combine to create a more complex web of rhythm and percussion in listeners' ears, and that was and somewhat still is the case for me with "Am I Wrong." Having now parsed the multiple levels, though, I've become even more attached to the song.

This attachment somewhat extends to the lyrics, which I finally spent time to look at after seven years. All I can say is, holy positivity, Batman. Nico & Vinz truly and fully embrace following one's visions to the end, even if others doubt them, as they sing of "trying to reach the things that [they] can't see." In a pop scene that seems to increasingly see dour lyrical perspectives, it's nice for there to be a hit every once in a while that has the old shoot-for-the-moon, land-among-the-stars mentality. If nothing else, the duo pride themselves on not taking the approach that everyone else does — "I ain't tryin' to do what everybody else doin' / Just 'cause everybody doin' what they all do" — and that definitely is commendable, especially in the aftermath of their success in taking that risk.

Even though Nico & Vinz haven't ever reached the heights of "Am I Wrong" again, I can definitely feel the influence of its rise to international pop success. The two may not have been born in Africa themselves, but their rhythmic influences calling back to the continent have seemed to foretell a rise in African artists in the pop world. As for their lyrical positivity, I think it's something good to look back on as the world collectively tries to pick themselves up going into 2022 if nothing else.


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