[Life★★]This Iranian Pop Star Has a Point
(P1) After fleeing Iran as a child, the singer known as Arghavan is out to unmuzzle her countrywomen. So what if it’s risky?
(P2) On May 10 in Stockholm, Sweden, Arghavan, 31, smiled as she posted a YouTube video on Facebook. In the four-minute clip, “Happy in Tehran,” six young Iranian men and women—one of them a close friend of hers—camped it up, dancing on rooftops and lip-synching to Pharrell Williams‘ megahit. Arghavan, an aspiring Iranian pop star who’d left the country at age three, sent her friend an email and captioned her post “JUST LOVE IT!!”
(P3) Nine days later the dancers were detained. Why? Because in Iran women are effectively not allowed to sing or perform in public, one of the many freedoms severely limited after the 1979 revolution (which prompted Arghavan’s family to flee the country). Arghavan tried everything to reach her friend, but no luck. Says the singer, “I was up the whole night worrying.”
(P4) The shutdown of the “Happy” dancers (who were convicted of producing a vulgar video and given suspended sentences) hit home for Arghavan. In 2010 she’d won a coveted spot on the TV show Googoosh Music Academy, a wildly popular American Idol-style competition filmed in London and accessible only illegally in Iran. (It’s named for the country’s biggest pop singer, who has lived in exile since 2000.) Each week that Arghavan advanced in the competition, she found herself flooded with emails from female fans. It wasn’t just her choreography or costumes—”though they did like my hats,” she jokes—it was that Arghavan was an Iranian girl belting her heart out in front of a massive crowd, an impossible feat for a woman actually living in Iran. “They wrote, ‘I wish I could sing on a stage like you.’ They were telling me their stories,” she explains. “They were asking me for help.” (P5) Arghavan decided to use her newfound fame to give voice to her silenced sisters, who, like her, “can’t breathe without music.” Recently she headed back to Iran for the first time in 15 years, risking imprisonment to convince women artists to share their plight in a documentary; she also wrote a book Zan (“woman” in Farsi), published this summer in Swedish. “It wasn’t easy to find women who dared to speak, but these girls are very brave,” she says. Since then she’s been lecturing constantly, including becoming an ambassador for the Swedish National Committee for U.N. Women and giving a TEDx talk this month, trying to rally outrage at women’s oppression not just in Iran but around the world. “This kind of activism is very important,” says Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights lawyer in Iran. “All these performances, albums, books, and films get sent to Iran through YouTube, and everyone ends up seeing them. So effectively the government fails in its aims at censorship.” To Julia Wiklander, founder of the advocacy network Girls’ Globe, “Arghavan is a true activist and one of the most passionate individuals I’ve met. She takes substantial risks to get the word out. She won’t give up.”
(P6) Arghavan welcomes the support. “We have to stand together and shout, ‘No, you cannot stop us from singing,'” she says. “‘We want change, and we have the guts to make it happen.'”
(P7) HER WORDS TO LIVE BY: I know how it feels to have big dreams and be told, ‘You can’t, you can’t.’ Don’t wait for someone else to believe in you. You have to believe in yourself first.”
VOCAB (testing-KR only): [L020B] IRANIAN POP STAR_VOCAB
TO PRINT (testing-kr only): [L020B] IRANIAN POP STAR
If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.
- Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
- Describe what happened to “Happy in Tehran”. Why were they given suspended sentences (P2&3)?
- What kinds of emails was Arghavan getting from Iranian women when she was on Googoosh Music Academy? Why would they write such messages (P4)?
- How is Arghavan giving voice to her silenced sisters (P5)?
- How is female musicians (and dancers) viewed in your culture? Has it ever has a history of oppression in the past?