One of Iran's hottest music videos in recent days has been, of all things, a rap-influenced song about nuclear energy. "Energy Hastei" ("Nuclear Energy") was written and performed by the underground rap singer Amir Tataloo, though maybe we should identify Tataloo as a one-time underground rapper; there isn't much "underground" about a video that was produced in cooperation with Iran's military, and whose chorus is, "An armed Persian Gulf is our absolute right."
Tataloo's video is a curious mix of peaceful and aggressive messages. An opening title card reads, "No power can prevent the Iranian nation from having peaceful nuclear energy," and the video's first half features shots of people holding signs proclaiming, in English, "Iranian People are Peaceful," "Peaceful Nuclear Energy for Everyone," and asking, "Has Iran Ever Invaded a Country?" In the meantime, Tataloo is singing (according to the video's often-awkward subtitles), "If it's bad, then it's bad for you too! But if it's good, it should be for all. If it's about peace, then this is my only intention. I am an honest Iranian that is against all violence."
However, the peacefulness soon gives way to military imagery. In some shots, Tataloo is shown singing aboard an Iranian warship, while in others he is backed by armed Iranian sailors and/or soldiers. "If it's gonna be by force then I stay in this path with all my being," sings Tataloo. He calls for "being strong and protecting your territory," and for "a power to put us ahead." The soldiers sometimes join him in the chorus, insisting on the absolute right of an armed Persian Gulf.
"The fact that the military would agree to participate on this level for a music video points to something larger," according to analyst Narges Bajoghli in an interview with the Washington-based website Al Monitor. "The cultural and political elite in the Islamic Republic believe it is of utmost importance to garner the support of Iran's youthful population, support which they know to be shaky since the 2009 Green Movement… Even though rap music has been branded as obscene by the government, the authorities know that by sanctioning a rap video about their military might, they are able to meet two of their goals: 'speak' to youth in their language and further their message of defenders of peace in a volatile region."
That may not be working out quite as planned, according to Al Monitor's own coverage. Tataloo, 32, has had a large audience, with, for example, 1.2 million followers on his Facebook page. Many Iranians remember when the long-haired, pierced, and tattooed singer was in trouble with the regime. But, writes Hanif Z. Kashani, "Iranians viewed Tataloo's latest song as disingenuous, and took to the rapper's Facebook, Instagram and comments section of his YouTube video to express their displeasure that the former flamboyant artist was now singing behind an anti-aircraft gun on an Iranian battleship. Iranians sarcastically ridiculed the video, often insulting him and accusing him of "selling out" and joining the very forces that arrested him in 2013." (Kashani adds that some Facebook supporters of Iran's military were also dismayed that the nation's forces had been used as "propaganda for such an infamous singer.")
Tataloo responded to his critics on Instagram, On July 12. "I feel bad for my friends who are posting such ugly comments," he wrote. "They should know that I'm not listening [to them], and that I'm moving forward, and God willing, very soon all of my countrymen will be full of love, supporting one another, and God willing the sanctions will be lifted… I patiently worked on this nuclear energy song project for 14 years and I believe in it."