How Lil Yachty got whole world wailing with Poland

10 Songs that defined 2022: The rapper’s ode to cough syrup started as a joke. It ended up being his biggest hit.

If you wanted a snapshot of how hits are minted in 2022, you could do worse than listen to Lil Yachty’s Poland. Little more than a sketch, a sound effect, a meme – and strikingly brief at a shade over 80 seconds – it’s also one of the year’s biggest songs, clocking just shy of 100 million streams in the two months since its release.

Recorded as a joke, then leaked, then uploaded by Yachty to Soundcloud (caption: STOP LEAKING MY SHIT”) in October, it was soon followed by a video shot by Cole Bennett of coveted rap platform Lyrical Lemonade.

Not long after that, it was everywhere.

The Bee Gees may have started a joke that had the whole world crying, but Lil Yachty started one that had the whole world wailing. Wailing, specifically, about taking a bottle of intoxicating cough syrup to Eastern Europe. It’s funny that people like this song,” a somewhat bemused Yachty told YouTuber Zik ZIAS” Asiegbu. The song isn’t finished, but that doesn’t matter: it’s been remade and reimagined thousands of times over on TikTok already.

Its appeal lies somewhere in the uncanny valley of the chorus – those chilly, cyber, vibrato, shape-shifting synth lines – and the epic but scuzzy beat courtesy of F1lthy, a producer who’s also crafted synth-heavy songs by rage rap stars Playboi Carti and Yeat. It helps that it’s mostly hook, too. The solitary verse – more breather than stanza, rapped with a comedown shiver – is haunted by the ghostly, nonsensical refrain.

It’s also strikingly of its time in the sense that its enormous success (eclipsing pretty much everything Yachty’s done since he broke big with his whimsical brand of mumble rap in 2017) was both totally unpredictable and unplanned: a spark of inane inspiration catching a TikTok tailwind and pulling everyone from Steve Lacy to Cardi B into its orbit.

This is what it sounds like when the line between meme and song dissolves. Meaning and time evaporate, and all that’s left is irony. Despite being hailed (let’s say ironically) by Poles as a defining moment in the nation’s history, and garnering comment from a spokesperson for the Polish embassy in Washington, D.C. (if not an actual invite to visit from the Prime Minister), Yachty was actually singing about a bottle of spring water from Maine, New England when he came up with the hook. But the whole world sang along with him anyway.

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