PSY, or Jaesang Park (35), is the pride of South Korea. His song is everywhere, even in North Korea. That song with the funny music video, where people dance like horses and a fat dude meets the love of his life inside a near-empty subway with the sign “Job Search Information” on the train door. I see “Gangnam Style” on the evening news, I read about its amazing effects on babies and Manchester United players, I even hear the song in the dentist’s office.
Do I sound exasperated? That’s because I am. I like “Gangnam Style”—it’s funny, it’s catchy, and the horse-dance is good exercise. I don’t get how it got so viral, but anything that viral always leaves people wondering. What I’m sick of is less the song itself being repeated over and over and over and over again—and over and over again—it’s more the way people have been talking about it, here in South Korea.
Did I mention that one of South Korea’s biggest newspapers, Chosun Ilbo, wrote those journalistic pieces on “Gangnam Style”‘s effects on babies and soccer players? Sure, Chosun Ilbo is reputed to encourage people’s national pride in different measures and styles—this time with “Gangnam Style”—but its headlines are a pretty good indicator of what’s lacking in the mainstream talk surrounding the new K-pop syndrome.
For one, the talk is pretty shallow. Feel-good achievements of PSY’s “Gangnam Style” appear nightly on the evening news—PSY appearing on MTV, breaking the Guinness World Records for the most number of YouTube likes (sorry LMFAO), and more. And viewers are able to feel good about the news because PSY’s achievements are Korean achievements. So two, the talk surrounding “Gangnam Style” very often has nationalist undertones. K-pop debates usually do, although there’s not much Koreanness to the actual music.
Why don’t we talk about something interesting? I’ve heard enough of how popular and supercalifragiawesome “Gangnam Style” is. Why don’t we talk about the difference between PSY and Girls’ Generation and Wonder Girls? Why did the vacuous Girls fail where PSY didn’t? (Did my question already give the answer away?) Why don’t we analyze the nuanced messages of “Gangnam Style,” the way the Atlantic did? Why don’t we discuss its successes, but also its foreseeable limitations, and how to improve upon them for the future of K-pop? Why don’t we talk about K-pop music, instead of K-pop nation?
Personally, what I’d like to talk about the most is the irony of it all. The video mocks the hollow materialism of Gangnam Style, but by becoming a viral hit, it itself has become a powerful tool in the pursuit of riches. I don’t mean the song’s royalties—it has garnered relatively little, less than $3,300,000—but I mean the marketing companies, countless TV shows, and even PSY himself, who is the new face of LG’s LTE advertisement “U+ Style.” There’s even a new book called “Gangnam Style,” which has none of the nuanced subversiveness of the video. It talks about different rich people, and how to start thinking like them—like “Gangnam Style”—and get rich ourselves.
The Atlantic article that I mentioned before includes an out-of-character quotation from PSY, and I’ll restate it here. “Human society is so hollow, and even while filming [the music video] I felt pathetic. Each frame by frame was hollow.” Does Jaesang Park have Gangnam Style, or what?
P.S. Sorry about the Korean links. I promise they’re links to legitimate articles, not random sites with Asian characters that look like zeroes and stick-figures.
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