“Dress classy and dance cheesy.” This was what the famous singer of “Gangnam Style” said. Psy, the one person who created and took over the world with his hit single has made another feat, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, also a South Korean, deemed him and his single a strong force for world peace. It managed to easily cross social class borders and broke the global language barrier with its simple, bouncy and humorous tune and lyrics.
Even the UN Secretary General was taken by the groove and dance moves shown in the catchy MTV of this hit song that is played everywhere. The Agence France Presse interviewed Secretary General Ban about the song and he said that he had seen it several times. He expressed his pride on how Psy, whose real name is Park Jae-sang, brought the Korean wave as well as the sense of humor of the country globally through the Internet. Psy’s music video had reached more than 480 million views online since its release only three months ago. Even with the Korean lyrics, millions of people continue to listen to it and even dance to the tune. Currently, the MTV for Gangnam Style is the most watched South Korean music video, overtaking the MTVs of other South Korean pop groups.
The "Gangnam Style" (강남스타일 in Korean) is a hit single by South Korean Psy, a rapper, singer/songwriter, record producer and dancer. It was released on July 15, 2012, the title track for the artist’s 6th album, PSY 6 (Six Rules), Part 1, debuting at number one in the Gaon Chart, South Korea’s national music record chart. Nelly Furtado and Maroon 5 even made their own cover of the song and the Harvard Business Review, CNN International, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Foreign Policy featured the song as well.
The popularity of “Gangnam Style” is so far-reaching. The song has made it to almost all of the billboard charts in South Korea, in online music stores and portal search sites. Its popularity has also brought it to international attention almost immediately upon release. Much of the appeal of the song was attributed to the style of dancing Psy made on the music video, which is a combination of hand movements and shuffle dancing that resemble that of being on the back of a horse, which according to the artist himself, he pioneered on August 2011 during a talent contest conducted after a concert. Indeed, Psy and his song affected different aspects of culture, leading to the coining of a new word – Gangnam Style – to mean the lavish lifestyle and high-end fashion associated with Gangnam District’s trendsetters. Colloquially, the neologism is comparable to yolo (you only live once) or swag (cool, anything worth doing, buying or eating), which are English slang words.
Several parodies and flash mobs have been conducted all over the world using the "Gangnam Style" tunes like those of the Oregon Duck athlete-students, midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy and of course, the North Korean government. Saturday Night Live, The Today Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Dodger Stadium and several Samsung commercials are some of the venues where Psy performed his “Gangnam Style.”
With the catchy electronic beat of "Gangnam Style," plus cheesy dance moves, Psy captured the attention of the entire world. His hit single kept him busy as invitations to perform in different television shows in the United States and in South Korea kept pouring in. He also made several live appearances and concerts to the delight of his captive audiences. Gangnam Style’s huge success even made it to the 2012 MTV Europe Music Awards in which it was nominated as the Best Video. In addition, Gangnam Style was recognized as the most "liked" video in YouTube by Guinness World Records.
Behind Gangnam Style
When interviewed about the story behind the song, Psy discussed that this song is about the ideal girlfriend who perfectly knows when to act refined and when to be wild, a girl who would look sexy even when fully clothed; someone who’s quiet and calm but harbors a fiery heart. The song is about a man who’s bulging with ideas rather than muscles – a guy who’s got a warm heart, who works hard and plays hard. Oppa Gangnam Style (오빤 강남 스타일 in Korean), which is the refrain, could be translated as "Big brother is Gangnam style." Oppa is Korean for big brother, or a boyfriend.
Some people interpret the song, or rather the video as a stab at the opulent lifestyle of the rich and “maybe” famous people who live in Gangnam, a small high-class residential district in Seoul, South Korea. This backdrop of the video is a representation of Gangnam, a lavish lifestyle enjoyed by the rich, thus Time Magazine listed its title as such.
However, according to Psy, he never had any intention of taking a stab at the lifestyle enjoyed by the residents of Gangnam, which has a population of more than 500,000. Indirectly though, done in Psy’s humorous ways, it points a finger at those wannabees, the materialistic people that are obsessed with Gangnam and those pretending to be rich and famous, a social malady for those who want to belong to the upper echelon of society without working hard to achieve their dreams.
True, Gangnam is a place to aim for. It is like Beverly Hills in the United States. Gangnam is a small district, which is only 39.55 square kilometers or 15.27 square miles in size. During the 1980s, it was one of the least developed areas in Seoul. Today, land prices in Gangnam are one of the highest in South Korea and it is the location of several of South Korea’s top companies and conglomerates. It is also home to the families of some of South Korea’s richest or chaebols.
Gangnam Style Moves
The song, together with its music video, has made Psy very famous worldwide. In his video, Psy dances to a move that is similar to riding a horse before he appears in places unexpectedly all over the Gangnam District. He dances with class as depicted by him wearing flashy suits and black sunglasses.
Just like other K-pop videos, there are various cameo roles by South Koreans, more particularly in the dance scenes in the parking garage and the funny elevator dance scene. However, his video is a contrast to the so-called lifestyle of the people living in Gangnam. Instead of spending a day in an expensive spa, he spends it in a public bathhouse or a jjimjilbang. His idea of a day in the beach is putting up a large umbrella in a sandy children’s park. For siesta, he watches old men playing chess in the park. Instead of a luxurious coach for traveling, he rides on a tour bus full of senior citizens. Inspecting prospective real estate properties? How about the land under the bridge? Horseback riding? There’s always the carousel, which is safer. Why go to an expensive and exclusive fitness salon when you could join a group of women exercising in a public space? Interested in sailing? Why buy a yacht when you could hire a boat and go on a cruise in the Han River?
Psy waived his copyright to his song’s music video according to the “The Guardian” (which is not yet verified). Still, with so many parodies about the song, Psy simply avoid taking legal action against these parodies of his video, hence, the "Gangnam Style" is a "born to spawn" video.
Global reaction to Gangnam Style
Print and broadcast networks in the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom and other countries, including music video shows, also rushed to feature or cover the current South Korean music sensation and dissected his hit single.
A viral, cheesy dance that suddenly looks cool, a pop culture moment, lively suits and many more praises were received by the music. Some experts also stated that this music could make people laugh even in times of trouble. Still, even with these high regard and positive feedback, there are still negative comments about it. Nevertheless, the singer Psy, his charm and his “Gangnam Style” captured the entire world using his unique ideas to bring forth laughter and good vibes to almost everyone who watches it.
Riding on the song’s popularity, South Korean politicians use the song and the dance to increase their appeal. Several TV talks show hosts featured or discussed the current music phenomenon. Several shows invited Psy to be a guest, where he sang his latest single and danced the signatures horseback riding moves. Electronics giant Samsung made Psy, together with South Korean singer/actor/host Lee Geung Gi as models for their smart refrigerator brand, Zipel. And the Formula One Grand Prix in Korea named him their ambassador for 2012.
The Gangnam Style rave continues, with Psy making the rounds of TV guest appearances in the United States and in South Korea. It seems time is a very expensive commodity for the singer, as he’s been promoting, giving concerts and making personal appearances nonstop, coupled with shooting product commercials on the side.
Impact in today’s world
Even though the lyrics of the song are not fully understood by everyone who “liked” it on YouTube, its music video has literally became a viral phenomenon all over the world and even the meme side of the Internet makes full use of it. The song’s beat is very addictive, and people around the world, from children to young adults to senior citizens are affected by its bouncy rhythm. Two months after it was posted on You Tube, millions of people from 222 countries around the world have viewed the Gangnam Style video. And what’s Gangnam district’s reaction to the whole craze? They decided to make Psy an honorary ambassador of the district and presented him with a plaque for it.
One female talk show host in the U.S. likened Psy to Ricky Martin. In his native country, the Korea Tourism Organization created a special package for travelers who would like to have a one-day Gangnam Style experience – from styling to shopping to dining, clubbing and finally spending some time in a casino.
Senior citizens are not to be left behind. Grandmothers from South Korean who now live in the New Jersey gathered together in the senior citizens center and did their own version of the music and dance craze. The academe dipped their hands into the latest craze, too and gave their own opinions on the phenomenon.
People in the music industry are quick to respond. Schoolboy Records, owned by Scooter Braun, an American talent manager, who is credited for discovering Justin Bieber, has signed up Psy. It is a major feat for the singer – he would be making a break in the music industry in the United States, which would be a first for a South Korean music artist.
Spread of Hallyu wave
The Hallyu wave has been conquering other parts of Asia and is now moving across the oceans to the United States, the Americas and Europe. Top South Korean broadcasters schedule annual concerts abroad, renewing South Korea’s friendly relations with other countries. They bring with them some of the top idol groups from South Korea. Most audiences outside of South Korea got used to seeing members of idol groups who are tall, slender and almost flawlessly beautiful men and women dressed in the latest fashion singing and dancing their latest hits. Psy on the other hand is chubby, dresses simply, not really handsome, but still very appealing. And with his hit single, he’s instrumental in spreading the Hallyu wave globally, without a doubt.
A tool for peace
Analysts and academicians can spew out different theories about Gangnam and Psy and it would still lead to one thing – that regardless of the culture it speaks of, and the message that it conveys, the Gangnam style has transcended barriers of race, age, culture and social status. Music is a universal language spoken by the human race and Psy’s humble little tune has been picked up and assimilated into all these different cultures.