Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Obligatory Gangnam Style Post

Dear Korean,

We've all heard it and we all love it, but what exactly is Gangnam Style and what makes it so popular in your opinion?


The Korean tried. He really tried to avoid the fad. He thought this was going to blow over in a few days, and everyone will feel a bit silly afterward. But no . . .

Gangnam Style just kept coming on -- 273 million views and counting, appearances on network televisions shows, continuous climb up the charts and numerous homages to the original. (The latest one: from the Ohio University marching band.) Questions about Gangnam Style just kept coming also, even though the Korean has been slower with blog updates.

So, FINE. Let's discuss Gangnam Style. First, what exactly is "Gangnam Style"? "Gangnam" literally means "south of the river." But generally, Gangnam refers to a specific area in Seoul located south of the Han River that bisects the city. The area generally encompasses the northern half of (confusing name alert) Gangnam-gu and Seocho-gu, covering neighborhoods like Apgujeong, Sinsa and (confusing name alert, again) Gangnam. It is an area with posh malls, expensive dining and swanky clubs. People who populate those areas are rich, stylish and beautiful, carrying all the appropriate status symbols like imported cars and fancy handbags. They are often celebrities or heirs of Korea's magnates.

The Korean was raised in Apgujeong, so he is the original Gangnam man. And it has been a little bit funny to see his old home described breathlessly as some place that "has no real equivalent in the United States. The closest approximation would be Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Beverly Hills, Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and Miami Beach all rolled into one[,]" according to the Wall Street Journal (quoting this clueless blogger.) Finding the U.S. equivalent of Gangnam is quite easy: it's West Hollywood / Beverly Hills. It has celebrities, style, money, and nice homes and good schools just behind those flashing lights.

(Aside:  This "no equivalent in U.S." trope is really overused, and in this instance, the comparison is clearly hyperbolic and incorrect. Gangnam is obviously not a Silicon Valley, since there is no huge concentration of tech companies in Gangnam. Nor is it Wall Street -- that would be Gwanghwamun / City Hall area, north of the river, where all the major banks have their headquarters. Gangnam is not Upper East Side either, since Gangnam is decidedly nouveau riche. The old money of the kind that occupies the Upper East Side of New York is found in Yeonhee-dong of Seoul, north of the river. The Miami Beach comparison is too dumb to address.)

So when PSY speaks of "Gangnam Style," he means to invoke the trendy, stylish image. But of course, what PSY ends up doing in the music video is a parody of such image. He is wearing a ridiculous suit and dances a ridiculous dance. He appears in decidedly un-Gangnam areas:  children's playground, on a paddle boat, riverside park, a bus with a disco ball, etc. A couple of times, PSY does encounter what might be fairly close to a Gangnam-type occasion -- a man driving a fancy car (a cameo appearance by the legendary comedian Yoo Jae-seok,) and a beautiful woman (cameo by Hyuna from the girl group 4Minute) flirting. But those moments quickly dissolve into another round of ridiculous dancing.

(Aside:  If you immediately understood the relevance of the bus with a disco ball, you have a black belt in Korean culture. The "party" bus is usually for older Korean men and women, who would like to dance away from the public view. To release their urges to shake it, they would charter these buses with total strangers and have a mobile dancing session. By the way, those old Korean folks dance about as well as your parents. It is probably the most un-hip mobile party in the world -- which fits perfectly with Gangnam Style's aesthetics.)

Having said that, what made Gangnam Style so popular?

(More after the jump)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

At bottom, Gangnam Style is popular because of the same reasons why any pop music is popular. The song is catchy, the music video is interesting and funny (and full of hot girls to boot,) and the dance is distinctive. (One recent example that replicates this pattern:  Teach Me How to Dougie by Cali Swag District.)

But of course, there is more to it, since plenty of Korean pop music that never sees the light of the day still satisfy those criteria, even as a lot of Korean pop musicians deliberately market themselves in the U.S. So what made Gangnam Style stand out? Broadly speaking, there are two reasons.

First, Korean pop music has been laying a solid groundwork for PSY to succeed. It is true that, thus far, efforts by Korea's pop stars to break into the U.S. market resulted in a flop. Top stars like Wonder Girls, Girls' Generation and 2NE1 never made a dent on America's public consciousness. Nevertheless, the groundwork that these groups laid remains important. Because Korean pop music at least got on the radar screen of the insider players of American media market, PSY's music was easily accepted by those insiders.

This is a crucial point that separates Korean pop music and pop music from other, non-Anglophonic countries. Through repeated contacts with American media, Korean pop music had a ready audience among American media insiders.

The Twitter network map that traces the connection between
the first appearance of Gangnam Style and T-Pain,
from a study commissioned by YG Entertainment, PSY's production company
The importance of this access cannot be emphasized enough. The first spark of the Gangnam Style conflagration in the U.S. was kindled by producer and rapper T-Pain, who shared PSY's music video on his Twitter. T-Pain's endorsement lent a certain level of legitimacy to Gangnam Style. Soon, other U.S.-based pop musicians and other trend-setters -- Katy Perry, Nelly Furtado -- began talking about the song. Then CNN picked up the story. And so began the hype cycle. Without the first, crucial step of T-Pain sharing PSY's video, there was no Gangnam Style phenomenon. And T-Pain bothered to look at PSY's video because K-pop has become a legitimate force around the world, and was worth his time to look.

Second, Gangnam Style is popular in America because Gangnam Style is familiar to Americans in multiple ways. The song's electro-pop tune fits right in with the current American music trend, in which LMFAO's Sexy and I Know It is one of the favorites. (Try listening to Gangnam Style right after Sexy and I Know It -- the similarities are enough to think that the same person composed both.) Because the tune of the song is so familiar, it matters less that most Americans have no idea what PSY is singing about.

(Aside:  But do not over-interpret this point and think that PSY was copying LMFAO. PSY has been around for 11 years, and he can be heard composing this self-satirical, electro-pop music pretty early on in his career. For example, check out PSY's 2002 song, Champion.)

Similarly, it is not enough to say that Gangnam Style is popular in the U.S. because Gangnam Style is hilarious; Gangnam Style is popular in the U.S. because it is hilarious in a way that is familiar to Americans. The code of humor embedded in the music video -- awkwardness punctuated by bouts of ridiculous non-sequitur (like the guy in a cowboy hat doing pelvic thrust, another cameo appearance by comedian Noh Hong-cheol) -- is very common among American comedy. Ultimately, it is the same type of humor latent in, say, Napoleon Dynamite -- an embarrassing train wreck in which the main character is somehow vindicated through sheer obliviousness and irrational self-confidence.

There is a dark side of this code of humor as well. In the current day American pop culture, it is ok to laugh at Asians doing strange things. (Think Ken Jeong's character in the Hangover series.) On a certain level, PSY -- a pudgy, funnily-dressed Korean man -- is a comfortable target to laugh at. This is not to say that people who enjoy Gangnam Style all have a sinister, racist motive. This is only to say that people's motives as they approach a certain phenomenon are complex and multitudinous, and not all of them are necessarily positive.

There are certain occasions in which such non-positive motives reveal themselves in a really ugly way. In the Creators' Project concert held in Seoul a few days ago, Korean rap legend Drunken Tiger took the stage. According to Tiger JK, leader of Drunken Tiger, the "white people" toward the front of the stage hollered their demands that Drunken Tiger do PSY's horse dance. This led to an angry tirade from Tiger JK: "Just cuz I don’t dance when i spit. Don’t mean I’m frontin. I salute my homie PSY success.But I don’t have to dance for you cuz I’m Asian." In the hands of ignorant people, Gangnam Style will become the new "ching chong."

A few leftover thoughts about Gangnam Style, and the attention surrounding it:

1.  While the Korean is quite happy that PSY's music is receiving international attention, he cannot believe the ridiculousness of the commentary surrounding this piece. In fact, reading the commentary regarding Gangnam Style was a good way of finding out who knows what he was talking about, and who is simply full of shit.

The most frequent type of ridiculousness has been over-analysis. People who otherwise knew little about Korea hung onto every little bit of Gangnam Style, and interpreted every aspect of it as if Gangnam Style were the Bible. The worst offender of this was The Atlantic article on Gangnam Style, which had this gem:
One of the first things Hong pointed to in explaining the video's subtext was, believe it or not, South Korea's sky-high credit card debt rate. In 2010, the average household carried credit card debt worth a staggering 155 percent of their disposable income (for comparison, the U.S. average just before the sub-prime crisis was 138 percent). There are nearly five credit cards for every adult. South Koreans have been living on credit since the mid-1990s, first because their country's amazing growth made borrowing seem safe, and then in the late 1990s when the government encouraged private spending to climb out of the Asian financial crisis. The emphasis on heavy spending, coupled with the country's truly astounding, two-generation growth from agrarian poverty to economic powerhouse, have engendered the country with an emphasis on hard work and on aspirationalism, as well as the materialism that can sometimes follow.
Gangnam, Hong said, is a symbol of that aspect of South Korean culture.
Wow, really? By this stupid logic, the subtext for Black Eyed Peas' Let's Get it Started is not about getting drunk, but the rise in teenage autism. People, Gangnam Style is not that profound. If you told any Korean that Gangnam Style was a subversive parody of materialism, s/he will laugh at your face. At the end of the day, it is a silly party song. It is not some type of magic prism that reveals the mystery of Korea. Get the fuck over yourselves.

2.  Another brand of over-analysis:  connecting Gangnam Style to some obscure Korean tradition that has very little bearing in modern Korea. This is from the Wall Street Journal article linked earlier:
PSY belongs to an established genre of entertainers that pop pundits there have dubbed “gwang-dae,” after a caste of performers traditionally attached to royal households. “Gwang-dae are more clown or jester-like,” says Kang. “They don’t have to be sexy idols to be popular. Their songs are either very humorous, or can sound serious, but with silly lyrics.” . . . The original gwang-dae were given a certain amount of license to critique the aristocracy, offering up satirical commentary on society through their dance, music and repartee.
This is a facepalm level of fail. Yes, there was such a thing as 광대 in Korea. It is literally the word for a "clown." And yes, several centuries ago, gwangdae did have a major place in Korean popular culture. If you were writing a scholarly article, tracing the lineage of Korea's musical humor, you might, might be able to connect the dots between gwangdae acts from the 17th century with PSY's Gangnam Style. And along the same logic, you will have to argue with the straight face that Family Guy, with its numerous comical music sketches, belongs in the same genus as Mozart's hilarious Marriage of Figaro.

Or maybe it makes more sense to focus on Korea's robust modern pop music history. Just a suggestion.

3.  It was also refreshing to see the tired old stereotypes about Korea that get trotted out in the commentary. (The Korean tends to miss them sometimes.) Again, from The Atlantic article:
None of this commentary is particularly overt, which is actually what could make "Gangnam Style" so subversive. Social commentary is just not really done in mainstream Korean pop music, Hong explained. "The most they'll do is poke fun at themselves a little bit. It's really been limited."
"Social commentary is just not really done in mainstream Korean pop music"?? Anyone with the most basic knowledge of Korea's pop music history knows this is not true. Off the top of his head, the Korean can name several dozen songs by indisputably mainstream, chart-topping K-pop artists that explicitly made social commentaries, often in a satirical manner. As a quick example, this is how a song from 2000 called 포조리 [Pojori], by DJ Doc, begins. (Note that "dirty bird" [짭새] is a Korean slang for police):

새가 날아든다 왠갖 짭새가 날아든다
Birds fly in, all kinds of dirty birds fly in
새중에 넌 씨방새~ 날지 못하는 새 짭새
Among the birds you are a fuckshit bird, a flightless dirty bird
새가 날아든다 짭새가 날아든다
Birds fly in, the dirty birds fly in
문제야 문제 우리나라 경제 좆같은 짭새와 꼰대가 문제
It's a problem, it's problem, the economy is a problem, the dickhead dirty birds and the assholes are the problem
새가 날아든다 짭새가 날아든다
Birds fly in, the dirty birds fly in
짭짭짭짭짭짭 짭새가 문제
D-d-d-d-d-dirty birds are the problem
So this song, in pretty explicit terms, criticizes Korean police. (And trust me when the Korean says -- the lyrics get worse.) Oh by the way, DJ Doc's album containing this song (which was the second headlining song) topped the sales chart for three weeks. But nooo -- let's quote the guy who clearly has no idea what he is talking about. We cannot possibly ruin the stereotype about how Koreans are these meek, subservient and humorless automatons, can we?

4.  While the Korean wishes PSY well, he cannot help but wonder if PSY can achieve a sustainable success. Although the Korean laid out several factors for PSY's success, he cannot tell just how much each factor is weighed. If PSY's musical merit is the greater factor, he will find sustained success. But if catchiness plus being an easy target of laughter are the greater factors, Gangnam Style could simply be another Macarena. Although Gangnam Style is undoubtedly a huge success story for Korean pop music in general, the Korean is still waiting for the true, genuine breakthrough of Korean pop music in the United States.

-EDIT 9/26/2012- The Korean fixed up some sentences here and there to make the post a bit cleaner. Also, this post about the term oppa might be helpful for those who are curious. Before Gangnam Style took off, that post was one of the first Google search results for "oppa."

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.


  1. > And along the same logic, you will have to argue with the straight face that Family Guy, with its numerous comical music sketches, belongs in the same genus as Mozart's hilarious Marriage of Figaro.

    The moment I saw that, I had the sudden conviction that Fate had, in the interests of irony, already arranged something like that.

    So I went to Google and... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwoUjflhoWw

    Dammit people!

  2. I am extremely excited about Psy doing so well so far, and I am hoping it might make people start checking out more K-pop. I think we can really measure a successful break through if we start hearing artists like Big Bang or T-ara on the radio. More than just one artist. I really want some international music to break through America's mind set. I know, its made it mainstream in a lot of countries around the world, and I hate to say it but from first hand experience many of my fellow Americans really shun anything foreign. It sucks. When we do accept something foreign we always feel the need to remake it. For example, horror movies. The majority of the best horror movies we have here are remakes of mostly Japanese and Korean ones. Then there's always The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which was amazing in its original form. To me, something needs to be at least a decade old before it is dissected and remade. Psy stated that he has no intentions to make an English version which made me do a happy dance because its about time that the mind frame that everything needs to be in English is dropped. Sorry for the rant. I got called a Hipster the other day for listening to "weird asian music all the time". A HIPSTER. What ever happened to just appreciating music? I don't have an asian fetish either. I listen to French Rock and German Industrial music as well. Other countries listen to music in English and no one questions it so why do we always shut out anything foreign? I just want more people to look with an open mind and give something different a chance.

  3. I knew I would love this video and secretly play it over and over again in my car (along with the rest of the world, apparently) the moment I saw that elevator and yoga scene. Enough said. O-o-o-o-Oppa Gangnam Style! I mean, if that doesn't scream "catchy" I don't know what else does. ;)

    Glad to see you're posting in between your little breaks. The days and weeks go by so slow without a new read for the day.

  4. I wonder if people think it is about gangs as in GANGnam.

  5. I agree that the analysis by western media is extremely overblown, but my first impression of the song was that PSY was making a statement about the over-the-top ridiculous styles seen in Gangnam, and the pretentiousness behind it. It's not huge social commentary but it seems like a bit of biting satire, something like Right Said Fred making fun of models in "I'm Too Sexy". Even though he is acting the fool in the vid, I feel like he's doing more than just being a "Napoleon Dynamite" clown character getting laughs out of doing a silly dance.

  6. The incident with Tiger JK seriously pissed me off and even though Im caucasian I dont take offence to what he said because for me a lot of it was warrented... What those People did was extremly disrespectful. Asking Tiger JK to do the horse dance is like asking Jay Z or Snoop Dog to dance the polka or something, and if those people knew anything about Korea, kpop or Korean Entertainment in general they'd know that. So yeah, those people might be ignorant, but what they did still show a huge lack of respect for Tiger JK but for Korea and koreans in general. They should be ashamed of themselves!

  7. Nice piece. I've been reading pretty much all the commentary on Gangnam Style that has been coming out, and your obligatory blog post is one of the most measured and sensible. (I'm trying to restrain myself from writing the obligatory academic piece on it...). Since you have referred to the WSJ's citation of the Open City piece, can I insert here a correction to it I made there which still hasn't been moderated (don't know if the blogger decided she was getting too many comments or what)? She makes an assertion that I've seen picked up elsewhere and it is one of the problems of the sort you're discussing, to wit, that "Forty one percent of Seoul University admittees in 2010 came from Gangnam." Closer inspection of the graph used shows a misreading: it's not saying that 41% of all SNU entering students each year come from Gangnam (Gangnam-gu, Seocho-gu and Songpa-pu); it’s 41% of all the students from *Seoul* itself who enter SNU who come from those districts, which is itself larger than your own narrower but very reasonable definition. We need to add in Gyeonggi-do, Busan, Daegu, Gyeongsang-do, etc. Not sure what that will take Gangnam down to on the national level. Obviously disproportionate, but not quite as striking as stated there. Just wanted to get this out there somewhere where it will be read.

  8. It's not too inaccurate to refer to Gangnam as the Silicon Valley equivalent for Korea. 테헤란로 which is located in the Gangnam is commonly referred to as the "Silicon Valley" of Korea by people in Seoul. Pretty much every single major internet company in Korea had their main headquarters located there until the recent opening of the new technology park in Pangyo a few months ago. Most international tech companies such as Google, Apple, Oracle, etc... still maintain their offices along Teheran-no. More importantly, the heart of the venture capital culture in Korea is still concentrated in that region. If you want to get your tech start-up funded in Korea, Gangnam is still the place to go.

    1. Naver is in Bundang, Daum is in Jeju. But more importantly, culturally speaking, Gangnam does not have the same type of geek-chic culture that Silicon Valley has.

    2. I live in Silicon Valley, and anything that can be compared to Hollywood (where I have also lived) bears no relation to Silicon Valley. Chic here is a tee shirt and jeans (the classic line is, "Silicon Valley isn't a place - it's a wardrobe" because in the flush years, everyone hands out tee shirts like water, so everyone is wearing tech logos all the time.) Not tastefully ripped jeans - just jeans. Chic in the Valley is as understated as possible - most of the very rich I know dress like farmers - or favor Hawaiian shirts.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. I only mentioned that the Silicon Valley reference for Gangnam wasn't too out of line because I've actually heard many native Koreans self-reference the Teheranno area as the 'Silicon Valley' of Seoul in an non-ironic manner. As someone who's lived and worked in both Silicon Valley and in Samseong-dong since 2001, I can understand why they'd feel that way. Although the geek-chic culture is not as blatant here in Korea, you can still feel the subtle influence of the Valley in Teheranno. Take a look around the Star Tower or ASEM Tower during a typical work week and you'll be surprised at how many workers come to work in shorts and a t-shirts as opposed to the normal salary men getup. As more of the top Korea IT companies move out, like NHN to Bundang in 2005, Daum to Jeju in 2004 although they still have a Seoul office in Gangnam, Nexon and NC to Pangyo starting this year, it's becoming less common, but hang out near Seulleung Station and you can still catch that vibe.

      However, I've never heard anyone use the "Silicon Valley" reference to the Gangnam region as a whole. I'd definitely agree that it'd be stretching the analogy pretty thin if you tried to apply it to more than just the Teheranno area.

  9. It's going to be hard for any act that is not mostly in English to break into the American market on a sustained level. Most Americans are monolingual, and most people want to listen to music they can understand.

  10. I think it's a good thing that this silly video has gotten so much attention. It would be really nice if this did open up an American market for more of the performing arts coming out of Asia. I have no idea how collectively we can ignore the culture of so many people. It isn't as though our culture hasn't been influenced by Asians at all. I have a very superficial knowledge of Asian culture in general, but I'm trying to learn. Here's one thing I've learned by watching Asian movies and dramas, humor is universal. Looks to me like everyone, regardless of their culture thinks farts are funny. Now an American watching Asian movies might superficially think that Asian humor is less sophisticated but they would be wrong. First of all if you don't speak the language and must rely on sub-titles to understand the dialogue you are missing a lot. Next, please, Americans, white people, get over yourselves! "The Hangover", "Hot Tub Time Machine", anything Jim Carrey,come on, most juvenile humor ever. The Koreans are funny. I get them. And "The Korean" is pretty much spot on with his observation, as usual. I am a little surprised to hear about the incident at the Tiger JK concert. You'd think that white people in Korea attending a rap concert wouldn't be that stupid and insulting. First of all Tiger doesn't dance if you've ever seen any of his videos. I think he's even said "I don't dance". I guess white people in Korea go to concerts when they don't know anything about the artist? I wouldn't pay to see someone I've never heard of, that's just me. I've just started paying attention to Korean music. Since I don't like American pop music much I'm not that interested in K pop either. Rap is a different animal and Tiger JK and his wife are too. I think both of them would be big stars in the U.S. if they were black or white. It surprises me that they haven't broken into the American market by now anyway. Perhaps they don't care too, and that would be fine. Asian's get very little attention in the American entertainment industry. The Korean is right that they are relegated to stereotypical roles of the short, funny guy or the the squint eyed bad guy. I'd love to see an Asian leading man in an American film. No not Jackie Chan. He's fine, so is Jet Li but both of them have helped personify the Asian stereotype. I mean a real leading man, like Denzel Washington, or even Will Smith. There isn't any reason why a rapper like Tiger JK couldn't be an American rap star. There's no language barrier. He speaks flawless English. Yoon Mi-rea is an American! I really don't think Americans know much at all about anything other than their own self centered little world.

  11. Replies
    1. Yeah, me too. Tablo, Mithra, Tukutz. Epik High is definitely among the most deserving.

    2. I googled Tablo and if wiki is right then Tablo was influenced by Drunken Tiger. I don't know enough about this to debate the point but Tiger is a pretty old guy, been rapping since '98 is he kind of like the godfather of Korean rap? Who else was trying to do what he was doing in Korea at that time? I don't know. I wouldn't know. If you look at a picture of Tablo and didn't know he was a rapper, you'd think he was just another pretty boy Korean celebrity. Nothing wrong with that and certainly there is a market here for pretty boys with talent. He's Canadian so I assume he speaks good English. Why not? The other guy says he has a chip on his shoulder. Good. Rap and Rock 'n' Roll aren't supposed to be about bunnies and butterflies. It should have some kind of edge to it or else it might as well be pop music.

    3. I'd be the first to celebrate if TigerJK blew up (meaning he was known in the mainstream .. we all know he's a legend!) .. I love Drunken Tiger! I just think Tablo has the ammunition to do really big things if he puts his mind to it. I also think he's an excellent representative for SK, he's poised and very well spoken. No one in the media could ever brush Tablo off as a fad. I love Tiger, I listen to DT all the time when I'm driving :D .. but he wouldn't force the legitimacy from the US media that Tablo would. Not to mention, Tablo has a MFA from Stanford and won an award from his collection of short stories.

  12. I've been listening to k-pop since 2005 starting with Lee Jung Hyun giving me her album. Tiger JK & Tablo are at a huge disadvantage to mainstream success, because, frankly they carry the asian-american chip on their shoulder thing (no surprise to hear about Tiger JK's outburst) which reduces their performance factor. I put Ken Jeong in this category as well (saw his standup in 2004ish). That is why Psy's comedy is so much more appealing across the board - because of his lack of awareness of bullshit asian american politics (he grew up in Korea). In my following this Psy phenom I have been reading all the youtube comments and most of the people who are non-aware of k-pop like the song because of Psy's charisma. The song's rise out of the novelty factor arena is due to sex appeal! Psy's success in breaking into America w is about ability as a performer and his likability. I am sick of hearing about people who compare this to the Macarena or I'm Too sexy. Those guys did not have the performance factor. The like performances on youtube from inkigayo and MBC are getting like 5-10 million hits. You don't get signed by Scooter Braun and walked onto the Ellen show twice if people think you are the next Macarena, Las Ketchup or Falco

    1. Aaron..you obviously know a lot more about Korean artists than I do. So what do you mean by the Asian/American chip on their shoulder? What if they do? Isn't it justified if they do have a chip on their shoulder? Just a cursory google search about Tiger JK will tell you that he was living in L.A. during the 92 riots when so much of the violence was directed at Koreans. I believe he attempted to break into the American market in the early days but found more success in Korea. You go where they want you, who could blame him. I am an American and I can tell you that he has as much swagger and street cred as any American rapper out there, probably because he did live in America. He was jailed in Korea on drug charges and he's got a degree in English from UCLA. He's no dummy and he's no wannabe. I can't understand most of his lyrics but he has the presence of a rap star and that's what it takes. He's a bad ass Mo Fo and I'm telling you that if he produced an English language album that reached even a few people here in the states he'd get noticed. I don't know why any of our own big producers here haven't reached out to him. Perhaps they have and he isn't interested. Chip on his shoulder, yeah, so what, Rap is pretty much about having a chip on your shoulder. Didn't you know that? I also think you are dead wrong, not so much about Psy who isn't really to my taste anyway. I saw him on interview and his English is sketchy at best. This stuff isn't about Asian American politics. It's pretty much about the language barrier and the "what you see in the mirror" factor. Americans aren't going to listen to music that they can't understand. Didn't you know that Asians are good at math and like to beat people up with their feet? That's what most dumb ass white people in America think of Asians. I'm telling you if T-Pain had tweeted about Tiger we'd be talking about him right now and there wouldn't be any discussion about whether or not he was a one hit wonder. I do agree that it would be nice if this gets Americans interested in something other than what they see in the mirror.

  13. The Korean wrote: "The most frequent type of ridiculousness has been over-analysis. People who otherwise knew little about Korea hung onto every little bit of Gangnam Style, and interpreted every aspect of it as if Gangnam Style were the Bible."

    The two examples you showed were written by people with Korean surnames. Maybe they were born in the US . . . or maybe they are fresh off the boat . . . probably they are somewhere in between. Whatever the case - why do you suppose they know so little about Korea?

    1. Because if they knew more about Korea, they would not have written that!

  14. I see this as a familiar parody. In Montreal, we make fun of the often over-the-top nouveau (and often idle) riche that have taken over the Plateau district when it was artist-trendy (all the artists moved to Verdun, btw). We call them Bobos (Bourgeois-Bohème, or Bourgeois-Bohemian). We even made a TV show to laugh at them. http://lesbobos.telequebec.tv/ (in French).

    Each city has its own take on the people who can afford to buy trendiness, rather than actually contribute to it. This is quite different in the US, where hip-hop culture glorified and worshipped the high-end trappings of consumer culture, which is strangely difficult to parody.

  15. Tamara Johnson wrote: "So what do you mean by the Asian/American chip on their shoulder? What if they do? Isn't it justified if they do have a chip on their shoulder? Just a cursory google search about Tiger JK will tell you that he was living in L.A. during the 92 riots when so much of the violence was directed at Koreans."

    It's possible that you've got it backwards - it's not a chip because of the way he was treated in America - it's the way he's treated by Koreans in Korea. He left Korea when he was 12 and therefore in the eyes of some Koreans - is thought to have not really grown up as a true Korean.

    Speculation on my part - based on what I've seen and experienced in Korea.

    1. guitard...I assume that Aaron knows something about Korean rap even if his taste does lean toward the ridiculous. I would have to find the time to watch and listen to some of the other artists mentioned here, including Psy. I don't even know if this type of video is a signature of his style, like LMFAO here in the states. There's nothing wrong with humor, even in rap, Eminem employs satire and humor all the time. Will Smith started his career with it. It just isn't Drunken Tiger style and it just kind of puzzled me why something like that would happen. Believe me if you were in the states and a bunch of jerks started yelling at Lil Wayne to do the pee-pee dance. He'd probably whip it out and pee on them.

  16. 2NE1 haven't debuted in America yet. They won't debut there until the beginning of 2013. But, Wonder Girls and Girls' Generation flopped in the US - especially Girls' Generation.

    1. Yeah, too bad. At least they were prepared for it by the previous failures of the likes of Pink Lady and Utada Hikaru.

  17. It was great to get some things said about Gangnam Style. I'll comment on that just music-wise.
    The first time I heard that song I really thought "OMG, this sucks!" The rapping, electro-pop-music was never to my liking. But I thought I had to watch that MV at least once, to know what he whole world is talking about. So I did, and it wasn't even over but my head already hurt from listening to it.

    But I think I watched it 3-4 times on the first day, because I was just totally speechless that a song like that actually could become such a hype worldwide. So I thought, there MUST be something that makes it worth it.

    Ha, and here we go - catchy! To my utter disbelieve: the more often I heard that song the more comfortable it got to the ears and I could smile some more.
    This actually (just my own opinion) should be counted as a disgrace for me. How can a song like that, that I didn't like from the very beginning can at least turn my head to the thought: "Well, with some more time it's fine."?

    This certainly is not a great feedback for a song and certainly doesn't testify to real great work (music-wise). That's a shame, that in our modern times it STILL can be such a huge hit. But again, this is only my opinion.

    So, at least for me: What is it about that song "Gangnam Style"? A catchy but headache-causing song that shows a ridiculous dance, which comes on very funny. No more, no less.

  18. How funny... I remember when it was forbidden on this blog even to mention Kpop. I also remember commenting that Kpop is going to be popular a long time ago... Kpop is spreading and it is bound to spread even further. My prediction is that is going to take its spot in American culture permanently at some point, probably within the next five years. American pop is not going to go away, don't get me wrong, but Kpop is going to be there, mark my words.

    The power of Kpop is rooted in human biology, rather brain-compatibility. First of all, American producers are out of ideas. They think sex sells. You cannot watch a video without a naked body part, sometimes even too many naked parts. Watching videos on MTV is almost like watching porn - some videos with dry humping in bras and underwear surpass the mastery of a professional poll dancer. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Pink, Rihanna - my gosh, you would think they were raised in brothels (and clothed there as well).

    It is true, sex sells. But there is something that sells more than sex. And Kpop producers were able to get a grip on that. When you watch Super Junior, 2NE1, SHINee, you know there is passion. And that passion is so strong, it is captivating and addicting. Those teenage followers will do ANYTHING for their idols. Why? Because Kpop satisfies their basic need - to belong to something bigger than just you. Something clean, pure, kind and beautiful.

    Kpop stars dress sexy, but not trashy and dirty. They sing about love and their lyrics are clean. Yes, I know there are some songs with dirty lyrics, but for the most part (99.9%) it is all about love. They follow Shakespeare, Petrarch and many others who wrote about love. Kpop is experiencing cultural renaissance when their ideas and believes are still very innocent, yet their music and video-making skills are advanced beyond the 22st century. Modern appeal with eternal value - how can it be NOT addictive?

    I don't think it is a coincidence that Justin Bieber's producer was the one who "discovered" PSY. I bet he knew about Kpop before he "created" Justin Bieber. He modeled him after Kpop flower boys - infinite femininity, youth appeal and fashionable clothes. Too bad Justin Bieber is ugly, has a eunuch-like falsetto voice and ... he is not Korean. He does not have that "clean feeling" about him.

    The reason why Gangnam Style got so popular is very simple: it has become a cultural meme. Just like the nyan cat, Spongebob, Angry birds, etc. And it will fade away unless PSY will keep producing something equally funny and upbeat. Gangnam Style is easy to love: it is very entertaining and sweet. Notice how he has almost never repeated his locations in the video, and when repeating - it was only shown for a brief second. The video is innocent (compared to what they show on MTV) and it is made just for fun. Simple, clean fun. PSY is making a mockery of himself in a sweet and non-degrading way - and it is appealing to almost everyone, because people like anything that is uplifting and makes them smile.

  19. In the US Bieber and boy bands don't get much play outside of their "tweener" base. Just like so many teen idols before him, The Beebs, will have to "grow up" in order to appeal to an older fan base. There are a couple of new boy bands now for young girls to swoon over, but American boys don't listen to these guys pretty much at all. I think it's a lot more likely that Kpop will begin to look and sound even more like American pop music than have American pop music swing the other way, back to Disney land. Americans have enough variety in their music choices that, Kpop if it did take hold would be just another niche genre. Besides, American already does have their own version of "clean, pure, kind and beautiful. There is a pretty good market here for Christian rock and pop, but it's not mainstream. It doesn't get regular radio play and the videos are produced for the Christian TV Channels. Anyone who thinks the American public is waiting for their pop stars to put their clothes back on and clean up their act knows a lot more about Korea than they do about America.

    1. "Clean, pure, kind and beautiful" niche is pretty empty. It is there for Kpop to take over. Thankfully, Christian pop is so poorly made, it is worse than Justin Bieber. It is hard to imagine that anything can be possibly worse than Justin Bieber, yet it is.

      There is a grass root movement in America. Regular, normal teenagers watch Kpop, both boys and girls. To see some of them making reaction videos, all you have to do is to type in the name of the song and then "reaction video". Here is only one example among thousands (yes, thousands):
      The best is yet to come for Kpop.

    2. vb...I hope you are right. I would like to see more variety in entertainment. I would really like to have more access to foreign films and entertainment. I live in south central Virginia and it's a cultural wasteland. I can't see a foreign film until it comes out on video because we don't even have an art house movie theater close enough for me to see them on the big screen. There is almost nowhere near for me to even see an English language indie film. If Korean Pop music turns young people on then I'm fine with it. I'm not that interested in pop music but I did look up a few more Korean rappers and I'm impressed. I'm just so new to watching Asian entertainment that it's going to take a long time for me to see everything I want to see. Movies are easier for me to get excited about because I can find them with subtitles. Music is a little more difficult. I can appreciate the music and the work that goes into producing the songs but can't fully enjoy them since I can't understand the lyrics. I have noticed that Korean rappers us a lot of English phrases in their songs and sometimes people have done translations on YouTube for the videos. I only have one problem...don't be messing with "The Beebs". He's a cutie pie and a talented kid. He seems to be pretty well grounded and not so full of himself that he can't see how lucky he has been, he has a sense of humor. If he can keep a good attitude and stay away from drugs then he may be around for awhile.

    3. I am sorry... I just cannot love Justin Bieber. For the life of me. I know why teenage girls obsess about him but... my blood starts to boil when I see his face. I better refrain from further comments. Maybe he is super talented, but I just want him to immigrate to the North Pole for good. Not that I love Kpop. Actually, I kind of dislike music (most of it, anyway) because I spent eight years out of my life playing piano just to develop deep disgust for anything that makes any noise. I am okay with Bach and Rachmaninoff on rare occasions, but some music (especially jazz and country) makes a mad woman out of me. I can tolerate Kpop because I get it - I understand why it is so easy to like. Plus those kids work SO HARD for so little money, you feel for them. I believe that Kpop brings something positive into this world (unlike so many other musicians). It was interesting to see that in Russia, where there is absolutely no Kpop any TV or radio a little tiny article on the TV website about SHINee got over 3,500 likes. Madonna got 25. Which makes me think - either all those girls were opening new accounts like crazy and just voting for their idols or... there are over 3,500 people who actually listen to Kpop in a country that does not even play Kpop (Madonna is on almost every day)! That's amazing! I personally know Kpop obsessed fans from Slovenia, France, Portugal and Tunisia. Tunisia, out of all the places!!! I think if Kpop can make it to Tunisia, it can make it anywhere. As for the movies, I used to be obsessed over Korean movies. Once I started watching Korean movies and dramas, I stopped watching everything else. Other movies just don't feel right. I highly recommend you to watch two of them: The Way Home and A Moment to Remember. Both are on Youtube.

  20. Great piece; one of the best on Gangnam Style and I've been reading *lots* (while trying to refrain from doing my own obligatory academic piece on GS; I've even been asked to speak about the song at a Korean National Day event....). Re your pointing to the WSJ's citation of the Open City blog: I actually liked the blogger's appearance on Al-Jazeera, but there is indeed an issue or two with the blog post. I tried to offer a correction there a couple of weeks ago, but it looks like it has slipped through the cracks, and I thought I'd post it here so it can be somewhere where others may come across it.

    In the post, the blogger comes out with a stat that has been widely circulated about Gangnam that is incorrect, to wit, that 41% of SNU students come from Gangnam. According to the map she herself includes, it's not anywhere near the case that 41% of all SNU entering students each year come from Gangnam (even if defined more broadly as Gangnam-gu, Seocho-gu and Songpa-pu); it’s 41% of all the SNU entering students from *Seoul* who come from those areas. We need to add in Gyeonggi-do, Busan, Daegu, Gyeongsang-do, etc. Not sure what that would take Gangnam down to on the national level. Obviously disproportionate, but not at all as striking as she states, and unfortunately I've now seen this figure cited in a half dozen different pieces on Gangnam Style.....

  21. Check out these Gangnam cartoons!

  22. Not to be out done, the Norks have now got in on the act...

  23. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DO1uikheOwA
    So Funny Videooo..^^

  24. hey guys....can someone help me find critical thinking questions about the Gangnam Style and the article here: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/08/gangnam-style-dissected-the-subversive-message-within-south-koreas-music-video-sensation/261462/

    I also need to find a link of this article and its connections to psychology or sociology!

    your help will be greatly appreciated!!!!!!!!!!!!
    thanks alot!

  25. 'Gangnam Style' is a clever critique of modern Korean society's addiction to credit. The horse dance, in which a man rides a horse *that isn't there*, clearly symbolizes the nouveau riche spending money that isn't there.

  26. Personally I think the Gangnam Style video is classist. As you say, the artist "appears in decidedly un-Gangnam areas". It doesn't portray him as someone from Gangnam, it portrays him as a poseur, someone who would like to be "Gangnam Style" but can't afford it. It's making fun of the middle-class people who try to emulate the rich people! And it's even worse, because PSY himself is from a rich family, so he's mocking those that weren't as lucky as him. But of course, he can just claim that he is mocking Gangnam itself and get out of trouble that way. But since you're from Apgujeong, perhaps you don't like me saying this.


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