South Korea’s breakout superstar
The phenomenon of “Gangnam Style” has South Korea stumped. The music video has over 2 billion views and created a dance sensation that inspired celebrities like Ellen Degeneres, Carrie Underwood and Britney Spears.
“‘Gangnam Style’ deserves those views,” says Kasondra Reel, a freshman studying international rescue and relief. “It’s one of the craziest videos I’ve ever seen. I watched it like 15 times in one day.” But Korean musicians have been trying to gain popularity in the US for years. How did a silly video and a catchy beat set PSY apart from the K-Pop crowd and allow him to break into American pop culture?
Born Park Jae-sang in 1977, PSY grew up in the Gangnam District. His dad served as the executive chairman of a manufacturing company and his mom owned several restaurants in the area. Basically, his family was loaded. The Gangnam District has been compared to Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Silicon Valley, and Wall Street all rolled into one. This district is home to the wealthiest families and South Korea’s biggest corporations (think Samsung and Hyundai). PSY attended college in the United States of America for a few years but ultimately returned home to pursue his passion: music.
From 2001-2012, PSY released five albums, dodged mandatory military service (and was later redrafted), received reprimands and monetary fines from the Korean government for “obscene lyrics”, and won awards for those very songs. As a comedic musician, he incorporated hilarious dance moves that moved entire countries to imitate. But as a more serious artist, he managed to slip pointed digs at the rich and famous, his old crowd.
The intent of “Gangnam Style” goes over most Americans’ heads frankly because we don’t speak Korean. Even if we did, we would still need an understanding of the Gangnam District culture. Because of its gross wealth, the District has ruled supreme in every area for too long. And because of its citizens’ loose morals, it is the butt of PSY’s joke. With his laughable moves and over-the-top confidence, he makes the privileged lifestyle look dumb.
Some Koreans think the reason PSY was able to break onto the American charts was because of pre-existing stereotypes. We don’t have male Asian leads in movies or TV shows. In Hollywood, the stereotypical Asian lacks masculinity, which could come into play where PSY is concerned. This chubby, comical Asian man is dancing like a fool and chanting nonsensical things. His entertainment factor combined with the intrigue surrounding Korean culture provides a draw as illustrated by his music video views and sold out concerts. Oppan Gangnam Style.
Katie is a junior studying business administration.