FIND MORE ARTICLES AT THE GUARDIAN'S 'GANGNAM STYLE' MICROSITEYou'll likely have heard about this - the music video from South Korea's Psy (Park Jae-sang) of Gangnam Style has become the liked video on YouTube. Here's an interesting take on the crass stereotypes it seems to reinforce - at least as Western audiences are reading the text: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/24/gangnam-style-south-korean-pop
Here's the video itself:
(The article is copied in below - click 'read more'...)
What's so funny about Gangnam Style?The South Korean pop video taking the internet by storm does little to overturn tired stereotypes of east Asian men
The world is currently in thrall to a fat Korean Psycho who is spouting anti-capitalist messages and blowing things up. Ordinarily America would be up in arms, but its defence forces are too busy learning the horse-dance and chorusing "Heeey sexy lady" to properly react. Shots have been fired, lifeguards have been fired, but Gangnam Style fever continues unabated: the music video has had more than 262m views on YouTube and made history as the most liked video ever.
If you're Googling "What's Kim Jong-Un done now?", you've got your Koreas confused – which, as any Olympics official knows, is an easy mistake to make. The Psycho in question is actually the nom-du-rap of South Korean Park Jae-sang ("Psy" for short) who is quickly becoming South Korea's most successful export ever. Since the song was released in July, Psy's been signed by Justin Bieber's management, performed on Ellen, and collaborated with Jill Stuart on a Gangnam-inspired fashion line. Even Samsung is trying to cash in on Psy's success, making him the new endorsement model for its range of kimchi refrigerators.
That Psy is promoting upmarket frocks and luxury fridges is somewhat ironic, considering Gangnam Style's lampooning of the rampant consumerism that pervades what has been described as South Korea's Beverly Hills. The song's lyrics, for example, poke fun at soybean-paste girls who eat cheaply in private so that they can afford to drink mocha frappe lattes in public. Of course, this social commentary is largely lost on non-Korean speakers who don't know their kimchi from their Kim Lee; it's hardly Gangnam Style's political message that is behind its success in the west. So what is? How on Earth has the song become so popular, when, as one CNN anchor blithely notes, no one has any idea what Psy is rapping about?
Well, there's the fact that Gangnam Style is ridiculously catchy, but that alone doesn't explain the song's meteoric rise. Essentially, it is just an over-the-top video where a fat man does a comical dance and sings repetitive lyrics that don't make sense to most of us. Which basically describes every Flo Rida song ever. This is partly the point of the video, which parodies not just cultural mores specific to South Korea, but cultural excesses easily recognisable to western viewers. Gangnam Style's lyrics may be in Korean, but its visuals are in clear American. It is a pastiche of pop video cliches so familiar you almost feel you know what Psy is singing.
The video also contains the seeds of its own reconstruction – which goes a long way to explain its success. The dance moves are simple enough to mimic and easily copied scenarios – such as the elevator scene – call out to be aped. Psy has produced a video that is born to spawn and has further facilitated this by waiving his copyright. This stands in high contrast to many western hip-hop stars who have been slow to relinquish control of their "intellectual" property in the same way (take Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind, for example, which quickly generated a host of YouTube tributes that were quickly removed by EMI).
Psy's relaxed attitude to his tributes has meant that Gangnam Style has already enjoyed a prolific after-life. Everyone has made their own version, which only adds to the success of the original. Nevertheless, I can't help thinking that there is a slightly odd dynamic at work in this mimicry. For one thing, Gangnam Style is itself a parody. If a spoof spoofs a spoof then what's that spoof spoofing? What, exactly, is the source of all that hilarity?
The last time the west laughed so uproariously at a Korean singer was when an animated Kim Jong-il bewailed how "ronery" he was in the film Team America, and how nobody took him "serirousry". The puppet had a point: popular western media doesn't tend to take east Asian men seriously – even when they're brutal dictators. The stereotype of a portly, non-threatening Charlie Chan-type who speaks "comical" English is still very much alive, apparent in everything from hungry Kim Jong-un memes to Abercrombie and Fitch T-shirts. And it's hard to escape the uncomfortable feeling that this stereotype is contributing something to the laughter around Gangnam Style.