Recently an off the wall video featuring some of South Korea's biggest K-pop stars has made the interweb rounds. The source of this bananas piece of visual art is PSY, short for Psycho, the badboy of K-pop's typically candy coated industry. But beyond the crazy creativity and highly entertaining element, the video is in fact a scathing satire on South Korean affluence.
By Chloe Dinga.
South Korea's K-Pop is a notoriously vapid industry. Not to say though that it's not intensely lucrative. Check out our piece from last year titled Korean Takeover
for the low down on what goes on within the K-Pop realm of the world, it's quite interesting. And after understanding the point that it's all highly corporate, choreographed and all in all empty, it is mind blowing to say the least that PSY aka Psycho aka Park Jaesang, a normal looking 34 year old is currently king of the castle. The 1st track of his sixth album has, with the help of the incredible albeit silly accompanying video, managed to do what no other high gloss K-Pop act has -- made in America. His video Gangham Style, see below, gained 49 million hits on YouTube since it's July release. The infectious beats and high octane vocals/rapping combined with outrageous imagery make the thing just impossible to stop watching. The video has not only captured the minds of the mortals but also our major music industry players seem to be paying attention
too. T-Pain tweeted about him, Justin Bieber is allegedly seeking out a collaboration and when it was noticed that he was in the stands at an LA Dodgers game, Gangham style was blasted through the PA system for all in attendance to enjoy. It's also important to mention that Psy's style might not seem all too unfamiliar to Americans as the group LMFAO has deliberately knocked off everything from his production/beat style to his signature dance moves. Little did they know that would end up making us all the more comfortable with his introduction, and let's hope that in the end he ends up as the victor with all those spoils.
[caption id="attachment_10536" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Psy"]
Aside from the fact that Psy is not a gorgeous, doe eyed Korean girl, his domination of the K-Pop industry is fascinating because of his content. K-Pop is bubble gum pop -- think late '90s US manufactured boy bands and solo female acts -- but Psy's work is subversive and manages to quietly satirize the national aspirations of his country. Onsemiro is a South Korean blogger who runs the site My Dear Korea and she put together a translation and thorough explanation of the meaning behind the wackiness in her post Korean Music: Psy's "Gangham Style" and "Gangham Oppa" in Architecture 101
. To the millions of Americans who have viewed the video, myself being one of them, we quite frankly don't know what is going on. Onsemiro goes above and beyond to address every nuance of the video, it's content and why this is such a big deal in Korean society. Social satire and commentary is something that will happen there from time to time, but never in a chart topping, international fame manner. Gangham is a neighborhood which holds $84 billion of the country's wealth in just 15 square miles. It embodies the self-importance and ostentatious wealth that most Koreans strive for. Psy's character in the video is a mockery of the town's residents, an amalgam of ridiculous materialism and the façade that many build up to feign this wealth. Throughout the video you'll see scenes that begin as close ups -- appearing to place him within a glamorous setting -- and then as the camera pans away it will reveal him to be in a restroom, a van full of senior citizens or a sandy playground in lieu of a beachy oasis.
[caption id="attachment_10537" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Psy"]
[caption id="attachment_10538" align="aligncenter" width="617" caption="In the video Psy struts with two sexy ladies as trash flies in their faces"]
Psy has long been known as the badboy of the industry. The Atlantic
also picked up on Onsemiro's explanation and note that Psy has been busted for marijuana as well as for avoiding the country's mandatory military participation. His first album was fined for inappropriate content, the second banned altogether. Psy's forged his place within K-Pop as the court jester; "his parodies, outrageous costumes, and jokey concerts. Still, there's a long history of fools and court jesters as society's most cutting social critics, and he might be one of them." We can't emphasize enough how this just doesn't fly in Korea. But, some are explaining Psy's penchant for social commentary as having to do with his time spent getting an education in America. Having attended Boston University and then eventually graduating from Berklee College of Music, his exposure to the commonplace social satirization and exploration within music may have led him to bring the practice home. With his long list of strikes against him from the Korean government, the most surprising aspect of all of this may be the fact that with his newfound popularity overseas, particularly in the US, he's suddenly become a source of national pride. With records selling outside the confines of rampant censorship and creative stifling, Psy just might be on his way to causing a major shift within the Korean music industry, and the social standards of the country itself. Funny how much can be accomplished with a biting beat and an unforgettable horse gallop dance.
[caption id="attachment_10535" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Psy choreographs all his videos and this dance is definitely his most contagious "]
[caption id="attachment_10539" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Thumbs up for Psy"]