About 12 years ago, PSY hit the K-pop airwaves with his first album, immediately being fined for its inappropriate nature for sensitive Korean listeners. He remained his idiosyncratic self throughout the next decade, singing, writing, getting busted for marijuana, serving his mandatory military time, and getting married with children. This is also a guy who studied at Boston U, and University of Berklee. Moreover, he is fluent in English, making him a marketer’s dream. About a month ago, he released the amazingly irresistible video, “Gangnam Style.” It was all over Korea. We spoke about how this could totally be a hit song in America. We were right.
200 million YouTube hits later, with visits to Ellen, Today Show, a cameo on SNL, numerous interviews on Korean TV and he is almost a household name throughout the Internet laden world. At a random stop at a Korean pharmacy, where I met the overly helpful pharmacist’s entire family (as they all work together on Saturdays to spend time together) he asked me if I knew “Gangnam Style.”
He is THE name in Korea right now. It reminds me of Will Ferrell’s Mugatu in Zoolander, “He’s so hot right now, Hansel.” PSY co-hosts Korea’s Got Talent, where tonight I saw a version of “Gangnam Style” performed basically acoustically in the tempo of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Yeah, picture that. It was awkward, but fits the over-saturation just right. He recently performed an outdoor show on a drenchingly soaked Thursday night in Seoul to a fully packed Olympic Stadium. I sat awake watching the midnight show on TV, where he performed his trademark ‘horse dance;’ an old hit set to the beat of Beverly Hills Cop theme; Sinatra’s “My Way;” (with a clarinet solo as an extra treat); and also cross-dressed with cone-breasts and a short skirt to possibly imitate a K-pop lady that I don’t know. He is a born entertainer and will receive his stage to show the world his talents. I like his humility, self-deprecating style and of course I love “Gangnam Style.”
The one-hit wonder is not a new thing. We’ve seen Right Said Fred, Baja Boys and whoever sang the Macarena come and go and their silly chorus and dance moves go with them. Although to be fair, Macarena might never die. PSY’s song is like if you mixed Weird Al’s comical goofiness, with Coolio’s sweet hooks and threw in a dash of Saturday Night Fever’s timeless dance moves. I hear it in the gym, bumping from tinted Hyundai’s on Seoul’s neon-lit streets, on my iPod, and naturally, in the subway (hopefully one day while in Gangnam station.)
One Saturday last month, while working a ‘fun day’ at my kindergarten, as “Gangnam Style” was at the peak of its horse riding infancy, I led a group of forty 1st and 2nd graders in a dance session that I’ll never forget. We put the video on the big screen and I did my best with the lyrics and the dance as we all hopped madly around the tiny room. They knew it was a fun song, sung in their language with a dance that anyone can imitate; bad or good, it’s fun for everyone.
I looked and saw parents watching from the window smiling. As if Korea needs to feel any more surreal, with its old men passed out on sidewalks, gorgeous women in 6-inch stilettos and 7-inch mini-skirts, and infinite rectangle skyscraper horizon back dropped by perfectly pristine mountains anywhere you look, now I have this little gem. There is also an awesomely outgoing kindergarten student, Samuel, who I allow 15 seconds every morning, to do his horse dance before the class.
I’m really happy to be enjoying this shared moment of Korean exposure with the world right now. It’s no secret Korea loves American culture, evidenced by its desire for our accented English, cheesy blockbuster movies, cheesy hamburgers and misspelled American sports team T-shirts (Boston Feltics). They seem so proud of PSY for breaking into the American scene. He is a great representative of Korea—polite, speaks English, and is multi-talented. I wonder how many more can follow in his considerable wake?