If you don't know what Gangnam style is by now, you're most likely living under a rock or another planet entirely. The song, and more so the video, from artist Psy from South Korea has become a popcultural phenomenon that's almost unrivaled in its scale. If somebody told you that a silly hip-hop-song from South Korea, in South Korean, would become a major hit and the slightly chubby performer an international celibrity dwarfing most contemporary pop-stars before it started, you would have declared the guy nuts, and rightly so.
It seems to me that the phenomenon that is "Gangnam Style" hasn't really been understood. There are some wilde and heartfelt negative reactions to it, like in the infamous YouTube-Video of CobberCap or in the almost pathetic attempt of Bill O'Reilly to interpret the song and the phenomenon. Both are basically complaining about Psy not being American, but South Korean. You know, Korea. There be dragons. At some point or the other, both complain about something not originating in God's Own Country(tm) sweeping through it. CobberCap makes a point of the video being part of a North Korean brainwashing campaign, which is just hilarious in and out itself, but Bill O'Reilly declaring the song as senseless because it "has no words" is nothing short of breathtaking either.
|CopperCap in an unusually tranquil state|
It's a tragic thing that happens here, because both CobberCap and Bill O'Reilly entirely miss the point (and their likemindeds too). They see "Gangnam Style" as something strange and alien invading the United States, infesting their culture with this element from abroad that doesn't genuinely belong there. The thing they don't see at all is that American Popculture has done the same thing to the entire rest of the world in the last six decades.
|Just look at this German cinema program information. See anything you don't know already?|
Not that I would complain. Nerd is, after all, now a language commonly spoken throughout the world. If I'm a fan of "A Song of Ice and Fire", for example, I can converse with other fans throughout the world. We speak the same language when it comes to this stuff. And it's a language I certainly can't speak with everyone in my own country. I love it that we can experience the same things throughout the world. The universal victory of the American pop culture dwarfes any military victory they ever achieved. It's the lasting legacy, and of right now, there's no reason to think this will change anytime soon.
|James Dean was adored in the whole western world at his time already.|
Of course, only the narrow-mindedst of people would expect this to happen without any kind of adaption process. The Chinese box-office becomes bigger and bigger every year. While we are still miles away from a Chinese megastar entering the sphere of cinema, Shanghai becomes a stage for movies more and more, at least partially. The sensibilities of the Chinese audience play a larger role now in the accounting of Hollywood firms. So, what has this to do with Gangnam style?
Quick, what's typically Korean? Or, to make it easier, Asian? You would propably think of rice bowls, kimonos and stuff like that. Certainly, the appearance of Psy with his sunglasses and suit wouldn't come into mind as anything typically Korean. Instead, Koreans did import American popculture, like almost any other country in the world, and produces their own stuff along the lines of it. Just look at the video again - the women and how they present themselves, Psy's clothing, the explosion in one scene - all this is western iconography. The whole dance basically is, otherwise it would never have become that succesful. In the elevator scene in the video, you have a cameo of a famous South Korean comedian. Comedians are an American invention.
|Victory-signs would require the latin alphabet, by the way, which Koreans don't use.|
So, what I'm getting at is this: Gangnam Style is a homecoming. American popculture has had resounding success in little South Korea these past decades. Artists and performers took its logic, rituals and functionality and made their own stuff out of it. Although the language of the lyrics is Korean (safe for "sexy lady", of course, which speaks volumes in and of itself), the language of the song and the video are commonly understood throughout the world. We instinctively know what to do with it, how to perceive it and how to have fun with it. It is important to note that this thing hasn't become popular by accident, because it is something typically Korean and therefore alien we just coincidentally find hilarious. Gangnam Style is the proof that American popculture has succeeded in every conceivable way and has conquered the whole world. In that process, it lost its identity of being "American". It is know the universal pop culture of the world. It's only natural that some elements become popular in the United States as well. Brace yourselfs for more of this to happen in the future.