With his suave personality, slick suit and smart attitude, in walked the Oppa Gangnam guy. No word can do justice to describe the euphoria that gripped the crowd when this Korean sensation found himself in the heart of Bangkok’s shopping district, Siam, earlier this week. It was coincidence that led me straight to witness the crowd go into raptures over the South Korean rapper behind YouTube’s most-viewed video as he reached out to acknowledge his very large and very international fan base here in Bangkok.
Though considered “ancient” at 34 years of age in a youth-imploded show business world, Park Jae-sang, or popularly known as PSY, is more than just a South Korean singer. He’s also an artist juggling with songwriting, rapping, dancing (of course!), and record producing. But what brought him to fame internationally and drew record-breaking attention in all forms is his K-pop single, The Gangnam Style.
The Gangnam Style is a music video the makers of which claim that it’s meant as a satire aimed at the posh neighborhood called Gangnam in South Korea.
“Gangnam Style” is apparently a Korean neologism associated with the richbies and the wannabe richbies of the Gangnam area. Mocking the fact that most people stricken by Gangnam Style (the term) have been obsessed with acquisitive goods, this video tries to lampoon the reality and the obsession to go Gangnam. In fact, I remember, when PSY was featured in the Ellen Degeneres show and in his attempt to teach Britney Spears and Ellen herself to do the Gangnam Style, he said the song is all about, “Dressing classy and dancing cheesy.”
Illustration: Sworup Nhasiju
Life for this fresh-faced-and-now-international-artist must have changed quite a bit now that he has made it big in the international arena, I imagine: shows like The Ellen Degeneres Show, The Today Show, Saturday Night Live, The X-Factor Australia are some of the television programs where this South Korean-born Gangnam guy has been featured in. Moreover, his video has already been the most watched video on YouTube, surpassing Justin Beiber’s record.
The entertainment industry’s interest in him, I get. But what’s really fascinating and which underscores the eccentricities and blissful possibilities of the modern world are the fact that PSY was recognized by the UN as an “International sensation.” All this stardom because of his innovative, silly, yet undeniably amusing dance moves in an equally amusing music video!
Staying true to what made him famous, the Gangnam Song was bursting in certain corners of the open space outside the Siam malls as the crowd huddled to get a closer peek at this phenomenon.
This is because this guy has brought in the international spotlight to South Korea and its K-Pop as easily and gracefully as his comical horse-trot steps, if I may. Now K-Pop is already a huge crowd pleaser in the East Asian community with all the girls and boys either wanting to look like South Korean stars or wanting their “ideals” to look like the South Korean stars.
But this isn’t to say that Nepal is far behind in this endearment for K-pop. While many of the prior generations grew up under the Hollywood or Bollywood soft-power in our community, a new dynamism slowly emerging, and with a full force at that, are East Asian forms of soft power, whether it be in the form of K-Pop or even the Japanese manga and animation while we are at it.
Younger Nepalis today are au courant with South Korean movies, series and actors. And just to fuel the attention further, The Gangnam Style has arrived.
But is this a welcome arrival?
I watched the crowd around me, all with a very “Gangnam Style.” Cutesy bows, pleated skirts, long socks and high heels seemed to be the inevitable fashion choice for the girls. The boys too didn’t mind wearing their multi-colored bows and gelling this hair to get “the look,” it appeared. I don’t know if the majority of the people decided to dress up for PSY that day or if they would have normally dressed like that on other occasions too, but whatever it was, Siam seemed less like Bangkok and more like Seoul to the hasty onlookers, like myself, that day.
This Gangnam Style definitely seems to have added to the Korean Wave. Although the claims are that this video serves two specific ends: One, to entertain mainly the South Korean crowd –because PSY had never imagined he would create such a stir worldwide – and two, to satirize the Gangnam area.
But people have read deeper into the picture. They have taken the Gangnam style as a forewarning of the increasing soft power of South Korea. Such a popular video, of course, couldn’t have gone unscathed by some.
“The video’s viral success parallels the rise of South Korean soft power: Exports of video games, TV shows and music have doubled since 1999. As the influence of Gangnam Style grows, is it being used for political soft power?” questions Al Jazeera’s program, The Stream.
But despite the speculations over the soft-power debate, one thing that remains undeniable is the amount of attention South Korea is now receiving, thanks to PSY and his entertaining video.
I know I, for one, would love to go to South Korea and go Gangnam Style!
The writer is student of Political Science at Thammasat University.