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(Yonhap Feature) Psy's 'Gangnam Style' tears down language barriers

All Headlines 08:00 August 26, 2012

By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, Aug. 26 (Yonhap) -- Let's call it a syndrome. With his new song "Gangnam Style," South Korean rapper Psy has been gaining attention all over the Internet.

The Psy syndrome, which began at home, is spreading quickly, intoxicating music fans around the world with the song's funky beat and comical dance moves.

"Gangnam Style" is the latest single by the eccentric singer-rapper whose real name is Park Jae-sang. The new song has sat at the No. 1 spot on various online music charts at home since it was released to the local market on July 15.

But the song's popularity was only domestic until the free music video for the song, in which the 35-year-old rapper performs a comical horse-riding dance, became a viral hit on YouTube.

Interest in the singer has doubled since the video attracted coverage from major U.S. news media, such as CNN, the Los Angeles Times and the weekly news magazine Time, along with tweeted praises from American artists Josh Groban and T-Pain this month.

Last week, Grammy winner Nelly Furtado surprised the audience at her Manila concert by performing "Gangnam Style."

The video of Furtado singing "Gangnam Style" in her own English version and performing the horse-riding dance was posted on the singer's official website, Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Psy's music video has already racked up almost 50 million YouTube views. On Tuesday, Psy topped the U.S. iTunes music video chart, beating out Canadian pop star Justin Bieber. It marked the first time a South Korean singer has earned the top spot on the chart.

The video has even spawned a spate of parodies like "Hongdae Style" and "Daegu Style" and they also received hot responses on the Internet.

Psy met with Bieber's manager, Scooter Braun, during a recent trip to the U.S. Details of the meeting were not known. According to a source in the local music industry, however, Psy was offered a chance to release "Gangnam Style" in the U.S.

The video features the maverick singer-songwriter's unusual style that amuses Koreans of all ages: his trademark comic antics as a B-list singer with which many people can sympathize and experience catharsis. The new song was also composed and written by the singer.

"My motto is 'be funny but not stupid,'" Psy said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency early this month.

"I think the humor targeted for social outsiders reflected throughout the song, dance and music video really hit the bull's eye," he said.

The choice of Gangnam also drew interest, as the affluent neighborhood in southern Seoul alludes to ongoing social issues in Korea including disparity between the rich and the poor.

The song's lyrics about a bumpkin trying to woo a sexy woman by pretending to be a hot and sophisticated uptown boy are bold and direct. They read: "A girl who looks quiet but plays when she plays... A girl who covers herself but is more sexy than a girl who bares it all... I'm a guy A guy who seems calm but plays when he plays A guy who goes completely crazy when the right time comes."

Appearing as a guest on a live broadcast of U.S. music cable channel VH1's Big Morning Buzz Live on Wednesday, Psy explained, "Gangnam...is like the Beverly Hills of America. The guy doesn't look like Beverly Hills, but he keeps talking 'I'm Beverly Hills.' That's the point."

The song has never been officially translated into English. But then why are so many foreigners so enthusiastic about the song without even understanding the meaning of the lyrics?

Many pop music experts in South Korea say the song is more in the style of American pop music rather than Korean, mixed with electronic dance beats from the global pop music trend.

Psy then combined the music with humor, an easy-to-imitate dance and a key feature of K-pop music: an addictive chorus. In the song, the chorus, "Oppan Gangnam Style" is repeated many times.

The music video also has a tongue-in-cheek style that can be universally understood, they say.

The video opens on the countrified man sunbathing at what turns out to be a children's playground as he says, "Oppan Gangnam Style." The man appears again wearing goggles and playing in a public bath as if he's in a luxurious swimming pool. Later, he mimics riding a horse across a crosswalk.

The so-called "horse-riding dance" is too random to be called choreography. But it is funny, simple and easy to follow like the Macarena, a '90s hit song by the Spanish duo Los Del Rio.

In South Korea, Psy has also drawn attention for his roller coaster lifestyle.

The singer, who attended Boston University and Berklee College of Music, rose to stardom with his debut album "PSY From The Psycho World!" in 2001. But he soon began to reel after being fined for smoking marijuana.

He temporarily recovered fame when his new songs "Champion" and "Celebrity" were big hits the following year but another hurdle was awaiting him.

He was embroiled in protracted legal debates over draft-dodging allegations. In 2007, the court ordered him to serve in the military for another 20 months as he neglected his job as an alternative to mandatory military service from 2003 to 2005.

South Korea requires all able-bodied men to serve in the armed forces for at least two years, but those with technical expertise can instead work in companies that serve vital national interests.

After being discharged from his second round of military service, Psy signed a contract with YG Entertainment in 2010, made a comeback with his fifth album "Right Now" and found success once more.

As a star who experienced many turns and twists of life, Psy must be a man "who knows something" as he claims in the lyrics of "Gangnam Style."


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