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Why Has a Goofy Korean Rap Hit Gone Viral and Zoomed Up World Music Charts?

You got me there, actually. When a friend sent me the YouTube link for “Gangnam Style,” by a pudgy, 35-year-old South Korea hippity-hopper called Psy, I was bemused (no, not necessarily amused), to say the list. Whirling frantically from a kids’ playground to a horse barn to a sauna to a disco bus to a subway car to a toilet stall to a merry-go-round – actually, I’ll stop there, as the merry-go-round image is a pretty apt one, with the understanding that it’s kind of a carousel on crack. The music is electronica, the thumping beat  addictively electronic, and the signature move a silly little “ride-‘ em-horsey” dance. Um, is any of this making sense?

Then I looked into it, and somehow I'd managed to miss the fact that this crazed puppy was released in mid-July and has gotten nearly 160 million hits on YouTube after Psy and the host of last week’s MTV Video Music Awards on camera, then Britney Spears did it on the Ellen DeGeneres show, then Nelly Furtado at one of her concerts, then in a political parody by Jay Leno, and yadda yadda yadda.

OK so what’s it about?  Apparently “Gangnam Style” is a send-up of the trendy, attitudinal, swaggy upper crust in Gangam, Seoul’s answer to Beverly Hills (and home, I might add, to its kimchi museum, as well as its world trade center, a very nice aquarium, and 15th- and 16th-century royal tombs). Lyrics are below, by the way.

Anyhow, this is just the latest bit of weirdness from the surreal, increasingly internationally popular world of K-pop, amidst whose sugary, cute-as-a-button girl and boy bands and local versions of Justin Bieber (does the name Rain ring a bell?), you’ll come across some pretty bizarre stuff including steampunk and plenty of Lady Gaga-esque looks  (it gets edgier, too; I remember one music video I saw involving murder and pedophilia - could that possibly have been a commentary on the performer ages and pubescent/prepubescent imagery in some segments of K-pop?). 

I hope you don’t think I’m being excessively grumpy about how idiotic I find all this, but I’m not the only one – in The Washington Post, a writer named Maura Judkis nailed it with her assessment that this tune “has made an extraordinarily stupid-looking dance move suddenly cool.” You can judge for yourself. Oh, and you’ll probably be seeing a lot more of this anyway. Psy is now repped by Justin Bieber’s manager (and the dude who helped turn “Call Me Maybe” into a megahit), so you can expect to see a lot more of this particular brand of style.

Travel writer José Balido is president of and its parent company EnLinea Media, an online content provider and social media management company.

"Gangnam Style" lyrics and video:

A girl who is warm and human during the day
A classy girl who know how to enjoy the freedom of a cup of coffee
A girl whose heart gets hotter when night comes
A girl with that kind of twist

I’m a guy
A guy who is as warm as you during the day
A guy who tosses back his coffee before it even cools down
A guy whose heart bursts when night comes
That kind of guy

Beautiful, loveable
Yes, you, hey, yes, you, hey
Beautiful, loveable
Yes, you, hey, yes, you, hey
Now let’s go until the end

Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style
Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style
Oppa is Gangnam style

Eh-sexy lady, Oppa is Gangnam style
Eh- sexy lady, oh, oh, oh, oh
A girl who looks quiet but plays when she plays
A girl who puts her hair down when the right time comes
A girl who covers herself but is more sexy than a girl who bares it all
A sensible girl like that

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
A guy who has bulging ideas rather than muscles
That kind of guy

On top of the running man is the flying man, baby, baby
I’m a man who knows a thing or two
On top of the running man is the flying man, baby, baby
I’m a man who knows a thing or two
You know what I’m saying
Oppa is Gangnam style

image: Park Eun-Jee

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Comment by Anil on September 13, 2012 at 10:30pm

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Jose, I  got that link too this mid summer and I was wondering when someone mentioned that it creating a buzz in many a tween centric sites.. Last month I heard it play in Holbox, and this month in Holland. I do not know how to deconstruct its appeal and it going viral beyond it normal demographic. People say it is beyond K-pop that makes it so appealing

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