Gangnam Style

Chubby and wacky South Korean singer Psy makes a big splash globally

He's far from your average K-pop star, but Psy'sGangnam Style is a winner

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2012, 10:13am

A chubby 30-something with wacky dance moves, Park Jae-sang is nothing like the prettified, teenage ideal embodied by the stars of South Korea's phenomenally successful K-pop industry.

But Park, known as Psy, has succeeded where the manufactured girl and boy bands have tried and failed, making a big splash on the music scene around the world thanks to a viral video and a rare sense of irony.

Since being posted on YouTube in July, Psy's video for Gangnam Style - the title song of his sixth album - has racked up more than 150 million views and spawned a host of admiring parodies.

The worldwide publicity earned him a US contract with Justin Bieber's management agency, a guest appearance at the MTV awards in Los Angeles 10 days ago and invitations to various US TV shows.

Earlier this week he had the opportunity to school Britney Spears on his increasingly famous signature dance moves on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

The breakout success of Gangnam Style is viewed with a mixture of pride and surprise in Psy's home country, with industry analysts scrabbling to identify the magic ingredient that made it such a phenomenal success abroad.

The Gangnam of the title is Seoul's wealthiest residential and shopping district, lined with luxury boutiques, top-end bars and restaurants frequented by celebrities and well-heeled, designer-clad socialites.

The video pokes fun at the district's lifestyle, with Psy breezing through a world of speedboats, yoga classes and exclusive clubs - all the while performing an eccentric horse-riding dance accompanied by beautiful models.

Humour, especially satirical humour, is rare in the mainstream Korean music scene, and that coupled with the 34-year-old's embrace of his anti-pop idol looks has helped set him apart.

According to Simon Stawski, the Canadian co-founder of the popular Eat Your Kimchi blog on K-pop and Korean culture, Psy is the "antithesis of K-pop" and its stable of preening, fashion-conscious young stars.

"K-pop bands are exceptionally controlled by their management. Psy doesn't buy into that at all, and that's partly why he's such a breath of fresh air," Stawski said.

"Above all, Psy doesn't take himself seriously and uses irony and self-deprecation that are absent from K-pop," he said.

This, Stawski adds, is what has allowed Psy to jump the English language barrier and find a wider audience for a song which, apart from its title, is almost entirely in Korean.

In South Korea, Gangnam Style has won Psy a new fan base by appealing to those for whom the sanitised image of K-pop bears little resemblance to their actual lives.

"His somewhat 'normal' appearance makes him feel familiar, and the comic dancing and wacky fashion style give off a friendly image, branding Psy as someone people would want to party with," the daily Munhwa newspaper commented.

Psy himself says he invites laughter, not ridicule. "My motto is to be funny, but not stupid," he told Yonhap news agency.

"I want everyone who sees my performance to feel the efforts I've made so far as a singer rather than a lucky guy who got here without anything," he said.

Psy's overnight leap from relative obscurity to global sensation came as a personal, if welcome, shock. "It's all so surreal to me. I never thought such a day would come in my life as a singer."

Agence France-Presse