Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Published in a Korean Newspaper!

So I was randomly asked to write a piece for the school's English newspaper! I'm pretty pumped that I'm now published. Here's what I wrote:

Gangnam Style: Taking the West by Storm

                The first time that I had ever heard Kpop was about a month before I moved to Korea. Girl’s Generation’s “Gee” and 2NE1’s “I’m The Best” were replayed so many times on Youtube that I even had parts of the dances memorized. Yet no matter how I tried to convince my friends back in California that this was something cool they didn’t get it. 

                Then about two months ago, something amazing happened. Friends from back home started sending me Kpop music, specifically “Gangnam Style” by Psy. I was utterly shocked. The same people who would not listen to Korean music a year ago are now raving about how amazing this video is and asking if I had seen it. Even T-Pain (a famous American hip-hop artist) tweeted about how awesome the video is and Justin Bieber’s manager said he was interested in working with Psy. “Gangnam Style” has taken Americans by storm and they don’t even know what Psy is saying!

                It’s not just America’s entertainment industry that is raving about this, either: “Gangnam Style” has gone viral on news channels all over the country (and perhaps the world). The music video itself, and through it, South Korean culture, has been analyzed thoroughly from a western standpoint. This is not a new phenomenon. The Korean Wave (international popularity of Korean media like Kpop & Kdramas) has been going on since the 1980s and has been spreading information to the world about Korean culture. Yet if we look at Kpop more closely, what information are we getting from it? Perfection, beauty, talent and emptiness. That’s right, emptiness.

Your typical Kpop song doesn’t really say anything interesting: for example, “Wow. Fantastic Baby,” “Bring the Boys Out,” “I Love You,” “Sorry Sorry,” Yes, this is only the English lyrics, but even when I translate the Korean parts, the songs only seem to talk about love, heartbreak, and partying. Not only is everyone saying roughly the same thing, they also all seem to look the same, especially girl groups like Girl’s Generation or Wonder Girls. I’m pretty convinced that they all have the same plastic surgeon. This is the main reason most of my American friends didn’t care for Kpop: it was no different from our own western pop music except that it was mostly in Korean. David Aaronson from Santa Barbara, California states, “I remember hearing the English version of ‘The Boys’ (by Girls Generation) and thinking that Gwen Stefani had already done it ten years ago.” On the other hand, for those people around the world who are into Kpop, this is how they saw Korea; that is, before Psy and his “Gangnam Style.”

“Gangnam Style” is dramatically different from the rest of Kpop. First off, Psy himself is not your typical Kpop star; he’s older, a little soft around the edges and not the Prince Charming style handsome that so many of the men in Kpop are. Then, there is the music video, IT’S FUNNY! Psy has no problem making a complete fool of himself, which completely contradicts the idea of perfection that Kpop suggests. Lastly, and most importantly, it’s a satire.

From what I understand of Korean culture, satire (or pretending to be something in order to make fun of it) is not something that happens here. People don’t make fun of social problems because they don't want to draw attention to them. Gangnam Style is not only entertaining; it also takes a critical look at the lifestyle of people who live in Gangnam and of the people who aspire to live there. Almost every scene in the video is not what it seems. Jason McClung from San Jose, California explains, “Americans may not understand his lyrics, but they understand the snap from reclining on the beach to reclining in a sandbox.” Psy in the video is constantly trying to show himself living the Gangnam life style but getting it all wrong.

Korean culture, like any other culture, is complicated but one of the main points I have found is this obsession with appearance. Everyone seems to dress well and perm their hair, girls always seems to be wearing perfect make up & heels, and the rate of people with plastic surgery is one of the highest in the world. This is what typical Kpop seems to be both reflecting and creating and what makes “Gangnam Style” is so interesting. The video shows someone trying to be perfect but failing. This is much more relatable than the perfection of Kpop and, in my opinion, why it was able to break into the main stream American media so well.

 American culture loves comedy, especially satire, just look at the group LMFAO (which is America’s equivalent of Psy). Being different, questioning the status quo, and making people laugh, these are all qualities that are admired by Americans and portrayed in the music video. If Kpop takes some lessons from Psy and follows him on this path by implementing these ideas into their music, I predict Kpop will develop a strong following in the USA. Until then, it will only be all about Gangnam Style!
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