by Andrew P. Moisan
One day, not long ago, I fried some eggs, walked from the kitchen into the living room and turned on NBC’s The Today Show. This was a bad move to begin with. But then I heard the following:
“Jong su ke bo wi ji man nol ten no nun yo ja/I te da shi pu myon mu ko ton mo ri pu nun yo ja.”
The fork was halfway to my mouth when I stopped and looked at the TV, tilting my head to the side like a dog that gets confused by unfamiliar sounds. The eggs slid off my fork, and the fork followed, slipping from my fingers and dropping onto the plate. And then it continued.
“Eh, sexy lady/op op-op-op/oppan Gangnam style.”
It was apparently some sort of song, and it had come from the maw of a stocky South Korean man who flopped about on stage like an inebriated cowboy on the back of a horny stallion whose ass was on fire. He wore sunglasses for no apparent reason and was done up with a black bow tie and a tuxedo-like jacket that was roughly the color of the retch you’d expect to see on the floor had you overindulged on vodka and guacamole and then failed to reach the toilet.
My eggs and I had both grown cold as I watched this man pump his pelvis in grotesque ways. I presently became sweaty and short of breath, my skin got cool and clammy, and I had numbness in my right hand.
I thought I might be having a stroke.
But no: This was my introduction to Psy’s “Gangnam Style.”
I wiped some egg from my lips, put my plate aside and continued watching, listening. This man resembled most any jackass who wanders drunk after leaving a costume party after midnight, only to stroll into a nightclub about 15 minutes before last call, order a round of shots and begin dancing like an asshole.
His song follows suit perfectly. It jerks, it grinds and it breathes stench all over innocent strangers. And in that vein, it attempts to copulate with listeners using worn-out strategies: the same obnoxious gyrations, tired four-beat measures, bland instrumentation and other wishy-washy, synthesized horse hockey typically discharged amid your standard evening at the club bumping to generic house music. Listen to this and you may think of Los del Rio’s 1996 dance craze, “Macarena.” And then you’ll vomit.
Whatever. The motherfucker ruined my breakfast and left me feeling ill, so I thought I would look into the matter further.
Psy is a South Korean singer/songwriter who, just before Christmas, became the first person in YouTube history to pop the 1 billion cherry, luring this many viewers (and more) into the backseat of his van with promises of candy and making him the most-watched sideshow in the wild circus of online musical absurdity. And in achieving this high-water mark, he brushed back the likes of Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga from the upper strata of the web.
“Gangnam Style,” which to me sounds like some sort of either perverse or extremely wonderful bedroom experiment, was released in July as the single on Psy’s sixth studio record. It debuted at No. 1 in South Korea, peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 last fall, and has putrefied there for 27 weeks, holding now at No. 27. It’s been widely covered, parodied, remixed and in various ways regurgitated in numerous genres. And it’s topped charts in more than 30 countries, which, after doing the math, is approximately 30 too many.
And while decimating the eardrums and searing the retinae of some, Psy has reeled in all manner of high-profile folks who don’t seem to mind it. I’m talking folks like the President of the United States, the British Prime Minister, the mayor of London and the Secretary General of the United Nations. You know: them kinds of folk.
“They’re cooler than I am,” President Barack Obama told People Magazine recently, speaking of his daughters and explaining how he does Psy’s bizarre horse dance around The White House to embarrass them. “There are things I like that they think are cheesy, like ‘Gangnam Style.’ I love that.”
Obama is the only person I will not take to task for enjoying this song. Everyone else is culpable.
Psy is actually a 34-year-old man named Park Jae-sang, now the face of Korean-Pop, or K-Pop, a popular and longstanding movement that basically includes nearly every musical concept: pop, dance, rock, electronic, hip-hop and R&B, among others. He hails from the affluent Gangnam District of Seoul, South Korea, an area that he’s likened to Beverly Hills, California, and that is the subject of the song.
But as he told CNN last summer, “Gangnam Style” is actually more comedy than bling, as it mocks people who are not from the lavish Gangnam District yet pretend to be, as no one who is truly “Gangnam” ever boasts that they are; it’s only the imitators who are the braggarts. So he’s basically a Gangnam poking fun at non-Gangnams for being overly flashy in pretending to be Gangnam … I think.
Either way, I didn’t initially get the thrust of the song, since I don’t understand Korean. What I did understand in seeing and hearing Psy is that he bends and twists like an unusually flexible sea turtle dressed in various sequined outfits. He yawps more than he sings, peacocks more than he dances, and then force-feeds the upshot into the hearts and minds of listeners left weak and frail after years of shit radio.
And then he ruins people’s breakfasts.
But Psy isn’t some sudden east-to-west transplant. He attended Boston University and the Berklee College of Music (also in Boston) in the late-1990s, yet received degrees from neither school. Not coming away with big credentials, he upped the ante: He returned to South Korea to pursue a pop career and then busted out like a hell-hound bent on melting the brains of blameless people like British Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson, both of whom apparently shamed themselves recently by doing Psy’s “inebriated-cowboy-on-the-back-of-a-horny-stallion-whose-ass-was-on-fire” dance.
The two British officials had met at Chequers, a mansion in southeast England that has long served as the country residence of the British Prime Minister. They later ate at a nearby pub. God only knows how many pints they drank, but I guess they had a fine time.
“After the lunch,” the U.K.’s Daily Mail reported in October, “the men returned to the house in relaxed high spirits. Mr. Cameron then whipped out his iPad and started playing the Gangnam video in the hall of the historic pile. To whoops of delight from their wives, and cheering from their children, he and Mr. Johnson aped Psy’s famed ‘horse-riding’ dance moves, complete with reins-holding and hands-on-hips routines.”
When I thought of the person currently residing at 10 Downing Street doing the Gangnam dance, and when I reconsidered the idea of the person currently residing at The White House doing the same, I suddenly had to hit the bathroom. I spent ten minutes in there; my memory is blurred, but it had something to do with intractable vomiting, heavy sweating and double-vision.
“Oppan Gangnam Style.”
Now, I understand that this is a viable dance song, and that Psy is a competent and veteran songwriter who has simply hit a winning lotto ticket. I also know that it’s catchy, well produced, finely choreographed and a fun thing to have thumping paint off the ceilings of bars and into the hair of frisky young adults. And sure, a deluge of club rats are riding on the backside of this romp.
But that doesn’t make it okay. Yes, it’s currently the flashiest sneaker in the stinking footlocker of contemporary music, yet it’s also the one most apt to cause injury due to untied shoelaces. In a year, I expect this song will go the way of the Reebok Pump, which swiftly attained commercial triumph and then died just as quickly in the early 1990s.
“Oppan Dodo Style.”
The English translations of the song (and there are disparities among them) roughly illustrate a man who is essentially trying to capture the interest of a high-class girl who’s really into coffee, like he is, and who’s both modest yet all about getting wild. Psy paints himself as an adoring and intelligent (yet covetous) fellow who wants to chase the biscuit as opposed to having it fed to him. Nothing we haven’t heard from Axl Rose.
The actual translation of “Oppan Gangnam Style,” according to The Wall Street Journal and ABC News, is, “big brother is Gangnam Style,” with Psy referring to himself in the third person. But there is some cloudiness about this, as some English translations have it as “Oppa is Gangnam Style,” which may have to do with the Korean-to-English translation of “oppa” and “oppan,” where “oppa” is apparently a term used by Korean women to refer to older male friends or siblings, while “oppan” is an abbreviated form of the noun phrase “oppa-neun,” a contraction suggesting that a more accurate translation might be, “Speaking of oppa, I like Gangnam style.”
By the way, I just discovered that I have a rogue nipple hair nearly half the length of my pinky finger. I took care of it, though. I also found a nickel in my shoe.
Sorry. Anyway, going back to Guns N’ Roses, the bulk of Psy’s official video is simply the same sort of butt-sniffing claptrap that some of us recall seeing every afternoon, back in the days when kids came home from school, grabbed some Ho-Hos and Fruit Roll-Ups, turned on MTV and actually witnessed music videos and not a phalanx of hormonal 16-year-old girls bitching about how they had accidentally gotten pregnant.
But let’s not forget the sins of Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer, New Kids on the Block, the Backstreet Boys, etc. Certainly, Psy is only the latest in a long line of blessed mediocrities sucked into and spat out of the same revolving door from which too many foul specters have emerged like wet belches (courtesy of such awful music deconstructionists as Simon Cowell), only to assail young innocents and leave pockmarks across their souls for eternity.
And sure, there are some dubious scenes in the Gangnam video. For instance, in the opening, he’s filmed clad in short pink shorts, his legs spread widely apart in some kind of come-hither fashion as his face seems to indicate that he’s having a major orgasm. All the while, he’s hanging out in some playground, where little kids are dancing around him.
“Oppan Gangnam Style”?
Well that’s neither here nor there. In the video, Psy mostly sticks to his dances. I mean, this guy just loves to dance! He dances under a bridge, he dances with very attractive and scantily clad women, he dances in a horse barn, he dances on a boat, he dances in a parking garage, he dances next to a carrousel, he dances in wind tunnels, he dances through busy intersections, he sits in a steam room while another guy dances next to him, and he even tries to dance in a pool.
Hell, I can’t understand why this guy sells! I mean, it’s not as though he’s drawing interest for the same reasons that exotic birds keep binocular sales booming. He’s not all that fascinating to watch, is he?
No, he is. And I suppose it just comes down to human habit: What people see, people do. Need I mention monkeys?
I must point out, however, that YouTube views of the inauguration of the nation’s first black President currently stands at 5,161,571, while views of “Gangnam Style” now stand at about 1,446,917,453. Now, to anyone interested in numbers, this means that Psy is about 231 times more popular on YouTube than the man who won the most historic presidency in the United States since George Washington. Of course this doesn’t surprise me: Many people simply love to chase things that move.
And speaking of this, I spent a painful time recently imagining this guy trying to come up with his signature dance, alone in his bedroom before a full-body mirror. He must have done this at some point. I considered these thoughts for a few moments, and then escorted myself into the woods, where I threw myself to the ground and beat myself unconscious with a slab of raw meat. I always carry beef when I walk in the woods, in case I have to redirect the attention of a coyote, or a disco horse-man.
After knocking myself out, I woke up later with a nosebleed, freezing, exhausted and missing a shoe. But I got up, stumbled back to the house, warmed up and fell fast asleep. I then had a dream, however, and it had something to do with fog machines, perfume, vodka, tight pants, heavy cologne, slutty women and the sort of insufferably repetitive bass beats you’d expect to be shot like stink-darts from the foul end of a sleek DJ set on making oatmeal of your brain.
Now, despite that this song has infiltrated the skulls of certain people currently holding the offices previously held by certain other people, like John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill, do we need further evidence that “Gangnam Style” has become some curious form of black death?
Oh, we do? Okay, here: Psy was even lauded by the United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who, according to Reuters, told him in October on a visit to the U.N., “You are so cool; I hope that you can end the global warming.”
“Fuck me!” I said as I read this. “I agree with the Secretary General! I also hope that Psy can end the global warming!”
“Oppan Cuckoo Style.”
But it’s not just powerful world leaders. Heidi Klum, at the 2012 MTV Europe Music Awards, called Psy the “undisputed king of pop.” Now, maybe I’m cuckoo style, but I thought we already had one of those. And as if belittling the spirit of our dear king of Motown wasn’t enough, the refrain, “Oppan Gangnam Style,” was entered into The Yale Book of Quotations as one of the most famous utterances of 2012. This is a publication that has for years authoritatively quoted the words of folks like President Abraham Lincoln, Groucho Marx and President Bill Clinton.
All this adds up to why I’m so gun-shy about touching the radio dial. It’s like walking by dark alleyways in bad neighborhoods: You never know when someone might throw a poison dart or slice your throat. Or it could be worse, in that someone might make your ears eat the musical upchuck of a short, chubby man who acts like he’s ordained to be musical gold, yet whose disposition suggests he would be more aptly placed entertaining at a kid’s birthday gala or as a fool in the court of some monarch.
Were the sovereign to behead him after a poor performance, however, I’m betting some crazy bastard would snatch Psy’s stupid sunglasses and sell the fucking things on eBay. I would.
Look, the current estimated world population is about 7 billion, and again, for anyone interested in numbers, this means that roughly 16 percent of the planet Earth has been exposed to this ass-stink (not accounting for repeated hits by individual viewers, of course). So I’m betting plenty of folks have heard it.
But for the few people who haven’t, I’d offer the same warning I received in the third grade from a good friend. He told me never to stand before a mirror in the dark and repeatedly say “Bloody Mary,” as this might conjure up a horrifying ghost. As such, I’d advise anyone that, if you listen to “Gangnam Style,” even once, you might summon a dreadful pop apparition that may thrust its junk at you and cause you to try pulling parts of your brain from your ear with a pair of tweezers.
I know this from experience. So please, be careful.
Anyway, after the performance ended on The Today Show, I shook off the sick and regained my appetite. I warmed up my food and tried to pretend that I hadn’t just dry-heaved for the last five minutes, and that the whole thing had been a bad dream. But it was no use. I looked at my eggs, and in the yolks, I saw the face of Psy. His mouth hung open, all orgasmic and smiling, and his neck moved as though it did not contain bones. He still wore big sunglasses, and he looked a bit like an ant or a housefly.
So I gave up and put my breakfast in the fridge. In the meantime, however, in my state of dismay and sudden lack of hunger, I had an epiphany. The music industry is like any living creature we tend to: It gets hungry, we feed it, and while it only makes us smile sometimes, it’s our job to try to nurture and clean up after it. This may mean we’re sucked into and spat out of the revolving door. But who isn’t?
I’ll say this, though: If any of us are the custodians of music’s current state, in that music is a plant or animal we’re nourishing, we ought to feed it wisely or not bitch when it tastes sour or grows to be petulant. There can be no generous output without generous input, right? So here’s how I see it: Hit radio has been hardily fed since its inception, yet for the last 15 years (with few exceptions), we’ve hardly fed it anything even approaching decent. So what has it been pooping?