You might be one of the 84 million+ YouTube viewers who saw this madly fantastic music video that went viral since its release mid-July:
If not, click “play” so you can be the 85 millionth viewer. Did you watch it? Good. Watch it again.
I was late into noticing this widely popular YouTube video. It wasn’t until a couple weeks ago that I discovered it. I was telling a friend about a story on K-pop I was working on for WORLD Magazine, and she asked me if I mentioned Gangnam Style in my article. When my face turned blank, her face sagged into aghast. “You don’t know Gangnam style?!” she shrieked, and then immediately slid her wrists together in front of her and started wiggling them about. Eh…okay.
I didn’t understand what the enthusiasm was about until I got home and watched this crazy amazing video.
The first time I finally watched it, I was sipping hot coffee with blurry eyes. Suddenly this big pudgy face half-hidden by a pair of cheesy sunglasses flashed out onto my screen. His slicked black hair glistened under the sun, and the camera zoomed back to reveal his orange vest and peach Bahama shorts. Then he rolled his neck and blared out, “Oppa Gangnam style!!” And holy monkey– that little boy! Hair also gelled back old-school, rural gangsta-style! Zigzagging out in his bright red pants, shoving his wrists out and wiggling them– just as my friend did– while stomping his feet about with a “I’m so cool and you know it” expression– holy moly, this is for real?
I spit out my coffee. My eyes, not longer bleary, goggled as I watched this chubby, 30-something man in a brilliant blue suit hop and skip around, jiggling his wrists in front of him in barnyards, at carnivals, across streets, even after two ladies in workout clothes. This is K-pop?
And then I watched it a second time. And a third time. By the sixth replay, I was up on both feet shimmying my hands and wagging my feet along, screaming “Oppa Gangnam style!”
It’s hardly surprising that PSY’s Gangnam Style met with such popularity in YouTube, nor is it surprising that it is probably the first K-pop single to break international circles that includes America. During my research on K-pop (Korean pop music), one of the deduction I made was that K-pop can’t ever make it big in America unless it undergoes a major makeover. I thought that K-pop’s entertainment industry needs to change, its stars need to stop looking so mannequin, its songs need to be unique, its music videos need to look less manicured. PSY’s Gangnam Style defies all of K-pop’s “success model.”
First of all, the lead singer Park Jaesang is 34. 34!! How ancient, considering that most K-pop stars are barely 20. And he’s not that good-looking! He doesn’t have yellow or red hair that reaches his shoulders in luscious waves, nor does he have a high-bridged Caucasian nose that Koreans envy, nor does he even have double eyelids– which is the basic criterion of K-pop beauty! And worse of all…he’s kind of–gasp– overweight! Look at those stubby white calves, thick like radishes! Compare him to this:
Rain’s abs are hard and ripped enough to substitute as washboard.
Choi Si Won is prettier than me. I hate him.
Rain or Choi Si Won, he is not.
Beyond appearances, Mr. Park is unique to K-pop because he writes and choreographs his own songs, from start to finish. Dang. Individuality in K-pop? Unheard of. To scandalize things even more, Mr. Park is not exactly a demure, well-behaved virgin boy who giggles behind a cupped smooth hand. As you can see from the video, he’s all-out, in-your-face chomping and yupping with the most alarming expressions. He reminds me of my dad (and maybe myself) with his exaggerated, dramatic facial theatrics. Even his dance is ridiculous. You can just tell that his backup dancers are trying hard to look as composed and dignified as they can even while trying not to burst into embarrassed laughter.
This video has spun a lot of YouTube parodies, in which non-Koreans intentionally misinterpret “Oppa Gangnam style” as “open condom style” (Urgh, disgusting). By the way, “oppa” means “big brother” in Korean. It’s a term only used by females, and if you say it coquettishly enough you’ll get a man to do anything for you (But only, I emphasize, if you’re a cute female). The whole song is kind of a social satire. Gangnam refers to rich 15-square-mile neighborhood in Seoul. It’s the Beverly Hills and Brentwood of Los Angeles, or the Upper West Side of New York City. It’s where the trust fund babies live, cruising in their Audis with their $800 shoes and sipping $20 coffees in posh cafes. So I guess you can interpret it as a snarky nod towards the ostentatious wealth that the Korean society likes to flaunt (whether they have it or not).
As much as I loved the video (and the song is still playing in my mind and I’m periodically shouting “Gangnam style”), I wish PSY had broken the traditional mold for female K-pop stars as well. His love interest in this video is still…well, too perfect. She’s got that poster K-pop girl look pat down, from her ivory skin to her slender, blemish-free legs to her big, double-lidded eyes and strawberry hair. She looks like she could fit right into Girls Generation, a major K-pop girl band that I’ve been studying for the last month. Here’s a video of them:
It took me a good couple weeks before I was able to distinguish one long-legged girl from the next long-legged girl. I mean, there’s nine of them, and they all look beautiful and pretty much alike!
Maybe it’s just me…but watching their music videos just made me feel horrible about myself. I looked at their ridiculously long, smooth and shapely legs, and I despised my scarred, bird-like ones. I looked at their porcelain, white skin, and I felt ashamed of my tanned skin (Koreans prize fair skin as beautiful). I looked at their large, lash-curtained eyes and full lips, and scowled at my “too Asian” reflection in the mirror. I found dissatisfaction and inadequacy in all of my features.
I can’t simply blame the entertainment industry, as these feelings stem from my personal history of insecurity issues, but every time I look at the “model” image of a Korean woman, I can’t help feeling a stab of bitter envy and crippling imperfection. It’s quite embarrassing for me to admit this, as I’d prefer to envision myself as an emancipated young individual woman with strong self-esteem, sound Christian values and confident uniqueness. But seeing these faces and bodies of sculpted perfection makes me…desire to be just as manufactured into the “ideal Korean beauty.” Perhaps that’s why I get irritated when some people tell me I “don’t look Korean enough.” Because I know when they say “Korean,” they think of those fair-skinned, doe-eyed girls.
By my eighth replay of Gangnam Style, I was once again feeling rather disillusioned. But what is it that I want, exactly? The entertainment industry may pop an antithesis like Park once in a while to stir things up a bit, but at its core, it will probably never change. It’s an entertainment industry– its goal is to entertain, and it’s human nature to want to appreciate and admire an idealized beauty. Beauty is art. It’s created from the mind, inspired by what the physical eyes observe and appreciate. Humans are physical beings who are forced to respond to physical things.
I hate it when people tell me things like “true beauty is from within,” blah blah blah. Yeah, of course it’s true, but tell me that when I feel like and look like pigeon droppings, and I’ll probably just want to kick you. But I write these thoughts down here on the blog because sometimes, the power to be able to acknowledge and accept that “inner beauty” cliche comes from voicing out my own contradictions. Besides the obvious hilarity, I enjoyed Park’s music video because he did just that. He exposed the contradictions, laughed at himself, and had tons of fun while doing it.
Okay. Now that I’ve released all these thoughts out, I’m going to do the Gangnam dance, make all kinds of hideous faces, and laugh at myself. Join me?