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Lighter Side: Gangnam Style

 YOU WANT TO KNOW THIS SONG AND BE AWARE OF THIS DANCE! This post will tell you what Gangnam Style is, why you should know it, how it became so popular, and why Americans are loving this song.

I first heard this song on Dancing With the Stars.  I first thought it was "Gangland Style" which reminded me of Los Angeles, but I was very surprised that it was a very silly dance and loads of fun.   More about that later.  This is the original Dancing with the Stars dance.

Why should you care about Gangnam style?  It's THE MOST POPULAR SONG IN THE WORD!  It's #1 in 34 countries as I write.  There are more than 600,000,000 hits as I write, and I expect Psy (the artist who raps and stars in the song/video) to top 1Billion by Christmas.  Here's the original video.

Gangnam section of Seoul
Appropriate for School?
Not really.  There is "Eh, Sexy Lady" in English, and that's a bit objectifying.  The Korean seems awesome!  Here's a link to a translation.  What you really need to know is that this is the song your kids love!  Just telling the kids you enjoy it too, or humming it in the halls goes a long way to building relationships with students.  I think High School kids might be able to analyze the form, do a group dance in the spirit of the song and using the steps to the dance, and discuss the aesthetics of the song and video.  Just clear that lyric with administration.

Art on the street in Gangnam
Why is this so popular?
This song is satire, it's fun, it's innocent, it's got a rollicking beat, and it appeals to the inner-awkward-teen in all of us.  That said, let me go into detail.

An apartment in Gangnam, Seoul
Gangnam is a section of Seoul.  It is from the word "gang" meaning "river."  I immediately thought of the "Ganges" river that might come from the same ancient root.  This section of the city is where the playboys live.  The beautiful people and the rich and powerful live in Gangnam.  Think of it as Rodeo Drive plus 5th Avenue, and the Main Line of Philadelphia.

The song is satirical, it pokes fun at these very wealthy "1%-ers," and there is also a longing in the song because we'd all love to have more money than we know what to do with.  People in Gangnam own horses, yet they live in the middle of the city, they take private jets and have lavish dance parties in the hangers that house their planes, they belong to extravagant tennis clubs, and wear brightly-colored, androgenous outfits that cost more than most people's homes.

The hero of our song is Psy, the rapper and genius of this song.  Our drama opens with short, pudgy, baby-faced Psy being fanned by a lovely young woman.  He's basking on the beach in a suit.  He shows us his stables, his plane's hanger with outrageous winds that blow garbage all over he and his lady friends, but they are too cool to react.  He turns a tennis court into a night club for a dance with a pretty lady and then enjoys ogling a pretty tattooed boy in the saunas.  Psy's character is so used to riding horses that he even rides them in the carousel in the very posh central park of Gangnam.  He loses his mind in a scream of adolescent longing as he comes across an open-air exercise class of lovely young women on all-fours.  Everywhere he goes is a party, there's a disco ball on a bus of elderly women and he's dancing in the aisles, parking garages become more glamorous than old MGM musicals, even an elevator is an excuse to dance.

But as much money and power as Psy's character obviously has, he's disarmed by a beautiful woman and utterly helpless in her presence.  This makes him absolutely adorable and loveable.  He is the alter-ego of my Middle School students.  He's so awkward and innocent.  Psy never uses women or speaks down to them in any way.  Psy is in awe of women and completely enthralled with them, just like the young men I watch grow up and make their way through adolescence.  Psy doesn't bed the babes like so many rappers.  Psy approaches a beauty, caresses her cheek, looks deeply in her eyes, then.....DOES A LINE DANCE WITH HER.  It's soooooo sweet and fun and Middle School.  At least, it is what Middle School should be.

The video ends with one splash of laughter after another, Psy sitting on the toilet in utter seriousness, back with the senior citizens on the disco bus, then in an indoor stadium for a Bollywood-style ending and a coda with an androgenous lady in a bright yellow suit (homage to the German play, "The Visitor?")

The phenomenon of this song puts Psy's Korea in contrast with other Asian countries.  Take a look at this!
(Here was an Aljazeera video titled "Why Gangnam Style could not have come from China.")  Unfortunately, after the recent controversy about lyrics in a 2004 concert, the Arabic news channel pulled their insightful piece.  Ironically, the newsmen discussing the Gangnam Style phenomenon noted that it is the very freedom of South Koreans to make art that could never pass the endless stream of micro-managing cultural committees had it been made in China.  American grandparents of many of my readers may have fought for South Korea to have those freedoms.  This makes Americans understandably angry.

But I'd like to say a word in defense of Psy.  I too am disgusted by America's use of torture, suspension of Habeas Corpus, and dismissal of the Geneva Conventions in their Middle Eastern wars of late.  I'm ashamed that my country stooped to that level.  History will not be kind to us for it.  I needed to search very hard to find a photo for this paragraph that didn't involve genital mutilation, lots of blood, and other things that will give you nightmares.  I think that an element of American anger toward Psy is guilt over our lack of protest to these injustices.  Note how Psy was careful to not apologize for being against America's current international actions.  It's easy to objectify people and make sweeping generalizations, especially when young.  Later, when you actually meet "Yankees" or "Arabs" or "insert ethnic group here," you realize the error of such generalizations.
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Americans have a rich comedic history of music that is satirical, quirky, and just plain fun.  I offer to you The Blues Brothers, Young Frankenstein, Key and Peele, Mel Brooks, Bugs Bunny, and countless others.  This video is fun, it's detailed, the music is well-crafted, the melody is awesome, the dance is easy and takes loads of energy (calories) to perform.  I can't say enough good things about "Gangnam Style".  I giggle just thinking about it.  I'm not the only one.  Go ahead, do the dance!

Phillapino prisoners

The entire campus of MIT

Footballers in the West Indies

Thai Naval Officers
Football Players
Ohio State's Marching Band
UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon


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