Who better to weigh in on a genuine international pop phenomenon than an angry, stupid old white guy? I have to admit that my exposure to the song Gangnam Style was pretty late in the game, and completely due to a post by Interrobang. My knowledge of K-pop is slightly more substantial than bubbles but less substantial than rain. Of course, being ignorant about a particular subject may cause me to eschew criticism of said subject, but Bill O'Reilly has no such qualms about flaunting his dumbassitude. Yeah, Bill just had to weigh in on Gangnam Style and, in a masterstroke, brought on somebody even more ignorant than himself to contribute his two cents. Bill could have brought on a hip, young Korean-American to break down the cultural phenomenon, but he's not really trying to understand it... this is a classic example of fostering the ignorance and bigotry of his audience.
Bill's guest Dr Keith Ablow is even more clueless than he is. Let's unpack some of Ablow's idiocy regarding the song. Here's the "Heart of Dorkness", so to speak:
For Americans, at least, most of the lyrics of Gangnam Style can't be understood, since they are in Korean. Here's a sample: "Na je nun ta so ro un in gan jo gin yo ja . . . " Psy himself performs (like many entertainers) under a pseudonym. His real name is Park Jae-sang.
The great sin here is that Ablow states that the song can't be understood, yet he makes no attempt to understand the lyrics, even though he goes so far as to write some of them out. It's so much more comforting to foster the prejudicial view that the song is gibberish... would such bullshit fly if Ablow were discussing Nessun Dorma or In Fernem Land? If Ablow had decided to scratch below the surface and do his homework, he would have discovered that Gangnam Style is actually a slightly subversive satire of a stratified society. Here in the 'States, we need more such satire.
Of course, the popularity of Gangnam Style is international- any discussion of the song's impact has to take this into consideration. South Korea, with its population of just under fifty million has internet usage of 82.7%, making it the 17th "most wired" nation on Earth (the United States comes in 27th place with 78.3% connectivity). Trying to shoehorn the popularity of the song into an "Americacentric" model is plumb dumb.
As far as the popularity of the song outside of Korea, I imagine much of the popularity in Asia is due to the fact that fans are drawn to "PSY" because they can relate to him better than, say, to a Taylor Swift or a (shudder) Ted Nugent. Bill-O, of all people, should realize that people enjoy seeing folks who look sorta like them represented in the media.
Moving on to the Western World, there are approximately 1.7 million Korean-Americans in the U.S. Korean-Americans have long labored under the stereotype of being a model minority, composed of hard-working, wonky brainiacs. Gangnam Style, much like the "Howard and Kumar" movies, shatters this stereotype. Here we have a thirtysomething Korean guy who is a jokey, yet savvy, party animal- take your "model minority" perceptions and shove 'em. One of my favorite iterations of the song is this one, which perfectly encapsulates the "cool brainiacs" aesthetic.
Outside the Korean-American community, a lot of youth culture is otaku culture... there is a hearty embracing of Asian popular entertainment and the young consumers drive much of the popularity of web content. The incredible rise of Gangnam Style is incomprehensible to a square old fogey, much like the inexplicable resurgence of 80's pop tunes used to "count coup" on n00bz and the bizarre popularity of glorious Russian cheese among snarky youths. The very concept of "cool" in the 21st century involves syncretism, it's a blending of cultures low and high, east and west, meatspace and web- the cool people are African-Americans who are obsessed with kung-fu movies, Canadian muppets, and glorious mutants. Who would be more appealing in today's pop culture melting pot than a not-so-young Korean guy, surrounded by pretty young women, singing a piss-take of a song, rooted in an African-American musical style, with a brief, catchy English chorus and featuring a hilarious video?
Gangnam Style works on many levels- it's a satire, it's a physical comedy, it's an easily learned dance craze (like other inexplicable hits). Hell, even a clumsy galoot (don't look at me, I'm a dancing machine, most guys who like to fight are) can hit the floor when this tune plays. Expect to hear the song played at weddings for years to come (my prediction is that the "Hey, sexy ladies!" part will be played while the bridesmaids assemble, maybe when the garter is tossed).
Finally, Gangnam Style lends itself to the DIY/mash-up culture, and has spawned a plethora of videos, including some truly inspired ones. Gangnam Style, far from merely being the most popular Youtube video of all time, is actually a good microcosm of the Internet itself- it's a true melting pot of styles and themes from across the planet. It's no wonder that a couple of fuddy-duddies, addressing an audience of grumpy old fogies, can so spectacularly fail in their assessment of this cultural phenomenon.
UPDATE: Now, here's a real assessment of Gangnam Style by someone who knows what she's talking about.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Special thanks to zrm, who corrected my misspelling of "Gangnam". Thanks, old chum! mikey observes Bill-O's combination of racism and opportunism, which leads me to this observation... I think the main reason Bill's ass is chapped by the popularity of Gangnam Style is that it represents the primacy of "hip-hop culture" worldwide. In Bill-O's world, Asians are supposed to be the model, "almost white, well behaved" minority. To see a Korean guy performing a rap dance number must make Bill-O's head feel all assplodey. Remember when America's Racist Uncle decried the fact that young Latinos identify with "rap culture"? Well, now even the "nice" non-whiteys have succumbed to the beat. Combined with the overwhelming support for President Obama by Asian-Americans, expect to see a lot of Asian-bashing in the conservative media in the coming years. Yeah, yet another "natural Republican voter" constituency fleeing the "big tent" due to bigotry and ignorance. J. Neo Marvin compares Gangnam Style to the most important song of the 1990's, the prescient Common People by Pulp. Now, this is how to approach a song- figure out the lyrics. Of course, Bill-O and his knuckleheaded guest don't want you to be exposed to the class-critique central to Gangnam Style, it suits their purposes to portray the song as so much gobbledegook (nasty pun intended, we all know what Bill-O was thinking). The unintentional hilarity of Ablow's take on the song is that his characterization of its popularity as a symptom of a shallow American youth culture is based entirely on an extremely shallow understanding of the song.