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‘Gangnam Style’ reinforces cultural role

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From page B1 | November 02, 2012 | Leave Comment

Roll the clock back six months and tell me that a South Korean K-pop artist was going to have one of the biggest hits of 2012 and I would have said you were a few tracks shy of an album.

Turns out the joke’s on me. Psy’s “Gangnam Style” has racked up more than 600 million views on YouTube, making it one of the streaming video service’s most-watched clips of all time. It’s so hot, it actually went up another few million since you started reading this sentence.

The odds against “Gangnam Style” dominating American attention spans are astounding. It’s a song written for a foreign audience and sung almost entirely in a language other than English.

If you could foresee that being a big hit, you were probably telling people last century that the 2012 presidential election would come down to a Mormon and a black man, but more on them later.

While the song is catchy, much like other YouTube phenoms before him such as Tay Zonday’s “Chocolate Rain” and The Rubberbandits’ “Horse Outside,” the furor around “Gangnam Style” is the video.

Psy goes over the top in lampooning the lavish life of Seoul, South Korea’s, Gangnam district, comically amplifying it by doing the song’s signature “horse riding” dance on boats, in stables, on rooftops, across streets and in subway stations.

Still, there are many instances when we appropriate “Gangnam Style” and other foreign works for the purpose of laughing at them.

That’s a weirdly familiar role for Asians in American culture. Look at Ken Jeong’s character in “The Hangover” movies or our shameless willingness to laugh at “American Idol” entrant William Hung, both of whom play the role of an Asian man who doesn’t fit into some sort of prescribed code of behavior for his race.

Psy is perfectly cast as the “silly Asian man” in the “Gangnam Style” video. It may be a less harmful or offensive role than other stereotypes not worth repeating, but it does, nonetheless, reinforce one.

What’s genius about “Gangnam Style” is its appeal to an American audience. We don’t even need to know what the song is about – poking fun at those in the Gangnam area and those who try to emulate them, if I understand correctly – to “get it.”

Don’t take the “Gangnam Style” video too seriously. It is funny and Psy knows that, but there’s a part of me that suspects – the scientific word for having no proof, but going with my gut feelings – that it would not have racked up more than 600 million views on YouTube if it’d been created by a white American pop artist.

Rock the vote

Everyone knows using facts and issues such as the economy, foreign affairs and Big Bird are pretty much a waste of time when it comes to picking a president.

The best way to do it is by learning what’s on his – or, hopefully some time in my lifetime, her – iPod.

Our defending champion is President Barack Obama, who brings with him an all-star cast of favorites, including Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Jay-Z, Miles Davis and more.

The GOP, on the other hand, seems unable to catch a break, musically speaking.

After naming Rage Against the Machine as one of his favorite bands, the group’s Tom Morello said vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan was the “embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades.” Ouch. Though that must sting, it’s not hard to picture Morello saying the same about Obama or Biden, too.

More recently, Brooklyn indie rockers The National got feisty when “Fake Empire” was appropriated for a Republican Internet commercial decrying the Obama campaign. Add Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider and Silversun Pickups to the list of musical Mitt Romney rebuffers as well.

The Killers responded a bit more diplomatically to Romney’s endorsement earlier this year, with the Las Vegas band’s bassist Mark Stoermer saying, “Anyone’s allowed to like us.”

In an interview with Parade magazine, Romney also noted a fondness for the Beach Boys, Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Aerosmith and Alabama, so he has a fairly wide swath of artists he enjoys, too.

But whether it’s the donkeys or the elephants you endorse, as long as you vote Tuesday, that’s the important part.

To read more of Nick DeCicco’s blogs, visit http://dailyrepublic.typepad.com/forthoseabouttorock. Follow him on Twitter @ndeciccodr.

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco is the editor of the Tailwind and writes the pop culture blog/column For Those About to Rock. Before joining the DR staff in July 2007, DeCicco (pronounced Deh-CEE-Coh) worked at The Union in Grass Valley, Calif., and the Greeley Tribune in Greeley, Colo. A 2004 graduate of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, DeCicco spends his free time attending concerts, listening to music, going to movies, traveling and hiking.
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