Friday, July 27th, 2012

Psy – Gangnam Style

Gangnam style = dancing with horses?


Patrick St. Michel: Right now, I can look up the most popular songs in Japan or Korea and then find several English translations of said track floating around online. Entire internet sub-cultures exist around the shared idea of translating foreign song lyrics into their native tongue and sharing them online, a way for international fans to feel more connected with groups they can’t understand. The best music, though, should sound so good on its own that knowing what the lyrics are about should be a secondary concern. I had no clue what Psy sang about on “Gangnam Style” going into it, and the English translation I pulled up only befuddles me more. Yet I know exactly what Psy is going for here, because the music (and the video) spells it out perfectly. This guy wants to have ridiculous amounts of fun.  The music is an alternate-reality version of 2NE1’s “I Am The Best,” except with that one’s WWE attitude swapped out for a booze-soaked banger, with the vocals delivered in this gruff voice that signals good times. And vocal earworms like the titular phrase and the “Ehhhh, sexy lady” bits sound great without any Rosetta Stone assistance. Dumb fun crosses all linguistic lines.

Jonathan Bogart: His ko.wikipedia page notes that he’s a day younger than I am, which is a cheerful thought. He’s also apparently had a music career since 1999, and was busted for pot in 2001. “Gangnam Style,” based purely on the video, is a laff riot-cum-bosh party à la “Sexy and I Know It” — or perhaps “I’m Too Sexy.” I’ll tread cautiously around the question of whether it’s actually funny — there’s a long history in Western entertainment of East Asian men being caricatured as buffoonishly unsexy, and I’m not interested in perpetuating that — but his energy and commitment are never in doubt, and that sideways-waddle dance is as athletic as it is goofy-looking. Oh, the music? You’ve heard LMFAO, right?

Iain Mew: The video suggests that he’s something like a Korean LMFAO (chubby male body presented as inherently comedic is not exactly a big step up from all male bodies being presented as inherently comedic, though some of that perception that that’s what’s happening may be male gaze at my end I suppose). I love the song, though. It’s fun, but at the same time he displays a technical care and commitment in the verses that belies the visual lack of seriousness. Musically he combines some the best bits of sounds shared with YG Entertainment labelmates to great effect. The electro grind is prime 2NE1 and the stop-start spoken bits that turn the song into a series of different builds and releases is similar to Big Bang’s “Fantastic Baby”, only in “Gangnam Style” the beats come back in in a myriad of different and increasingly enjoyable ways each time.

Will Adams: See what happens when you let LMFAO get too popular? Clones start popping up all over the world. Let’s do better next time, America.

John Seroff: “Gangnam Style” wilds out somewhere in that super-sweet spot between video game soundtrack, house and peak spin class workout. The bass is bouncing; the gleefully declamatory vocals put Pitbull to shame. It’s all just somehow skirting a bad headache somehow. The gleefully batshit music video is icing on the icing.

Katherine St Asaph: Video’s a [10]; it’s got explosions within minute one, guys. We are rating the song, however, which is what you’d get if “Starships” sounded even more like a Jock Jam. You can mute the video; you can’t augment the song.

Alfred Soto: By itself the song is LMFAO-influenced froth; the video, though, makes the Conrad novel title Under Western Eyes ever more fraught.

Brad Shoup: As this south-of-the-river boy understands it, Psy’s aiming a silo-sized seltzer bottle at the K-pop firmament. Problem is, he hit Benny Benassi, who’s already plenty soggy. Psy sounds a bit like David Bowie on the cinematic middle eight, but that’s not enough to make this intriguing as a sonic high concept. I’m receiving that part as sincere, though, which is about the only defense I got.

42 Responses to “Psy – Gangnam Style”

  1. Has anyone been keeping track of the controversy rankings this year? I suspect that Psy just won.

  2. I don’t think so. Anyone know the formula? I can copy Dave’s existing index and add some candidates.

  3. “Don’t think so” meaning “no one’s been keeping track,” not “this couldn’t win”. And by “formula,” it seems I mean Dave’s weighting for number of contributors.

  4. so, uh, this has blown up in a pretty huge way.

  5. 20 million YouTube views!

    Other massive K-Pop hits for comparison (which have all had longer to run up their totals):

    Big Bang – Fantastic Baby 36 million
    2NE1 – I Am the Best 49 million
    Girls’ Generation – Gee 82 million

    I don’t really have any concept of how much of the 20 million is from South Korea and existing K-Pop fans elsewhere and how much is it going viral among non-fans largely from the video. With at least some element of the latter, maybe the non-Korean Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s “Pon Pon Pon” (32 million) is another relevant comparison. I wouldn’t be surprised if “Gangnam Style” ended up overtaking it.

  6. It *does* sound like a Jock Jam. But it’s not as repetitive as most of those are, so that’s a point.

    Psy is really smart about always including shots of cool, attractive young people rocking out to his music in his MVs, sometimes I wonder whether this is swaying people into “Psy is a dork but he is cool” camp. Also because he doesn’t act his age. This is a chart-topper in Korea because it has cross-generational appeal, which honestly is pretty rare in Kpop.

  7. And because Olympics fever is pushing lots of pop songs into Jock-Jam territory maybe. (See also all the videos with shots of singers being splattered in colored paints, ala the Olympics ads…)

  8. The unweighted controversy rating is a dead-center 3.00 (formula = take difference between each score and 5.25, add ’em up, divide by 8), but as Brad says, that doesn’t take account of Dave’s weightings. I’ve sent out a call to the man himself.

  9. I’ve fallen off a bit on tracking the controversy — need an hour or two to update the public Google spreadsheet.

    Formula is standard deviation, and then a weighted formula for number of contributors. I use a .02 multiplier for every contributor after 8. So 9 contributors is multiplied by 1.02, 10 by 1.04, 11 by 1.06, etc.

    This one keeps the flat controversy rate of 3 that Frank calculated.

    That puts this at #1, but I haven’t updated since late February(!). Good project for the weekend!

  10. Much thanks in advance!

  11. OK, updated! Psy does take the top spot. For those of you keeping score, Psy’s 3 score pales in comparison to the Controversy-Selected Ringers that won the previous three years, and is slightly under the regular-year winners EMA (in 2011) and Nicki Minaj (in 2010). But a good showing and likely to take first place in regular-year controversy competition until I can think of something totally bonkers for Amnesty Week.

  12. Here’s the current Controversy Top 20(ish):

    1. Psy – Gangnam Style
    2. Sam and the Womp – Bom Bom
    3. Brianna Perry – Marilyn Monroe
    4. Breathe Carolina – Blackout
    5. Lana Del Rey – National Anthem
    6. Muse – Survival
    7. Fiona Apple – Every Single Night
    8. Marianas Trench – Desperate Measures
    9. Stooshe ft. Travie McCoy – Love Me
    10. 50 Cent f. Tony Yayo – I Just Wanna
    =11. LoveRance f. 50 Cent – Up!
    =11. Mars Volta – The Malkin Jewel
    13. Bertine Zetlitz f. Samsaya – Electric Feet
    14. Lil Chuckee – Wop
    15. Zebra Katz ft. Njena Reddd Foxxx – Ima Read
    16. Justin Bieber – Die in Your Arms
    17. Taylor Swift ft. The Civil Wars – Safe & Sound
    18. Rihanna f. Chris Brown – Birthday Cake
    =19. Torche – Kicking
    =19. Conor Maynard – Vegas Girl
    21. Neon Hitch – Fuck U Betta

  13. Woops, an error above: the rankings are based on AVERAGE deviation, not standard. I picked average because when I did tests of outlier scores (a single 0, say) they really wrecked the curve. Average deviation seemed more conservative, even though I think statistically there’s not (supposed to be?) much difference. I’m not really a stats guy, more of a controversy guy.

  14. I can make it so that going forward, the Controversy Index score for a song appears. Say, if you hover your mouse over the actual score, you see the Controversy score, or similar. Appealing?

  15. That would be nice. More numbers for me to obsess over!

    Thanks for all the calculating, Dave!

  16. From Monday’s entries onwards, hover your mouse over the score and it will show the Controversy Index.

  17. That would be awesome! Would you be able to factor in the multiplier for contributors that I use? The only reason I added it was that low-contributor entries would otherwise tend to overshadow the genuinely big controversy stories (the small stories still compete, mind, they just don’t tend to take the top spot). But even without the multiplier it would be VERY handy as a reference for the year-end controversy list!

  18. Yep I already put the multiplier in. Check the maths and email me if it’s wrong.

  19. You are amazing. Thank you!

  20. 10 ASIA: What do you think it attracts people globally about this song? What is it about the song?

    PSY: First of all, I think this kind of phenomenon doesn’t mean that much. Because you know, when people see something funny, something comic, something literally stupid, or whatever, when they see it, if it is funny, [they laugh at it because] it’s funny, right? I think that’s all for now and that’s what I’m thinking right now. I don’t want to expect a lot from it right now.

  21. Wall Street Journal wonders about the popularity of “Gangnam Style”; reporter claims to be the least cool person in Seoul, but actually knows his shit. Bet you he likes the music.

  22. Still blowing up, (Currently #11 on Billboard Hot 100!) and I wonder how many of its listeners are people who have resisted mainstream catchy electro before now because LMFAO had previously characterized it as douchey fratboy territory. Psy’s humor is harmless at heart, and even the few fratboy images it does have don’t feel greasy, and are more credibly delivered as jokes than Sexy And I Know It’s attempts, which were tainted with a malevolent undertone.
    So people are letting go of their guilt at enjoying douche-jam music for Gangnam Style, because Psy has made it not jock territory.

    And maybe it is the Asian thing that does that. Every Asian-culture-based convention/festival has put out multiple Gangnam Style videos, with the undertone of it being “their” (geeks) kind of memetic dance a la Caramelldansen/Hare Hare Yukai. There are some Party Rock Anthem con videos from 2011, but those don’t feel memetic so much as just people who don’t mind the mainstream having fun.

    Meanwhile, all of the TV shows also don’t mind doing covers or having Psy guest, because, again, it seems harmless at heart, and Psy’s image is ultimately that of a gentlemen, and they don’t have to worry about the connotations covering/teaching the dance would have as opposed to if it was LMFAO.

  23. Caramelldansen > Gangnam Style > Party Rock Anthem > Hare Hare Yukai.

  24. (I mean, in most respects, those are considerably different songs with considerably different cultural origins. But within that specific context…)

  25. The number-two song in America!

  26. I finally heard this on the radio! Hot 8 at 8, so who knows how indicative that is of regular playlists. The DJ introduced it, “This is the only dance hotter than the Cha Cha Slide,” which makes me think she’s been to lots of wedding receptions lately. It was sandwiched between “Some Nights” and “Never Ever Getting Back Together,” cementing my suspicion that this is the greatest weirdest year for massive pop hits since, when, 1997?

  27. That reminds me, for those not on Tumblr here’s Bengals DT Domata Peko celebrating a sack.

  28. Gangnam Style = Macarena
    One Direction = Backstreet
    Call Me Maybe = Mmmbop
    Sexy and I Know It = Barbie Girl
    um, other stuff; I need a .fun and a Spice Girls, but they don’t equal each other.
    (Please note this may only work if your taste is exactly like mine.)

  29. Spice Girls = Nicki/Taylor/Katy/Rihanna/Sia
    (that would be Scary/Baby/Sporty/Ginger/Posh, btw)

    fun. = Third Eye Blind

  30. fun. = Third Eye Blind

    Good call! That Spice Girls comparison also has merit, but makes me think of a bad Lady Marmalade remake.

  31. I mean, it’d be interesting to see those five remake “Wannabe” but it could also be completely terrible.

  32. Dead on with Spice Girls. Dead. On.

  33. Pink can be Sporty and Katy can be Posh.

  34. Now the boys!


  35. Upon sober reflection Gotye should be more OMC covering “I’ll Be Missing You.” Which means Chumbawumba probably = Of Monsters and Men or something less fortunate. But Skrillex = Prodigy!

  36. (Also on a side note, the wiki for Of Monsters recently started off weird:

  37. Do you mean this?

  38. Ooh, yes! Interested parties should follow Brad’s link TO VIEW HIS HANDIWORK.

  39. The editor’s IP is in Milan, for what it’s worth.

  40. Wouldn’t that be Death Grips, anyway?

  41. Oh wow is Death Grips actually a Dan Savage reference? Serious question.

  42. They formed in 2010, so… maybe? (See their album cover. Or, rather, don’t, if anyone reading this is at work or school or really just in public.)