Even before seeing the viral sensation PSY at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards last Thursday, I had always wondered how his crazy and catchy music video, "Gangnam Style," attained international status. Currently at 131 million views after first being uploaded on YouTube on July 15th, it has topped the music charts in his home country of Korea and surged through the charts in Canada, Finland, Sweden and the United States, just to name a few countries. He's been featured on dozens of news outlets, including CNN, VH1, BBC, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and even in The Wall Street Journal, which aired the dance because it was extremely addicting and fun. Many stars much more famous than PSY have also expressed their admiration and love of PSY and his song and video, including Britney Spears, Vanessa Hudgens and Katy Perry, with the latter in complete shock after seeing PSY's surprise entrance at the VMAs. The ridiculous coverage of a formerly unknown Korean artist is something that leads to several questions, especially about his viral video: What makes his video so addicting and catchy? How did it spread? And what on earth does "Gangnam Style" mean?
Park Jae-sang, known as PSY, only intended for his video to become popular in Korea. However, Korean pop, or K-pop, fans saw the video and began sharing it through Facebook and other social networks. As it was shared more and more often, it began popping up on news outlets, as well as the Twitter accounts of many universal, popular artists and actors. At that point, the snowball effect continually built on itself, resulting in the still-unstoppable wave that is "Gangnam Style". The massive effect of social media, as well as PSY's down-to- earth demeanor and American education at Boston University and Berklee College of Music, might explain why other more professional Korean groups, such as girl groups "Girls Generation" and "Wonder Girls", or boy groups "BIG BANG" and "Super Junior", have not succeeded in breaking into the American scene. It's hard not to see why it's so catchy. Media outlets all over the world are rocking to its rhythmic, party beat, including The Daily Beacon editorial staff. Its beat is similar to another catchy hit, LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem". However, it's safe to say that "Gangnam Style" has trumped that song in popularity and virality, surpassing songs by Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, and many other artists. Currently, PSY is still at number 1 on the Social 50 Chart at Billboard.com, and is on the music charts of many other countries too. However, what does the video mean?
Since most Americans aren't fluent in Korean, me included, allkpop.com, a site dedicated to Korean artists and gossip, has translated the lyrics and the background of the song. According to the site, the song is about a man wooing a girl from a specific region of Korea's capital, Seoul, called Gangnam. Gangnam is a very wealthy and expensive district that caters to the elite and high-class, similar in fame and status to Beverly Hills or Las Vegas, with each host to a plethora of high-class dining and entertainment establishments (including Korea's top entertainment agencies, S.M. and JYP Entertainment) for tourists. In order to win the woman's eyes, PSY decides to try and be "Gangnam-style" as well. His lyrics talk about how he wants a girl who is "warm and human during the day... A girl whose heart grows hotter as the night approaches, a girl with that kind of twist...A girl who looks quiet but knows how and when to party...a girl who lets her hair down when she feels it is the right time...a girl who covers up but is much more beautiful than a girl who doesn't." PSY's crazy and funny antics during his video attempt to show his own "Gangnam-style" to this girl as a guy who also gets more passionate as night approaches, a guy who can party and have fun, and a guy that has "bulging ideas rather than muscles."
However, the video goes further than just this simple plot. PSY's video can also be a satire that critiques the elite that live in the Gangnam District, as it shows the persona that the rich have, from their overly-boastful moves to their desire to attract attention shown with PSY's dancing in various public locations in the video. In addition, PSY's video can also be seen as showing that Gangnam life is not so glorious as seen. In the beginning of the video, we think he's on a beach, but it's really just a playground. He also goes to a sauna, but it's full of creepy-looking people. Lastly, instead of dancing in a nightclub, he dances in a bus with elderly people. This hidden, social commentary is something that many Koreans and Korean-Americans are worried will be lost as the video still infects more and more people around the world. Still, remember to also enjoy the song. There's more to life than always taking things seriously, and PSY offers a way to goof off and relax and laugh with your friends — GANGNAM STYLE!
— Jan Urbano is a junior in biology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.