What is it about this crazy K-Pop hit?
The latest craze sweeping the internet is a song called "Gangnam Style" by Korean pop star Psy. And the music video, and the dance. Oh yes, the silly dance.
On first watch, the video may seem surreal, particularly if you don't understand the lyrics (which are in Korean). Psy appears to be a slightly portly (yet quite nimble) man wearing a nice suit, doing silly things like dancing in a stable, dancing in an elevator, and dancing in a parking lot as garbage swirls around him.
This song first became an instant mega-sensation in Korea, and from there it spread to the rest of the world. The first reason for its popularity is obvious: Psy is a huge pop star in Korea, on the same level as Lady Gaga or Beyonce in America. The song is catchy, and his dance is silly.
Also, most Americans are unaware of the influence that K-Pop has over Korean culture. The intensity of K-Pop fandom puts every aspect of America's celebrity culture to shame.
But the second reason is a little more subtle and interesting. In South Korea, it is not considered acceptable to question the status quo. Psy's video came off like a depth charge there, as it directly satirizes the culture of trendiness and wealth which has led to economic disaster for many Koreans. Difficult as this may be to believe for many Americans, in South Korea, "Gangnam Style" is frequently called "subversive."
The Gangnam District is the heart of conspicuous consumption in South Korea, similar to our Upper West Side or Beverly Hills. In the video, Psy talks about all the amazing things he spends his money on, all the trappings of wealth (including, yes, riding horseback at an expensive stable). But you can see that it's all just a thin fiction, because in reality he is riding a pretend horsie, or standing in an empty parking lot. Psy is "poking fun at those kinds of people who are trying so hard to be something that they're not."
Sharp, incisive cultural commentary aside, Gangnam Style is a silly video for a catchy song which features a silly dance that is not very hard to do. Although many people probably first experienced the video as an example of what Know Your Meme calls "Asian WTF Humor," the song has achieved lasting popularity because of the catchy tune and the genuine hilarity of a stone-faced man in a nice suit doing an extremely silly dance.