The Year that was 2012: That man named Psy

Image: Psy, Al Roker,  Natalie Morales, Savannah Guthrie, David Gregory
So the end of 2012 is near and what a year it has been. Not only did we see Korean filmmakers get critical acclaim at respected festivals, we also saw the world domination of that man called Psy. In the Kpop world, it saw the emergence of rookie groups that didn’t seem so rookie and more new groups than you could shake a stick at.

In these series of articles, I will be examining the key stories and people that I was watching in 2012. In this first article I examine the success and ponder just what lies in store for the global sensation that is Psy.

You could be mistaken (and some press have been wrong) to insinuate that 2012 was the year that Korean pop culture was brought to the masses thanks to Psy’s horse dance. Media attention turned to South Korea in order to understand where he had come from and how he managed to conquer the world. At the time of writing Psy is the first person on YouTube to achieve a billion views. That is no mean feat. What Psy did was clever; he managed to transcend cultures and languages and got the whole world dancing.

However it hasn’t been all positive, he has and probably will be (unless he presents something different in the new year) known as the guy who does the horse dance to those unfamiliar with his work. Furthermore his success has brought to the forefront stereotypes of Asian men entrenched in western society. Many Asian male bloggers have stated that he reinforced the images of Asian men being emasculated, linked to laughter or linked to martial arts. His success comes from being the ‘acceptable Asian man’ who doesn’t present a challenge for the established western hero figure that has been portrayed for years.

The ‘Asian man’ is either presented as being a funny man that is a figure of ridicule, a skilled marital artist who seeks ‘Zen’, the nerd who is good at maths but terrible with girls or either a low level immigrant. Again, all of these images present no challenge to the masculine western hero who is revered and idolised.

Nevertheless with all the various deep analyses and criticisms of the song and of Psy successes others have argued that it is important not to forget that it is just a song that he made for everyone to dance to. In interviews, Psy himself stresses that he is not making some deep comment about the state of society, for him the song is just fun and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Psy has also become a global ambassador for South Korea and with this comes a large amount of pressure. For a man who was used to being outside the box being thrust into the limelight must have been a big change. Of course he’s taken it all on the chin and fulfilled his role doing and talking about Gangnam style over and over again. Even on his first appearance on American TV via the Ellen DeGeneres show when she bypassed introducing him and asked him to do the dance, he calmly introduced himself and then began to teach the dance to Britney Spears. He has even has become bored with the song and having to teach to people over and over again but he knows that it is what he has to do in order to maintain the fame he has built up. Everybody in the world wants a piece of him.

But this unlikely ambassador has stated that being an ambassador for his country has placed expectation on him. By being the ‘spokesperson’ for his country Psy has had to tread the line and make sure that everything he does and says is carefully constructed so that he represents himself and his country in the best light.

For a long time it seemed nothing could knock the image of this happy man who wanted to “dress classy and dance cheesy”. Then people discovered his previous work which wasn’t so politically correct.

Video surfaced showing him performing in 2004 the lyrics of rock band N.E.X.T’s song Dear American with lyrics which were Anti-American. In 2002 anger in Korea against US soldiers was strong after two school girls were accidentally struck and killed by US tankers. Psy reflected the feelings of many who felt that the US army were negligent and unhappy that they were in the country in the first place.

Of course he has since apologised and was allowed to perform for the White House’s Christmas party. At the moment, It seems that this controversy has died down. Although it shows just how delicate fame is and also reinforces the notion that most American’s haven’t bothered to take a look at his previous work. For them he is just a one hit wonder act and will probably dissolve into the realm of past one hit wonders.

What they don’t understand is that he is clever in his approach to music and has carved a niche for himself in an industry based on the perception of perfection. Psy has made a name for himself by just being himself. An amazing feat in an industry where characters and concepts are dreamt up in order to gain sales and attention.

So what could 2013 bring?

Well Psy has been tweeting about his future material even hinting at possible collaborations with unexpected sources such as Diplo (electronic DJ and producer who’s known for his work with electro and alternative artists). There is also speculation that he could be working with Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen who he shares management with.

It seems that in 2013 Psy wants to build on the fame that he has achieved in America and will probably focus his attention on continuing to build his America brand. Smart move, you’ve got to strike whilst the iron is still hot.

However this makes me wonder just how much promotion or focus will be put into his Korean releases. Of course both management companies in the US and Korea will have been working this out since Scooter Braun signed him. With all the negotiation and planning I’m pretty sure Psy has made clear what he wants as an artist. In Korea he doesn’t need to introduce himself or explain what he is about. He is popular and loved for his energy and great showmanship, getting success in Korea is forgone conclusion. However with this talk of advancing into the US he will be looking to promote and continue to make songs and performances for his Korean fans who knew him before he became a global sensation.

Whichever direction Psy chooses to go in, he still faces a huge challenge of producing music that generates the same level of success that Gangnam style has.

I for one am excited and keen to see if he chooses to bring something truly different to the table or stick to the pop field he has been placed in.

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