No one knew what “Gangnam Style” was but we all danced to the catchy beat that has become a cult craze for pop music listeners around the globe. But why is the world so interested in a Korean pop musician for whom it has taken six studio albums before he could produce a hit like this?
The cricket fans got it from Chris Gayle, the West Indian batsmen who popularised the dance move on the grounds of Sri Lanka during the T20 World Cup; Bollywood got it from Saif and Kareena’s moves (and later Katrina Kaif, Shahrukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan grooving on the sets of “Kaun Banega Crorepati”); America got it from Ellen DeGeneres (when she called a mother and son from Korea to perform on her show) and Saturday Night Live; Britain got it from David Cameron and even Pakistan got it, from a rundown version of a mobile phone service providing network advertisement on the television. The world is dancing to the tunes of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” — one of the biggest hits ever to hit world pop music.
The first time I got oriented to the ridiculous albeit genius video of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” was when a friend played an HD version on a large screen that astounded everybody watching it for the first time. The people had a mixed, confused reaction and were trying to figure out if this is a parody, a serious video or just plain funny, but in the end, everybody got up from their seats to dance to the beat of this track.
The song, which is described as poking fun of people who ape those living in an up-market district called Gangnam in Seoul, South Korea — is the new craze. Psy has described it as making fun of those who try to follow the style of wealthy Gangnamites. Many describe it as a senseless song with a stupid video that has nothing but to laugh at, while others term it as a pop culture breakthrough which has helped Korea pop right in the face of the world like never before. The viral release of the video on YouTube raked over half a million hits on the first day of its release on July 15, 2012. Today’s estimates stand at half a billion hits on the video which has Psy moving to a catchy beat that has ups and downs like LMFAO’s “I’m Sexy and I know It” — that has been another huge success in what one can term as humorous, awkward songs that are poking fun at a culture or a trend.
If one looks at it from a local perspective, at the peak of pop music during the mid and late ‘90s in Pakistan, there were songs that one could laugh at but they ended up becoming more popular than some of the regular music on screen. One big example is of “No Love” or “Mujh Ko Tum Say Nahi Hai Pyar” by Dr Aur Billa — a band led by comedians Jawad Bashir, Faisal Qureshi etc. At that time, both the video and the song garnered the same reaction, confused but likable, people were moving to the beat, it was climbing up on the charts but the song did not make any sense and yet it wasn’t a parody.
Looking at some other music videos, one that comes to mind during those days was of Pakistan’s most successful Sufi rock band, Junoon’s “Heeray”. Shot in black and white, the video had the band and other characters, one played by famous TV host Naveen Naqvi, chasing each other in a funny manner — a la Psy leaping in slow motion towards the girl pole dancing on the train. The song referred to the famous folk tale of Heer Ranjha and the video poked fun at the love in complete contrast with the original cultural fable.
Pop music has always had songs that deviate from the run of the mill music and do social commentary in witty, humorous and at times, dumb ways that often click with the listeners resulting in cult following. Psy’s “Gangnam style” is one of them; it may appear dumb, stupid and a parody but it is catchy with an underlying message. So love it or hate it, you can’t miss it.
The writer is a former print and broadcast journalist who has worked at The News and Geo TV.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2012.