In 2000 we shook to Sisqo’s Thong Song, we leaned to Soulja Boy’s Crank That in 2008, and now in 2012 we’re horse dancing to Psy’s Gangnam style. And while Americans are still beating this dead horse like an angry child attacking his first piñata with Gangnam style parodies and remixes, myself and many Asian-Americans are asking ourselves: why do Americans love Psy so much?
The alarming realization is that many individuals are starting to perceive Gangnam Style as K-Pop’s coming out party to American citizens; an idea that this is what K-Pop and, more stressfully, what all Asian music is about. Forget about the other talented K-Pop groups producing music, the$93 million dollar industry value, or the nearly impossible to avoid presence of rock hard abs and sex appeal in Korean music videos. No, America wants to reach into the back of the freezer to grab the Weird Al Yankovic of Korea, and position him as Korean music’s new mascot.
While the rest of the Korean music industry struggles to define itself in American markets, Psy has cemented himself with his jester-like antics and non-sexy appearance (by K-Pop standards) and has caused the red white and blue to laugh as they ask him to dance, monkey, dance! The heart of the matter is that Psy’s popularity among U.S markets is largely based on socially constructed filters that dismiss non-stereotypical Asian Americans in one pile (Yul Kwon, Keni Styles), and negative Asian caricatures in another (Long Duk Dong and Psy) thus creating a system that only allows for a specific type of Asian American to shine: foreign, sexually awkward and foolish – like Psy.
In 2004 Asian-Americans felt the quake of William Hung – the personification of Asian stereotypes. His foreign accent and bucktooth appearance was reminiscent of Mr. Yunioshi, and everyone wanted more. So we ask ourselves the same question: why William? Psy and William both present stereotype abiding characters and with America’s rampant history of racist caricatures in media, they resurface reminiscent feelings of racism. Laughing at Psy is America’s free pass to mock Asians again, just as they did in Sixteen Candles.
Additionally, given the 41% Asian population at Hung’s alma mater, UC Berkeley, and 19% in all of the Bay Area, it becomes questionable why Hung was the primary Asian American featured on the show. Taking this into consideration we can draw lines to see similar patterns with America’s love for Psy and not his larger co-label mates, BigBang and 2NE1, or any other Korean artist. Because BigBang and 2PM are sex symbols, American tastebuds see them as unfamiliar, inaccurate, and unpalatable.
However, we must also consider the actual entertainment aspect of Gangnam Style. From a filmmaker’s perspective, the scenes, props and overall production value are quite incredible. Psy’s quirky tune and beat lingers in the corner of your ear like a Justin Bieber track. Like the world famous, Macarena, a catchy dance routine to accompany a music video also helps with the viral appeal.
With American media so reluctant to take risks in highlighting Asian Americans in non-stereotypical roles, an interesting effect comes into play. Asians are now creating their own sets of filters, organized societies and rules. Asian American filmmaker and director of Fast 5, Justin Lin, has created a new Youtube channel which highlights Asian actors in lead roles that defy stereotypes and in some cases, turns their origins slanted (MotherLover, a series about a White son whose Asian best friend is sleeping with his mother, summons the Fu Manchu caricature.) Tyrese Gibson’s K-TOWN is also revered for breaking the stereotypes of Asians being anti-social and emasculate.
This post was originally written for my Asian American Politics class, so please excuse my lack of penis jokes and foul language. I’ll be sure to go back to normal next time 😉