In The Mood For “Ruv”: Why America Is In Love With Psy (Gangnam Style)

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.

In reality, we don’t need to satisfy the American markets anymore. We are over 4 billion strong and if we need a platform to speak on we can afford it. We can be in charge of the roles we play and the people we deem as idols. We don’t need to play America’s game. We need to understand that we too can create a name for ourselves.When we finally stop trying to appease American expectations we can ultimately realize that America is the only one trying to hit the pinata while we chuckle together and hold the string.


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 😉

20 thoughts on “In The Mood For “Ruv”: Why America Is In Love With Psy (Gangnam Style)

  1. Spot on though. I loved the song/video when I first heard it, but that was before it had blown up. I listen to a lot of kpop, so I just thought it was funny and didn’t think much of it. It’s great, but its too bad that this is the only kpop song that could manage to break through, seeing as it is so silly and it’s what those who have never heard other kpop songs think what kpop is all about. Hopefully that didn’t come off as hipster, but you get my point.

  2. I never got on the gangnam style bandwagon. I thought the beat was catchy enough but mostly it seemed rather ridiculous to me. Now I hear it everywhere I go… 😦
    Glad to hear that this is not an adequate representation of k-pop… I may have to check into some real k-pop in the future.

  3. While I loved the song at one point, I got so sick of hearing it everywhere that I just refused to listen to it anymore. I like K-pop and all, but if people keep this up it”ll be like the Tiger JK incident, where he ended up ranting about it because the people in the crowd expected him to do the “horsey” dance. I don’t blame him for being irritated either. I hope Americans hurry up and move onto something else.

  4. Hello Falco,

    If I may and with all respect, I do have a statement or two to say the (very) least…

    Though I do agree that America forced it’s most politcally underrepresented minority to bear a Pan-Asian identity mantle, bringing an stereotype(s) for all those externally affiliated with it – I do not agree that the ingredient involved was primarily the Asian palate (or there lack of) of the Americans. Sure, there are racial factors involved in his continued popularity, but his initial rise in America should be wholly attributed to Asian Americans themselves and it’s comedic approach. We must remember that the dance is almost as (if not wholly more) popular than the song, inspiring the parodies – many of which were composed before half of the ‘movement’s’ peak. And these initial parodies being Asian-American-Authored vastly dominant.

    The surprising part was that this Asian popularization shed influence to the other racial groups in America. However, the real driving force in the end was the use of comedy, and you being acquainted with mass appeal (advertising) have to admit that comedy (such as Psy) is the strongest influence in social appeal outsourcing other strong suits such as the ‘sex sells’ tribute (Big Bang, and other primary K-pop leading fronts) making Psy the perfect candidate for a ‘Kpop’ outburst rather than the Abs of the aforementioned leaders in the industry.

    In other words, it’s more ‘Influence of Asian Community + Comedy = Popularity rather than Asian stereotype + White America = Popularity.’

    Thanks Falco, always well written.

  5. First of all, awesome piece and i hope you got a A+++ for this!! ^_^

    Ive only been exposed to kpop for 2 1/2 years now even though its overwhelming with all these groups coming out— i love the music and i love psy—- im not affected by the whole PSY phenomenon thats blown up here because im more invested im him as a artist than the man who does “the horse dance” cause im really a fan of his—-this man has been doing this for a decade and is like the arena king in korea,—- and i have to be honest ,i was happy to see him in the foreign press and blowing up with this song when everybody though that his labelmates 2ne1 and bigbang , girls generation or wonder girls were going to do it , but you do bring up very real and valid points…….

    This song is not only overshadowing a GREAT, funny, and very artistic album that hes brought forth, but like you said, they dont want to see the talent, creative , smart, and sex symbol aspect of Asians–only the crazy, ignorant stereotype——- which is now being a pain in the ass for Asians in the u.s. now ——and its now its affecting the kpop artist (sadly including psy)as well as artists that are trying to not only make their voice heard, but are having a difficult time with it cause theyre being grouped in with the whole hype of Gangham style (Ex: Tiger JK) ON TOP of the old thinking and stereotypes rearing their ugly head.

    BUT to reel it all in: youre absolutely right. you (in this case the asian community)dont need validation from a group of people NOR a whole damn country for them to see you as you are and to take your words, beliefs and actions seriously—–like Katt Williams says, ” you have to focus on your team player”–YOU! you have to be your own supporter and cheeleader and then people will look at you in a different light and go “oh, its like that? alright, that cool” and if they dont and want to stay in their own stiff ignorant stereotypical world—then f__k them.

    once again, that was a great post, ranier ….and forgive me if i was all over the place…sometimes i struggle to find the words to explain sometimes………

  6. Ranier, you’re right. There is definitely an element of indulging the Asian stereotype in the popularity of Psy’s video. But, then again, have you considered how ‘weird’ (especially nerdy) is now very in these days? For example, LMFAO’s ‘Sexy and I Know It’ music video has a hot beat and a lot of un-sexy, goofy guys being ridiculous in it. Katy Perry once posed for paparazzi sporting hideous braces, on purpose, and it was cute. My instinctual reaction to the Psy video when I first saw it was that was insanely cool, in that this guy was not afraid to indulge his goofiness… and then, I felt the goofiness in itself was bold, brave and therefore, sexy. I saw a man who was very comfortable with himself and his personal style. He was going to fight for it.

    Though, I do have a large bias– I’m attracted to goofy guys.

    So, any thoughts on how Psy’s popular video connects to the Revenge of the Nerds 2010’s we seem to be living in?

    • I like what you said in the first part of your post.

      I think for the most part, the American music scene as of right now isn’t about in your face ‘sexy and serious’ ALL the time. Though this does nothing for the many Asians who are trying to break into the American entertainment industry with B.O.B’s swagger and/or Choi Siwon’s good looks, at least Psy isn’t the only not-so-sexy person making it big.

      I can’t help but wonder though….
      After this whole party rock shuffling horse phase dies down, will that mean other k-pop artists with musical styles leaning towards Usher or Justin Bieber finally be accepted or will people go Tiger JK on them —> referencing the recent Creator’s Project fiasco.

  7. Pingback: Oppa Gang… enough already! « kimbabtokpop

  8. Gangnam style is a world-wide hit. It’s as popular in Europe as it is in Asia. Because it’s cool. America is not the center of the world.

  9. To be honest, I just like the song. It’s catchy, and it honestly gives K-pop a cool rep to the average American. A lot of people in my class were singing it all day. I’ve known about K-pop for years now and now his song made me a little interested in Hyuna and more K-pop. XD If anything, I think it made Koreans look cooler, or shown S Korea in a more positive light. Also, I find it so annoying when people do that hipster crap where they’ll be like “I used to like it but it’s annoying nao, cuz its popular naooo!!” I’m just like, ugh do you want bragging rights for liking a k-pop song? It’s really not that special or unique…XD

  10. Great post and great blog as always. I am Chinese and my first true love was Puerto Rican. She was the one who taught me what true love means. I have been reading your site for a while and the love story of you and Olivia is really moving. I especially loved the “Lunch Date” post you wrote, and I am so glad that your Olivia is okay. That post is actually one of the inspirations for the graphic novel that I am writing right now, titled “MARTYRS”. I noted your blog and that post as one of my chief inspirations behind the novel.

    You can read it here at It is not completed yet, but is being updated continually as I work on new pages. Hope you enjoy.

  11. I feel stupid for never realizing this before. I love Asian everything. The culture, the people, the food, ect. I’ve always seen 2PM and BigBang as being my ideal look in a boyfriend. I liked Psy’s music video because it is funny and catchy but I couldn’t understand why no one knew the other K Pop artists I talked about. Until one day I was visiting my dad and talking about wanting to watch BigBang when they come to the US to perform and how I would like a show on TV starring an Asian(s). He laughed. I was shocked. Why is this funny? He thought I meant someone like Jackie Chan(he’s not bad but shouldn’t represent all Asians). I tried to explain that there are so many varieties just like us. There’s sexy, talented, amazing Asian actors and actresses that deserve our attention. Sorry that was long but thank you for this. And know that the Asian folks on YouTube and future TV shows will have dedicated watchers just like me who value them.

  12. I had first heard Gangnam Style early on in it’s release (before the hype). I loved the video and felt the song was catchy. I didn’t understand all the hype it received. Psy has been doing quirky songs and MV’s like this for years. I’m not saying he isn’t talented or anything; I think he is incredibly talented. I just don’t understand why this particular song, of his, blew up. I’m glad that his song was in Korean because I want to hear other songs besides English and Spanish on the radio, lol. My point is, I think Psy is a very brilliant and intelligent man but I can’t help feeling like asking him to “do the dance” all the time is making a show of him. I wish he could perform some of his other songs. I listen to all kinds of music from all kinds of places. New K-Pop acts come out weekly so it’s hard to keep up with everyone so I end up only listening to a few. I can’t help but give a big ups to Psy for breaking into our American (I’m American, so I’m speaking for my country) music industry as someone outside of the norm, speaking a language that is rarely given the spotlight in our country.

  13. I think Psy song is a feel good song, which is why it’s so catchy ALL over the World and not just the U.S. Personally I’m glad to hear a song that makes people want to get up and dance and put a smile on people faces. I’m tired of American music talking about ass, money, cars, killing, sex, it’s boring. Psy said I’m going to do a funny video and dance…people like dance songs from the Macarana (I know I spelled that wrong) to the Electric Slide. This song is no different, let people enjoy good music that even their children can listen too. :*)

  14. Although Psy’s image is not the ideal representation of Asian male’s sexuality we all like to see it’s unfair to put him in the same category as Long Duck Thong.

  15. I think that it’s grossly unfair to compare Psy to William Hung.

    People laughed AT William Hung. Maybe people laughed at Psy at the beginning because his video was so unusual, but I don’t think anyone is laughing at him anymore.

    True, Psy is not a sex symbol. But he’s got charisma, stage presence, and he has total control over his image and performance. Plus, his rant against torturers in the U.S. army made him a stand-up guy with a real backbone, IMHO.

    At the very least, Psy showed America that Asians can be fun, crazy, and initiators of trends.

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