‘Gangnam Style’ an appeal to humor, not stereotypes

“Hey, sexy lady!” are the only words I know to K-pop sensation PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” and I’m okay with that.

The song has become an international hit, topping iTunes charts in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada. Its video, reaching over 400 million views on YouTube, has spawned numerous parody videos in which participants attempt to replicate PSY’s infamous gallop routine.

But some would argue that the appeal doesn’t merely lie in the song’s hooks or its “dancability” factor. Deanna Pan in Mother Jones magazine says the mystique of “Gangnam Style” lies within the song’s music video. She argues that Americans are attracted to PSY’s super-hit because the video perpetuates stereotypes of the Asian male we are comfortable with. Pan points out that movies and television portray the Asian male as “buffoonish, desexualized, and emasculated” and asserts that PSY is portrayed in a similar light. The article doesn’t say, but rather implies, that PSY takes advantage of American proclivity toward Asian stereotypes to bring K-pop into the American mainstream.

There might be substance to her claims, but I don’t think over-the-top generalizations can carry much weight with something like pop music. Pop music doesn’t transcend all stereotypes, but we’re talking about a song that will likely exit our lives as quickly as it entered.

It’s foolish to think that “Gangnam Style” necessitates musical critique. Doing so is simply a waste of time.

We need to abandon the idea that there is some elusive meaning behind why “Gangnam Style” has captivated pop audiences across the globe. Dissecting the various tropes and themes within the video gives it far more credit than it is worth.

It is arrogant for these critics to think they completely understand why the listener enjoys what he or is she is hearing. This kind of over-analysis does nothing more than shame the public and take away simple pleasures that pop music provides. It’s an electronic, danceable beat with a few hooks thrown in for good measure. This formula has worked countless times, so why is it surprising that it has worked again?

The reason the video works is simple situational comedy.

PSY is a chubby, cheesy dancing, tuxedo-clad dude in sunglasses, which is funny regardless of race or ethnicity. Funny is funny and he has simply found a method that works for not only Americans, but for people across the globe. Seeing PSY bust a move in any of the video’s locations is easily worth a laugh, and I plan on continuing to laugh guilt-free.

Why do critics feel the need to try and understand how these sorts of things work? PSY didn’t make the video to raise awareness for racial discrepancies within the music industry; he went out to make a stellar pop song.

And he has accomplished that.

We’ve seen this comedic approach in American advertising before, which reaffirms that PSY is appealing to our humor rather, not our racial stereotypes. PSY falls in line with a long trajectory of pop culture that says consumers relate well to things that are funny and catchy.

It wouldn’t surprise me if this song started showing up at people’s wedding receptions if it hasn’t already. The beat is catchy enough and the dance is stupid enough that generation upon generation can stop for a second and unison cry out, “Oppa Gangnam Style!”


Reach the columnist at schergos@asu.edu or follow him at @shawnchergorsky.


Want to join the conversation? Send an email to opiniondesk.statepress@gmail.com. Keep letters under 300 words and be sure to include your university affiliation. Anonymity will not be granted.

Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.