The style of dance is distinctive. The beat is unbeatable. The addictiveness is abnormal. That’s right, I’m talking about the most addictive music video that came out this summer: “Gangnam Style” by PSY.
Since its YouTube debut on July 15, PSY’s hilarious music video has skyrocketed to the top of the Billboard charts and has garnered over 180 million YouTube plays alone. Passing artists like Justin Bieber, Adele and Lady Gaga, PSY seems to have magically horse-danced into the heart of Americans in almost no time at all—and with fewer than five English words. Ey, Sexy Lady!
Korean pop stars have tried for ages to break into the realm of American pop. Popular Korean stars like Big Bang, SNSD and especially the Wonder Girls have tried in various vain attempts to try to make it big in the States. The Wonder Girls have toured with the Jonas Brothers, released English singles and have plans of making an American album, but their media coverage never amounted to more than a small blip in the world of American media. So why is “Gangnam Style” the most popular K-pop song on America’s music charts?
Stereotypes. America loves stereotypes; there’s no denying that. In current popular American films, the Asian male is always portrayed in the same shell: geeky, gawky and, of course, desexualized. Whether it’s Ken Jeong in “The Hangover” or Ken Jeong in “Community” or Ken Jeong in “The Hangover Part II,” it’s clear to see that Asian males today have only one portrayal, and that’s the one of slapstick comedy actor Ken Jeong.
In years past, actors like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li had their golden age, but were they ever as revered as white male actors were? Heroic and daring, maybe, but filmic elements depicted them as foreign and detached from “normal” (American) society.
But why did PSY succeed when so many others didn’t? It’s because PSY catered to these American interests—or, put in harsher terms, stereotypes. He was geeky, gawky, desexualized, foreign—any word to describe how Asians are perceived in popular American culture. He portrayed exactly that to the T, and nothing more. Yes, other artists actually aimed for their audience to be Americans, but they didn’t take into account the fact that Asians aren’t perceived as cool in American pop culture.
Whether or not this stereotype will change is up to society to decide.
Margaret Lin is in high school and spent her summer as an intern with The Stanford Daily.