‘Gangnam Style’ video touches off wave of imitation

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Senior Ed Lee dances to “Gangnam Style” as part of his homecoming asking.

A sea of red, white and blue erupted into cheers as a flash mob formed in front of them, donning sunglasses and performing a comical dance. The dancers in the mob looked as if they were riding horses and swinging lassos.

Such was the scene during the Junior Musical Extravaganza on Oct. 19, in which the students performed various choreography to songs that fit their theme, “Sensational Celebrations.” One such selection was the dance to the hit single, “Gangnam Style.” An event like this has not been unexpected or even uncommon in recent months.

“The ‘Gangnam Style’ portion was pretty intense,” junior Tom Stone said. “I liked the tension at the beginning since there were so few dancers on the floor, but the flash mob and the bass drop at the chorus got the crowd hyped up.”

Following the release of South Korean rapper Psy’s “Gangnam Style” on July 15, flash mobs, parodies and performances to the creative music video have become all the rage. With over 672 million views on YouTube as of Nov. 8, the video has broken records, becoming the “most liked” video on YouTube and the third most watched.

“I first saw it as a post in the ‘TJ 2015’ group and thought it was funny,” sophomore Katya Plotniskaya said. “In school everybody was listening to it and doing the dance and I was impressed how one little video could have such an impact around the world.”

Celebrities, public figures and even colleges have joined in on the “Gangnam Style” craze.  Psy, whose birth name is Bak Jae-sang, was asked to teach the famous “horse dance” on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards and Saturday Night Live. He was even invited to perform at the United Nations Headquarters. The U.S. Naval Academy and The Oregon Duck are only some of the groups that have created parodies and reaction videos for the hit.

“I think ‘Gangnam Style’ is popular because of the music video and the dance,” junior Somya Shankar said. “The uniqueness really sets it apart from typical music videos.”

“Gangnam Style” is seen as a product of the “Korean Wave,” a term coined by Chinese journalists to refer to the dramatic increase in the popularity of entertainment and culture from South Korea. Korean pop music, or K-pop, is considered  one of the most important aspects of the Korean Wave.

The importance of K-pop is most visible in the various clubs dedicated to K-pop and Korean culture at Jefferson. Clubs like the Urban Dance Movement and the Korean Culture Club have performed dances to popular K-pop songs at events like I-Nite and J-Day.

“The whole culture surrounding K-pop isn’t just related to songs but is also heavily dance oriented,” freshman and Urban Dance Movement member Claire Scoggins said. “The ‘Gangnam Style’ sensation isn’t just an obsession with the song, but also the dance craze. K-pop dance covers are a way of spreading the popularity of urban dance.”

One of the most interesting scenes during the Homecoming Asking Week in early October was senior Ed Lee’s flash mob homecoming asking for junior Anna Seo.

“I wanted to use it because I thought it’d be a funny and unique way of asking someone,” Lee said. “A lot of people knew what it would be like and the reaction was really positive.”

The Korean Culture Club at Jefferson has also seen the tremendous impact of K-pop’s emergence over the years. New members, especially non-Koreans, seem to be drawn to the club as a result of interest in K-pop and other parts of Korean culture, such as the food and the language.

“K-pop is one of the most important features of Korean culture today,” senior Vicky Moon, vice president of the Korean Culture Club, said. “A lot of people like it and want to learn about the country that produced it.”

K-pop bands and groups have been around for years, starting in the late 20th century. These assembly-line groups are usually single-sex and are groomed into pop sensations by music factories. To sell the K-pop groups, Korean record labels had to master the art of releasing music via the Internet in one of the most wired countries in the world.

“The Internet culture in Korea is quite large, especially in the K-pop industry,” sophomore Susie Lee said. “Most entertainment companies post updates on singers’ activities, and many K-pop singers have their own fan cafés, where people sign up to be official fans of the singer or group.”

Psy, however, is certainly not the cookie-cutter result of the music factories in South Korea; he is not the average pretty-faced teenage boy or girl. After years of hard efforts from the Korean music industry, it comes as a surprise that Psy, not the other bubble gum pop stars, is the one to break the barrier.

“The video is one of the biggest contributions to its popularity,” senior Sam Yoo said. “There were a lot of funny scenes, like the little boy dancing in the beginning, the elevator scene and Psy’s overall look.”

The music video to “Gangnam Style” is undoubtedly out-of-the-ordinary. To South Koreans, it’s a parody of the luxurious lifestyle of the wealthy Gangnam district near Seoul, but to many others, it’s a strange but unique music video with a catchy beat. For some, the song is considered as a way to open the door for people to learn more about Korean culture.

“It’s changing the way people are learning about the actual culture of Korea around the world,” junior Brad Rosenblum said. “I don’t think a lot of people knew what ‘Gangnam’ was before the song, but now they do.”

Others disagree, saying that “Gangnam Style” is merely a fluke and has no direct influence on the “Korean Wave” or interest in Korean culture.

“I think ‘Gangnam Style’ is just a fad,” junior Dillan Chang said. “It’s going to die soon.”

The success and impact of “Gangnam Style” is apparent. With hundreds of millions of views and countless parodies and reaction videos, the song has topped the charts and created a “Gangnam Style” craze around the world, and continues to do so months after its release.

“It’s a weird song with a catchy tune and a dance that people want to learn,” Rosenblum said. “Overall, it’s interesting and really fun.”

(This article originally appeared in the November 14, 2012 print edition.)