Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Trying to Understand Korean Electronic Music

I've been hibernating under my stacks of articles, copies of random book chapters, and textbooks for the last few weeks, but even under my pile of Deep Important Writings, I have heard whispers of a magical Korean electronic music phenomenon - Gangnam Style.

For those who haven't seen this masterpiece of dance and song, please, take a moment to bask in its glory:




Okay, have you finished rewatching about 1000 times? Good... let's continue...

I should say up front that I have purposely avoided any explanatory material of this magnificent artifact. I haven't looked up a lyric translation, I haven't sought out articles explicating the true cultural significance, etc. The beauty of this musical tour de force is that it stands alone as an enjoyable pop music experience - full comprehension is purely optional, and for me, there is too much risk involved. In the words of Oscar Wilde, "Ignorance is like a rare, exotic fruit - touch it and the bloom is gone."

That being said, upon my first viewing, I did feel a little disoriented and I want to provide a hermeneutical map for those of you reeling from the wave of awesome that smacked your eyeballs full on.

First, let's consider milieu. The locations are inexplicable, leaving me with many more questions than answers. Why is this hipster man sunbathing under a cabana on a children's playground? Why is he horsey dancing on a duck boat (though I salute his safety concerns vis-a-vis the lifejacket)? Does the horsey dance really necessitate the ubiquitous horse stable and riding ring? Where is the tripped out van of older women heading to? Are the sauna and the dipping pool in the same facility? Is the toilet he sings from at the same location as the tennis courts? These are all questions that we are left to deal with ourselves.

Next, let's turn our attention to casting and costuming. Our hero is one cut in the style of Odysseus or Gatsby - filled with longing for a woman far away (like, at least one train over). His raiment is likewise magnificent, mostly consisting of impeccable hipster suits, but occasionally veering towards odd choices like the disco Elvis pirate shirt + MC Hammer khaki shorts he's wearing when he spots his lady love. Perhaps it's this questionable clothing choice that dooms their relationship, because he has more chemistry with the backwards-power-walking ladies that he horsey dance-chases than he does with his peroxide-orange haired subway vixen. She does seem to be a perfectly competent dancer, so we'll just assume that's what he's after. Aside from the bevy of horsey dancing beauties that populate the video (plus the old ladies in the van - the one in pink on the right is particularly accomplished) and the slightly terrifying Michael Jackson child at the beginning, the only other main character we meet shows up midway through the video in the underground parking garage. I am going to hazard a guess that this person is male, but the unisex hair and unsettling canary yellow suit leave this as only a guess. Suffice it to say, when this man (?) pulls up in what I'm fairly sure is a Sebring with a Mercedes emblem surreptitiously adhered to the back, the party is on.

Finally, I want to think about the gender roles. I have to say, if this is what all hip hop videos were like, I'd lift my ban on watching them. The "sexiest" dance move involved is a little hip swiveling that reveals some silver sequined hot pants... but even this is undercut by the fact that our hero does every single move the women do! He pops his hips, he provocatively side shuffles along, he slides his leg provocatively on the dirt floor of the horse ring- when was the last time you saw Jay Z or Kanye doing the same moves as their back up dancers? Never, and it's a shame. I did have a moment of doubt when the close up of a pilates girl's behind is focused on and our hero FREAKS OUT (which, I mean, I get- I wear skirts to make sure that I don't leave a wake of freaked out men behind me due to my own extraordinary posterior). This is negated somewhat, though, by a close up shot after that of a smiling man in what appears to be a lime green t-shirt with tails thrusting his crotch in an elevator. So I'm going to call it a wash and declare this one of the least objectifying dance videos of the last 30 years. Bam.

I hope this has helped you process the golden nugget that is "Gangnam Style." Feel free to continue to process this wonderful cultural artifact below.

What do you think about this pop culture gem?

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