It’s a chilly stressful morning in Paris, and I am rushing to catch a plane at Charles de Gaulle. The cab radio is blasting Gangnam Style, the K-Pop track which at the time I write this article has had 700 million views on You Tube – meaning it might be close to a billion by the time you read this.
Yes, a billion views for a song in which a pudgy singer named Psy confesses to a succession of preppy girls: “on top of the running man is the flying man, baby, baby – I am a man who knows a thing or two” – before going into “opppa Gangnam Style “, the magic mantra which defies all translation.
On my flight to Hong Kong I ponder the profound meaning of the most popular song in the universe. 13 sleepless hours later I am in a Hong Kong cab, and am happy to discover that local radio stations now have something in common with the French ones – they play Gangnam Style.
At the television convention, everyone asks me if our channel features K-Pop. Sheepishly I name some alternative Korean acts we have acquired from an educational outfit years ago, but the inevitable question comes up: “Do you have Psy? “ No we don’t. I am actually not even sure how to pronounce his name. Last time I followed K-Pop, Super Junior was huge. I was still trying to buy their show when the Gangnam bomb hit the planet and now all bets are off.
A digital streaming company invites a number of TV channel execs to a fancy lunch. The company’s CEO quotes some impressive numbers, and assures us that any entertainment brand today needs a bespoke video streaming solution. “Some of you think that putting your content on YouTube is an answer” he admonishes and most of us sit up from our soup and look guilty, ”Let me tell you something. YouTube is great. You can find anything on YouTube. It’s a bit like Walmart. But if you were Hermes, would you sell your bags at Walmart?” The table nods in agreement.
The speaker proceeds to demonstrate an application his company built – a music video streaming service, which apparently rocks in Australia. My eyes are wide open and I am almost sold. The first video comes on and… it is Gangnam Style. Wow. Hardly an argument against Youtube. I do like the Hermes story, though. There is an Hermes shop in Gangnam. In case you didn’t know it, Gangnam is actually a posh area in Seoul. My hotel, when I go to Seoul, is also in Gangnam. Why am I thinking about Gangnam, when I am supposed to be making deals in Hong Kong?
The highlight of the convention is a party at Dragon-I, the Hong Kong club of the moment. Two pretty girls are positioned at the front door, watching the incoming crowd as if they themselves were the eyes of a dragon. They decide who comes in, and who doesn’t. My party gets the coveted stamp, but many convention delegates are left behind. (Can you be turned out on the grounds of a “dress code” when you are wearing a tie?) Inside, the club looks like any other joint in New York or Manila, except for the center table on top of which there is a guy in a yellow Bruce Lee tracksuit, dancing to Gangnam Style.
On the last day of the convention, I get interviewed about the Korean concerts on our channel. I spin a story of wanting to show “more sophisticated” side of Korean music, since there is more to it than just K-Pop… The journalist doesn’t buy it. She clearly wants to know when we will have Gangnam Style.
I go to Singapore for a day of meetings. I have a ritual in Singapore: get out of the air-conditioned meeting room and get a 2$ dragon fruit juice on Orchard Road. As I sip my purple beverage, enjoying 30 degrees of sweltering humidity, a double-decker bus with Sephora banners rolls down the street. On top of it there are 50 or so girls in pink wigs, jumping and screaming to Gangnam Style. The street crowd stops and stares blankly, as if hypnotized by the song. Could that be it? Does Gangnam Style tap into our deeper psyche? How else could a meaningless melody take over the world? Is this why the singer is called Psy?
Before catching the plane back, I have one last drink with our TV agent. He recently moved to Asia. He misses Paris. “Did you see the thing that happened at Trocadero the other day?” He asks me, wistfully. “What was it?” I wonder. “Did I miss another great art exhibit?” “A flash-mob. Huge one. Twenty thousand people showed up.” He pulls up a video on his iPhone. I see Psy’s moon-like face on top of the Trocadero staircase, waiving at the mob below while they scream “Gangnam style” with a French accent. I slide down my chair and ask for another drink. I wonder if that’s what they meant when they warned us about 2012.
Natalia TsarkovaGangnam World,
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