Psy’s new song, Gentleman, isn’t quite as catchy as Gangnam Style.
It does, however, have the same musical formula.
The first section consists of quick spoken word/rap that gets more and more chaotic as the verse continues. Then there’s the buildup – the repetitive word or phrase that prepares the listener for the next and final section.
It’s Psy’s equivalent to the dubstep phenomenon of dropping the bass, and it is shamefully, irrevocably, unquestionably, Jedi-mind-trickily effective.
In the K-pop world this is called the “hook”. Gentleman’s “hook” is just that, the word “gentleman”, but it’s just as effective as Gangnam Style‘s quirky head nod was and just as reluctant to get out of your head (two) weeks later. For Psy, who seems to have found a winning formula at least for now, the success of both these songs seems a little overwhelming. From his interviews he seems to be uncomfortably aware of the pressure that is on him to keep up the persona of his blunt and silly style.
That pressure should not be taken lightly. In a country that still mandates two years of military service, Psy’s latest single could easily be part of the next wave of propaganda against Kim-Jong Un’s regime to the North. It happened in 2010 when 4Minute’s song HuH (Hit Your Hart) was blasted through industrial sized speakers across the DMZ. Who knows, one of these days Kim Jung-Un may wake up to the sounds of Gentleman being played over the DMZ and be forced to publically reconcile his nuclear ambitions and his uncontrollable swaying hips at the next press conference.
Is Psy our next best hope for Korean unification?
Ignore the flashy suit and silly antics for a second and consider his post-Gentleman resume. Psy has already been mentioned as a UN Good Will Ambassador, and the performer has voiced his regret about the partition of Korea at many of his concerts. He has a habit of making the higher-ups in South Korea squirm, and it’s not because they’re just bad at emulating his dance moves. Gentleman was banned by one Korean broadcaster for destroying public property (Psy kicks a traffic cone in the opening moments of the music video). Maybe the man who can make the older generations of both Koreas uncomfortable is the same man that can capture the ears of each country’s younger populations.
I once sat in a train station in Agra, hours after seeing the Taj Mahal. I had been playing gin-rummy with four missionary Brits, my accompanying friend from high school and an Indian film producer named Suarheb, while waiting for my train to arrive. It was in between a heated debate about Shahrukh Khan’s best film (K3G always a good option) that Suarheb mentioned his displeasure with the word “Bollywood”. Simply put, he felt “Bollywood” implied that Indian cinema was nothing but a cheap copy of the American film industry.
This extends to K-pop as well. While it’s popular world-wide most of the big names in K-pop have some sort of American-associated label, and the K-pop we see here is only of artists that have “made it” by the random generator known as YouTube. Psy is one of those artists. Gentleman is a catchy tune, but not the catchiest I’ve ever heard. At the moment he’s just a YouTube sensation. But he could be much more. This K-pop sensation, who doesn’t quite fit in to the glam-culture he so astutely makes fun of in Gangnam Style, may just be the one to make Korean Popular Music stand by itself on the world stage.
But for now, excuse me while I hum Gentleman down the street.