Psy — The “Gangam Style” Guy — Is Pretty Punk Rock

Posted April 15

So I’m just going to come out and say it, a phrase that will probably not make much sense at first glance, but becomes more and more true the longer you twist it ’round and ’round in your cranium: Psy, of “Gangnam Style” fame, is really fucking punk rock.

At this point you’re probably sitting there, mouth agape, a thin line of drool running down your chin as you wonder where my mind has winged off to. “The dude who dances like a horse? Are you really equating him to, like Greg Ginn or whatever?” Yes, allow me to explicate.

Regardless of whether or not you like Psy’s music, he has managed to do something that those at the forefront of punk music did with gusto: He has appropriated modern-day music distribution methods and used them to his own ends, gaining a solid fanbase in a market (the U.S.) that would have shunned him if he had tried to do so through traditional avenues. And, he has done so (it seems) more than once, indicating that he’s not some viral one-hit wonder.

Appropriating YouTube

In Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, the journalist quotes Minuteman bassist Mike Watt as saying, “Punk was about more than just starting a band. It was about starting a label, it was about taking control…. You want a record, you pay the pressing plant.” The movement of punk, the book explains, was born, in many ways, because musicians started realizing that they didn’t need a label to validate their music — they could do it themselves. They could appropriate the technology of the day — records — and use it to get their music out there.

The modern equivalent of pressing your own records, undoubtedly — the massive starmaker — is YouTube, and, up until Psy’s foray into videos, it has been largely used to propagate pop music (and cat videos).

It’s no secret that YouTube has become a massive repository for music over the years since its 2005 launch. Recently, the Billboard Hot 100 started factoring YouTube views into its charts, Nielsen reported that the site is the top music source for teens, and musicians like Justin Bieber have found massive fame via the site.

Still, overall, the site has trended much more toward the mainstream pop world when it comes to making musicians famous. Just take a look at the top trending music videos on the site — it’s all Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift — and those “YouTube musicians” who boast millions of views per video. They’re all, mostly, fresh-faced Bieber-esque kids who sing bubbly, lower-rent approximations of Top 40 radio hits. Aside from a few lesser-known standouts like Pussy Riot and FIDLAR, the punk set, the controversial set, have either gained very little traction via YouTube, or shunned it entirely. YouTube has largely been the domain of teens and “2 Girls One Cup” — until Psy.

Memecore, He Ain’t

When Psy first latched onto the ADD-addled attention span of the American public with his ubiquitous billion-view “Gangnam Style” video I — like many others — dismissed him as yet another Rebecca Black-like flash in the pan. A ridiculous person who wrote a ridiculous song who created a ridiculous video that appealed, largely, to schadenfreude-chasers and bored cubicle drones. And, when I heard that he had yet another single coming out — this past weekend’s “Gentleman” — I expected a flop to rival Black’s attempt at a legit music career. IE, it was funny the first time, dude — don’t expect repeat success with that hollow joke. Then, I realized, hey, wait, there’s something else here.

Rebecca Black and the like are what I like to refer to as “Memecore,” a genre of music that becomes popular because it’s just so awful that people must needs to share it. Psy, I believe, is only seemingly part of that genre. He’s actually YouTube Punk. What does that mean? Well, in addition to appropriating modern forms of technology to get his music out there (YouTube), he’s also appropriating modern music styles and memes: idiotic dance music coupled with a liberal dash of “look at me, I’m acting like an idiot.”

Take “Gangam Style,” for example. It’s pretty widely acknowledged by pundits out there that that particular jam is pure satire, a biting look at a particularly affluent neighborhood in Seoul. Unlike Black, who sings nonsense like “yesterday was Thursday, today is Friday, tomorrow is Saturday, Sunday comes afterwards” with pure conviction, Psy allows the U.S. public to laugh and point at English lyrics like “Hey, sexy lady!” with tongue thoroughly in cheek before launching into a criticism of consumerism in his foreign tongue. In essence, “Gangnam Style” is Psy’s “TV Party.”

Moreover, Psy’s (a.k.a. Park Jaesang) history of subversion runs deep: He’s been busted for marijuana, ducked mandatory military service and been fined for inappropriate content for his first record — his second was banned all together. He also, famously, sang out in protest against the U.S. and the Iraq war in 2004. It doesn’t get much more punk rock than that.

Pretty Vacant?

That’s why it behooves us to look at Psy’s new single, “Gentleman,” a little more closely. At first glance, the jam is just as ridiculous as “Gangam Style.” It features Psy basically terrorizing women — pushing them off treadmills, farting on his hand and then sticking it in a woman’s face — while singing things like, “Gonna make you sweat./Gonna make you wet./You know who I am~ Wet PSY! Wet PSY! Wet PSY! Wet PSY! PSY! PSY! PSY!”

Then there’s a line that sounds suspiciously like, “I’m a motherfucking gentleman.”

Idiotic, right? Just made for shock value? Maybe. Then, you look at the rest of the lyrics (generously supplied by Psy’s camp):

PSY- “GENTLEMAN” Lyrics (English/Korean translation)
Ah~!
알랑가몰라 왜 화끈해야 하는건지
I am not sure if you know – why I have to be wild
알랑가몰라 왜 말끔해야 하는건지
I am not sure if you know – why I have to be neat
알랑가몰라 아리까리하면 까리해
I am not sure if you know – It’s not cool if you are ambiguous
알랑가몰라 We Like We We We Like Party 해 ~
I am not sure if you know – We Like We We We We Like Party Hey
있자나 말이야
Excuse me for a second
이사람으로 말씀드리자면 말이야
Let me tell you what type of a person I am
용기 패기 똘끼 멋쟁이 말이야
I am bold, full of spirit, crazy and sharp
너가 듣고픈말 하고픈게 난데 말이야
I too want to say what you would like to hear
Damn! Girl! You so freakin sexy!

Ah Ah Ah Ah~ I’m a…
Ah Ah Ah Ah~ I’m a…
Ah Ah Ah Ah~ I’m a mother father gentleman

I’m a…
Ah I’m a

I’m a mother father gentleman

I’m a…
Ah I’m a

I’m a mother father gentleman

알랑가몰라 왜 미끈해야하는건지
I am not sure if you know – why you have to be sleek
알랑가몰라 왜 쌔끈해야하는건지
I am not sure if you know – why you have to be sexy & fabulous
알랑가몰라 달링 빨리와서 난리해
I am not sure if you know – Darling! Hurry and let’s make a fuss
알랑가몰라 난리난리 났어 빨리해
I am not sure if you know – there is a big fuss let’s hurry

있자나 말이야
Excuse me for a second
너의 머리 허리 다리 종아리 말이야
Your hair, waist, legs and calf
Good! feeling feeling? Good! 부드럽게 말이야
Good! feeling feeling? Good! Softly!
아주 그냥 학 소리나게 악소리 나게 말이야
Make you scream and shout
Damn! Girl! I’m a party mafia!

Ah Ah Ah Ah~ I’m a…
Ah Ah Ah Ah~ I’m a…
Ah Ah Ah Ah~ I’m a mother father gentleman

I’m a…
Ah I’m a

I’m a mother father gentleman

I’m a…
Ah I’m a

I’m a mother father gentleman

Gonna make you sweat.
Gonna make you wet.
You know who I am~ Wet PSY!

Gonna make you sweat.
Gonna make you wet.
You know who I am~ Wet PSY! Wet PSY! Wet PSY! Wet PSY! PSY! PSY! PSY!
Ah I’m a mother father gentleman

I’m a…
Ah I’m a

I’m a mother father gentleman

I’m a…
Ah I’m a

I’m a mother father gentleman

I’m a…
Ah I’m a

I’m a mother father gentleman

I’m a…
Ah I’m a

I’m a mother father gentleman

When you read it all written it out, it sounds a lot like a criticism of sex and sexual ideals. Yes, there’s a lot of gibberish in there, but lines like “I am not sure if you know – It’s not cool if you are ambiguous” and “I am not sure if you know – why you have to be sexy & fabulous” speak to a culture where people act a certain way without really knowing why they’re doing so in the first place. When you look at it that way, it’s less a video about Psy being a dick to women for laughs and rather a critique of a culture where women allow themselves to be treated thusly by men purporting to be “mother father gentlemen.” Whatever the hell that is.

So What Now?

Critical readings and all that aside, you may be wondering at this point, how Psy can truly be punk rock when he’s reached such a pinnacle of fame — I mean, dude was signed by Scooter Braun and is constant rotation on mainstream radio. Punk is all about being DIY. Punk is all about dying only appreciated by a certain class of real music fans, right? To that, I say: Fair point.

Psy has managed to claw his way to — what’s a good approximation here — Sex Pistols-level fame. It remains to be seen what he’ll do now: DIY or die.