PSY’s “Horseplay” in “Oppa Gangnam Style” Caricature of Asian Male Stereotypes?

Posted by Annie Chung & filed under Pop Culture.

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“Hey… Sexy Lady…!”

If you’ve been on the Internet, listening to the radio, or reading the newspaper anytime in the past month, you will no doubt recognize these lyrics from the K-pop hit “Oppa Gangnam Style” by South Korean rapper PSY.

The music video“>music video is now viral on Youtube with over 600 million views and counting. The Korean pop sensation has performed his song internationally on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Today Show, Saturday Night Live and The X-Factor. Sparking numerous spoofs and parodies to exuberant Halloween costumes, “Oppa Gangnam Style” seems to be all the rage.

For those of you who haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, there are still some who aren’t particularly thrilled about “Oppa Gangnam Style” either. Among those few still wary of PSY’s “horseplay” is the Chinese government. Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei’s parody of the popular music video has recently been blocked in China according to The Globe and Mail.

For those of you already into “Oppa Gangnam Style”, it’s not hard to understand why. It’s catchy and fun, and even for those who don’t understand the lyrics, everyone can still have fun dancing to the song. Even CBC The National’s news anchor Peter Mansbridge can be seen dancing to “Oppa Gangnam Style”. On The Ellen DeGeneres Show, American pop icon Britney Spears learns the moves from the K-pop star himself. The popular Fox TV show Glee also released a teaser video for their upcoming cover. Canadian teen pop start Justin Bieber and PSY have playfully “sang” “Oppa Gangnam Style” on Twitter suggesting a possible collaboration between the two artists.

But are its dance movies and catchy tunes the only reasons why “Oppa Gangnam Style” has been so popular?

Deanna Pan at Mother Jones raises a particularly interesting issue: “Is “Gangnam Style” a Hit Because of Our Asian Stereotypes?” Unlike other artists who have tried to enter the American market, such as K-Pop groups Wonder Girls or Girls Generation, and have struggled to appeal to the US audience, PSY is different. He fits into the Asian male stereotype of the funny guy who dances and goofs around.

There are similar concerns on Racialicious.com regarding artists like Korean pop star Rain and Taiwan singer Jay Chou, both of whom have had to “fit into a particular conception that the mainstream has of Asian men”. In their respective Western films, Rain and Jay Chou have both played martial artists. The features of Asian male sexuality aren’t really accepted by Western audiences, but PSY is particularly “non-threatening” with his chubby funny demeanor, and perhaps this is the reason why he has had such great success.

Although PSY’s “Oppa Gangnam Style” reveals that music and dance are truly universal languages, the song’s rise to popularity is also likely the result of what Western audiences deem as an appropriate portrayal of an (unthreatening) Asian male. While I’d like to think that most of us are “laughing with PSY” rather than “at him”, to answer Mother Jones’ question, there are certainly some out there that might feel differently.

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Annie is currently interning for Schema and studying English at UBC. She enjoys reading, writing, blogging and watching movies in her spare time. You can follow her musings on Twitter @missanniechung.

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About Annie Chung

Annie Chung
Annie Chung is Schema’s Senior Web Producer. She holds a BA in English Literature and Economics from UBC. She is also a TV addict, a movie fanatic and a bookworm.

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